I have lived in Phoenix since 1978 when I moved from Vienna, Austria. Born in Austria, I grew up in Manchester, close to rain and the northern English industrial zone. In my early 20s I went to live in Vienna and from there enjoyed many trips around Europe, often as an artist working in watercolor. My poems have appeared in Slipstream, Skidrow Penthouse, and Poem, among others, and my Selected Poems appeared in 2014 from FutureCycle Press.
The desert has no second language. Just
a small vocabulary of dove calls,
the woodpecker’s tapping on the stem
of a saguaro, a thrasher’s musical embellishment
and the silence that spreads
like a hawk’s wings
over rocks and arroyos. Grammar
isn’t an issue. The air is too still
for verbs. Words
are immigrants here,
legal or not I need them
to chew on while looking
at the way light claws its way
up a rock face or a pulse
in the skin of a lizard
beats in the sun. Sentences
begin and end in mid-air
without a plot to tie them together.
There isn’t a story to tell,
and when the alphabet has burned away
a period is the tip
of a scorpion’s beckoning tail.
In a gap between the wind and the light
on the grasslands a jaguar
appears with all his liquid muscles
flowing underneath a coat
of spotted fire.
He is a reflection
without water to carry it.
When he leaps he is so fast he passes
through the beholder’s eye
and lands in the mind
where his image claws a way
to a refuge. He is safe in a person’s memory,
wild among the rocks
and in the shadows there
where time and water run in the same
arroyos, and where walls sink
into the land as quickly as they are built
along borders intended
to keep people apart. A jaguar’s memory
is beyond the reach of anyone;
it is a wilderness
of scents only he can receive.
It is what we imagine when we imagine truth
and cannot find a human word for it.
The Time Before
Days of the year balanced each
upon the next all the way
from winter rain to the ripening
of saguaro in the month the O’odham
called the first. The people wandered
with the seasons and returned
from mountain slopes and floodplains
having gathered fruits and sensing
where water would fall next. They tasted
nutrients in silt and knew the eyes
of every animal as closely as the colours
of their many beans. No storm
was ever wasted, neither were the cholla
buds, the yucca or agave.
A wide metate was the surface
of the world, on which mesquite
beans and sunlight were ground
into sweet flour, and the forests were tall
by the river before the land
needed words to know
its own history.
©2015 David Chorlton