Death Valley Days



ONE


The desert is a hidden talent you must burrow underground to initiate it you must scale saguaro cacti to sire it you must feast on sand to savor it days pass without shadow high noon rises heavenward fixed as the Southern Cross bearing down as a yoke around your neck an albatross at bay like a lizard you can scurry out from under it but risk strangulation here there is no time the land never moves First there is grit then miraculous green water does not visit here yet somehow living things thrive next rocky soil spotted with white Sisyphean stones followed by desiccated mountains you must drill through their core to elicit recognition Humanity has forfeited its place here stymied in an artificial eyes wide shut cubicle that fuels the rocking caravan but tricks the soul with 9 to 5 fools gold trompe l'oeil has nothing to boast about the mirage permeates desire you want what the pale sky offers you reciprocate with love for the innocent Other O the desert is a hidden passion at its heart you find only timeless sand


TWO


Stovepipe Wells


A carrion raven squalls

outside the bedroom window

frantically pecking the ice machine

undeterred by its metal casing

wholly determined to battle and win

ice carries the desert’s liquid gold

its scarcest resource the jewel of the living

a mite for the those thirsting

water saves all from the largest alpha bird

to the scrawniest human being

it unlocks the metal casing it battles and wins


Father Crowley’s Point


Mountains rise up in coats of many colors

crown them the Prism Range the Rainbow Ridge

redgreen tawnybrown orangewhite

a patchwork of unity and delight

wrinkled tapestries of rough textures

billowing elephant-foot buttresses

anathema of crested buttes enemy of all things flat

the desert saves its ancient palette

for arid basin stone it crumbles at twilight

leaving cubes of dust child’s play toys splayed

like building blocks flash cards of hard colors


Panamint Springs


I walk the yellow dusty trail to nowhere

this is the apophatic road that leads to riches

through the void rock ridge random green

life chews on what it can to reveal the force

beneath the sand you will miss it if you blink

you will embrace it if you stop to look inwardly

until you are the mountain until you are nothing

to be filled with the mystery of creation

I walk in wonder beneath the threadbare

cirrus sky clumps of gray obscuring

the early evening moon here all is one

a unity of kind lonesome isolated ringed by titans

of redbrown stone I stoop to pick up verdant shoots

of a desert bush it burns with the divine imperative

I answer back Here am I


THREE


The cloud of unknowing sweeps across the desert floor driving billows of dust and sand and nothingness we are stranded in our hotel room captive to nature’s follies its malevolent whims the earth is made to scour the ages with borax swept up from the mines 20-mule teams carry it into the wind they collapse from the weight of the world who can bear up under its burden of storms


FOUR


Caught alone at Badwater sinking into the salt flats brownish brine half-fills potholes white chalky track buoys clay-crusted footprints underground pools seep upward I walk the blanched pilgrim trail blindfolded finding the divine by his absence Badwater baptizes the eccentric the hobo the erstwhile cowboy the snake oil salesman all those down and out hiding in the desert’s barren cover the self mesmerizes like a mirage on Furnace Creek Road no markers no rules every man for himself every man for the Other I rub salt crystals against my aging skin they sting and break but preserve taste like buffalo fat bear grease Badwater diets thrive on minimalism less is not more it's nothing or else Badwater soaks the soul the bent for sin dissipates in the heat salt flats reveal no secret they plant crystals cry for a crop of travelers who will stay on the path remove blindfolds in the burning white light behold the desert’s salt-crusted fire

FIVE


The message inscrutable still the stones speak calling us to the back of beyond before we were drilling us underground to confront our roots drawing us deeper into the mystery of I and Thou They speak of seasons past planting and harvest they speak of life to come seeding and birth souls chained to the earth yet free enough to fly How the ancient myths inform our days the Spider Woman climbs existence’s web caught in the exigencies of rebuke and want the dialectic of desire the turning of the screw her golden bowl cracks yet a tourist buys I have gathered the grains of my forefathers I have written their stories on my heart stories of the start of the world stories of heroism and love of magic and love I hear them calling me to the back of beyond willing me to fulfill the promise of singing stones


SIX


Dante crawls out of his inferno

to survey the view that bears his name

in each Black Mountain he sees Mt. Purgatory

in each salt flat he finds Lucifer’s sulfur

how he languishes over his verses exalting

Beatrice as the Queen of Heaven the virgin star

of the divine constellation she turns

in blue diadems to acknowledge his presence

he swoons again clutching his heart overheated

here in the hottest place on earth hell’s cauldron


I look at the salt flats and see a symphony of white

played by an organic splay of white-hot salt rising

through a white haze of mist and smoke emanating

from the fires of poetry and the white snow cap

on Telescope Peak from my vantage point veins

of white surge on the barren plain no room

for the ninth circle of hell no room for mortals

sliding along the salt flats in search of water

of sustenance the melody of terza rima

the calm of rigid salvation dispensed

by a white god who feasts on salt calls it heaven


SEVEN


Coveys of shifting clouds

rearrange the evening sky

like orange dragons they descend

upon the receptive soil

reigning as fire lords

mythical autocrats contriving

to reconfigure the orbit of the globe

a minor tweak and the sun’s angle

will tilt anew in the tropics’ favor


From the porch of my hut

I spy their comings and goings

much ado about nothing maybe less

their prancing and slithering

their full-bellied belching flames flying

all this distracts from oncoming storms

to the fidgety onlooker's delight

their biggest threat of extinction only themselves

their biggest predator and foe only themselves


I do not share their playfulness

falling from the sky across my path

fog sticking to my glasses as rain

pummels the hut now is the monsoon season

I dread its onslaught I mourn its aftermath

too many drowning waves

too many damning winds

an apocalyptic ballet on the edge of the void

no one dances freely each step a tiny death


We die infinite tiny deaths they accumulate

like rosebuds in a vase they shuttle us away

to some barren ill-lit room

the picture window opens onto a field

blue turns gold turns red turns purple

turns white bursting with blooms in spring

hanging on till fall distracting from the evening sky

which settles above my head in it I can see

the ghosts of dragons laughing flaming in the dark









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