Tamping heat into sleep, tinkering Wood-
pecker’s clamor: beak against swamp cooler
while sun comes out, pistols drawn, blazing.
Red chilies seep their fever, cucumbers
struggle through caliche; I sweep a mix
of Lupines, desert marigolds, poppies
into this cauldron but they never rise.
What survives this seared season are
those who tap-tap saguaros for a nest
of wet, who know the moon is day, the drought
has won, any water is superficial, this
dust is a shuffled waltz we keep spinning,
and every sharp wing, every scale and thorny
bushel has been prepared for centuries.
after Paul Muldoon’s “Last Draw on the Pipe”
Chinese gunpowder tea steeped with mint and sugar
served in palm-sized glasses, gem colored, laced with fake gold like iced sugar;
and for breakfast: bread patted flat, baked over open flame, served with steamed milk spiked with sugar.
An afternoon reprieve calls for Pims: pressed preserves, biscuits sugar-
coated, or perhaps crepes punctuated with flecks of sugar;
or maybe a walk to the glacee shop: towers of ice cream, chocolate, burnt sugar,
sparklers tucked in folds of frozen sweet radiating sparks like grains of sugar;
then dinner, something savory: mutton, couscous, and roasted vegetables;
to give thanks for this feast is to say shukr.
At the wedding, wedding pastries: rose water, orange water, powdered sugar;
a rare cake of cream, vanilla, whipped sugar;
and the girls, twirling wrists, lips tinted shades like Frosted Sugar;
and the bride, born in the West, looks at her groom and thinks, Oh Sugar, Sugar.
Clouds to the north stretch like racing horses' necks.
Two miles south, Mexico is lightning pricked,
hot pins stick the earth and wet; the valley turns
on its back in the flagging heat to the dim bloom of sun
obscured by mountain range and monsoon.
Those clouds that trail the star's rotation
stain the basin, the tent revival church--
the shell of it--cement floor, cracked; roof, splintered;
scaffolding, a ladder to the firmament;
plastics sheets pooled in puddles;
musty piano benches; warped podium;
chipped red folding chairs for pews.
A piece of paradise in a far-flung scrap
of southern Arizona’s Wild West,
(christened a name of what only god can enact),
entirely weed-locked, fire-licked and peeling--
dorms where Evangelical campers once lay their pillowed-heads
now doves and migrants rest on their northerly treks.
Across the two-lane highway, the husk of a store-front church
a Black congregation settled in
when their neighbors across the blacktop
denied to share their holy space. The hackles rose
on Valley residents and today, to poke at it,
a hive of yellow jackets, a nest of serpentine creatures.
To infer with the natural order of Cochise County in 1978
a curse was sent, a Manichaeistic casting of each participant,
though to stack each transaction, the guilt is infinite:
slurs, burglaries, bombs, and children’s’ deaths,
the shoot-out volley from which three ghost hearts shuddered.
A shake-down of testimonies followed: deputies, the congregation--
A slow sting that’ll never materialize completely
shifts in the dead air of dirt lots, trailers,
cinderblock homes pegged with mulberries and cholla.
This evening, from the hill above, it’s all a smudge
beneath columns of thunder ushering the last light of the earth
through the blue valley, over our heads.