You are probably used to New Mexico's landscape of distant horizons and small surprises. But it does take some time to make sense of it...especially if you are from the midwest.
David Johnson retired from the University of New Mexico in 1999 after over thirty-three years of teaching creative writing, mythology, and world literature. His most recent book is Rebirth of Wonder: Poems of the Common Life
(UNM Press, 2007). A "preview" edition of that book is available here from Google Books
. He has published four additional books or chapbooks of poetry. He lives in Albuquerque with his wife Mona.
From the beginning, the desert has taken measure of our lives.
The place where we first withdrew from city life, receding into scarcity,
learning the lessons of bare necessity, the feeling of emptiness.
Time measured by silence, home of the mystical fathers, Moses
and Mohammad. A non-material, material place where the heart of God
beats without a sound.
The clear vistas create an open room, a space within, a place to swing
heart and soul. The spirit floats irrespective of roots,
feeding on the transparency of air.
To know the Midwest, one must feel the icy blast of winter, the chatter
of teeth, the blue bones of a blizzard, a blanket of snow on the fields.
The yearning to withdraw into a cave and sleep.
The desert requires the constant search for water, the waxy leaf of cactus,
fluids squeezed out of the body, as if a pair of hands could twist the flesh,
while the forehead slowly withdraws into wrinkles above the eyes.
In March, the desert blows east from Arizona, dust in the nose, behind the ears.
Dust settles on the couch like an old body disintegrating--dust to dust
under the bed, someone either coming or going.
The desert is alive with lizards and snakes, but how lonely it feels, the thin,
dry air on the skin. Words themselves are tiny flutes in the stillness,
the habitat of prophets--their ears are hollow like trumpets.
To be empty and then suddenly full. To hear nothing and, in the next moment,
their throats are filled with locusts, voices luminous like the sun at midday.
A prophecy for the new age.