Sentences in the Desert

To Glen

Out into the desert
into tall night
the family comes walking
sad Okies, books’ images filming
over their skins
Invisible amoebas of words
with slipping colors

Not here, the family
no brothers no father
no desert boots
no hands
innocent and dreaming
no faces hid by dark.
We are shades in the moving
crystal, beetle dark.
The Coleman lantern swings
from tall father,
murking the dark with light,
frightening the border
where dark jumps into light.

Beetles run
made huge by isolation
startled by instinct,
all they are: crabs
in the deep sea we plow before us
in the sea black night
over cold dunes
sucking and sliding under feet,
running before us when we run,
filling our boots with sand.
So cold
and crystal is the night.
We are lost in desert
with our Okie lantern
hunting the big black beetles
and rats with tails long-tufted
hopping plumed over loose dunes;
in tiny holes and doorways
nocturnal spiders weightless
on legs like arched haired fingers;
plump mice, dime-tiny
delicate as seedpods
on grasswaved leanings into wind.
Catch the tiny desert mouse
or kangaroo rat trembling
into thy big pale hand
thy sculpted gentle
curled bone hand.

He is the cool skin desert.
He owes us all.
We love him.
We are tamed.

We are lost. We climb the wash
to the ridge,
push yucca over.
He makes a bonfire in the night.
We wait for the VW
to be unlost,
for the others to find us,
the safe big brothers.
We run to look again
over the black ridge-edge
for the long roof somewhere
Blue van, home.
Bonfire brave and crackling
warming our father
making invisible the coyotes
who howl far over ridges
And I wondering
why it was dead, the eight-legged tarantula
hand-huge and brittle
velvet upholstered
like tomcat’ balls.
It was on a rock in daylight
dead like a leaf out of season.
Others came along too, all dead.
We lie down
on cold sand
pillowed on the talisman
awaiting coyotes, rescue, or dark.

Then soon the shout
Huck found us
The VW had flown backwards
up over the ridge,
shown us the rooftop
we had seen and not known it.
Home was frosted metal and warm
rackety breathing
morsel in vast cold dark.

Later, one purple twilight
my first Guru
with blackringed eyes…
was only a man,
a friend; he walked with me
to a wide rise
and looked with purple-cast eyes
over purple sage
to the violet mountains.
Sky hung down around us,
a wispy settling shade.
In the dark spare whisperings
we could feel the peoples
who had been spare,
and the austerity of sage.
We were violet.
He cared for me. The family
was old doom; this Jim
magic talisman. New
old eyes, soft violet twilight.

He tried to lift me
from beneath the feet
like dreams have
up over desert’s
wide disarray, free
heart-pained floating
over the dotted sage.
He tried to fly me
too high
into the pull of that upper gravity,
and I was eleven,
and the mountains cut me,
and the weight of this mountain called earth
held me down.
I sat in worship
in the temple; sleep and sage
mixing molecules in purple dark.
He told me I could skip it all.
I want to weep.

On the campfire
demons laugh in quickflame joy
and I am safe
in the illusion of my father,
his sage’s shade
reaching, his arms’ gentle sphere
harmless, innocuous, sublime.
My sleeping father is a blade.
My chuckling saddened father
with his wealth of peanuts
in cashew cans, macadamias
and man’s marshmallows, cider fresh
and fermenting,
is the pool I sleep in.
His wealth of paper phials
and annotated spiders
and his last dollars to pharmaceutical
supply houses for the medicine bottles
enclosing centipede, scorpion, muse.
His love escapes me.
He is mysterious as woman is to man.

Riverside, ‘68