Desert Kingdom
(after the photograph by Steven Hays)

Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico

What are these battered beasts
from a time before words? Heaved

up out of the desert’s bleached
grit, they point blunted faces

into a wind the camera’s put
a stop to. Locked in place, how

can they be so moving? It must be
some creature inside us recalls

these familial shapes. We feel its
head lift in dim recognition, feel it

groan under the thundering flood,
this sun-struck river of clouds.


Black Willow

Last night his heart
arched and gaped
like a fish flexing in
the rough grassy bed
of a creel. He kept

picturing them, bodies
fused, pleasing each other
as he lay suffering. Soon
he climbed out of bed,
stepped to the open window

and pressed his face
against the dusty screen
to breathe. He could hear
a river-rush of wind
shouldering clouds out

over the plains—but here,
dead stillness. Leaves
in the grove along the ditch
nearby, hung as if stunned.
Suddenly, just beyond

the grove, the clouds
parted, and a bright
crescent moon appeared,
caught up in the black
network of branches.


Valley Morning

Snow crystals twinkling in morning wind,
mind alive to the light and that glacial peak

standing forth into it. Higher still, a cloud,
and a cloud, and a cloud. And the valley feels

full of ghosts: pale ones in yellow canvas pants,
or in checkered gingham and cobbled shoes,

darker ones in beaded deerskin moccasins,
in elk-hide dresses embroidered and fringed.

Like you, they all turned to this mountain,
and dreamed, and believed. Strange: how any

moment can deepen into years, even centuries;
how easily we can vanish into the images—

melting into time like a glint of snow….