The Sunday Poem: David M. Johnson... Desert Notes

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.


Desert Notes

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.

Views: 12

Comment by bg on July 11, 2010 at 3:18pm
Oh how I enjoy Sunday poems!

After this, I will have a new appreciation of March winds. Coming or going.
Comment by Mary Schmidt on July 12, 2010 at 12:17pm
Thank you for reminding me of why I so love living here.
Comment by Richard Read Oyama on July 13, 2010 at 11:01pm
"The blue bones of a blizzard . . . their throats are filled with locusts." Very nice.
Comment by juniper berri on July 14, 2010 at 2:10pm
Professor Johnson! I was just thinking about you yesterday- ah, the essence of desert; unexplicable mostly, yet understood for us who stay. I was fortunate enough to take creative writing with you in the early 90's!!! What an absolute treat. Thank you for your incredible insight and inspiration back then and today~ julianna lishius, fellow mid-westerner of origin
Comment by Ben Moffett on July 16, 2010 at 9:46pm
Nice poem. Reminds me that the desert is hard, but it's hard to stay away from it for too long.

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