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A Desert for Louise Gluck

“the mist has cleared
It’s like some new life:
you have no stake in the outcome;
you know the outcome.”
– – from “Averno”

1.

In April there is only wind
and blinding new light,
the winter granted no departure,
one feels not the chill but the coming heat

at day’s end the sun extends its reach
reluctant to sacrifice
the hard brush and dried earth
to darkness, as if darkness
were a grief too great
for the flat waterless land

but it is the thoughtless cruelty
of the spring sun
its relentless illumination
that transfigures the distant mountain’s
river, rushing wide and fast
from winter snow
to a thread of dust

At the base of the great mountain
in the blue shadows
a hawk takes refuge
on the highest thin branch of a cottonwood
she lives, like most of us,
between two worlds:
the piercing vision of arrival
and its extinguishment

2.

The rider and his horse
have traveled an unfathomable distance
they can hardly conceive of
home, either in memory or imagination

at dusk the sky arcs
and lifts, a dry rose
for the dry land
it is, thought the rider,
an ocean
but empty; only the essential
vast space remains,
like a beggar’s bowl
drained of what’s been given

just as the stars emerge
from the long twilight,
like small diamonds set
in a blackening band of sapphire
the horse draws up
his nostrils flared with fatigue
and, the rider realizes, sudden fear

the path is gone
swallowed by the open yawn
of the gorge;
it is the rocky throat
of the desert
formed by a song
heard millions and millions of years ago
a song that long ago fell silent
leaving only
the spring wind, the rocks
the gazing rider and his breathless horse

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