The Rarest Wildflower of the North American Desert
You look at me askance from the driver’s seat. Starlight
drips from the cottonwoods, collecting in
the sticky pitch of January, the faded season of the frontier
and the gallows, hot and derelict on the side
of the road like a tomato juice stand. An empty sky,
a water tower, in the stillness of letting bygones
be bygones. The engine’s lilt trembles slightly
in your fingers and the people here continue to move
about and believe in something. Clumps of desert grip
the tires, a kingdom the color of a watering can,
and yawn with the weathered minerals of the earth;
the ribcage of America, poor and white, stained
with tobacco. Sunburnt oil-wells open like a ghostly
mother-of-pearl and exhale the ghosts of miners,
of Navajo women, licked by gunpowder
and childbirth, of children dressed for communion
that brought Vanderbilt cherry punch with ice cubes in it.
The land you loved as a boy, gnawed by oil jacks
and smartly-dressed salesmen peddling the death of an era.
We buy our share. At the last throb of the engine
for the night, you swear to the motel clerk
that you are a lone traveler; a new hire at the local coal company;
an extra pair of hands at the oil refinery
that you arose from the sand under the ancient magic
of olive oil and tangerine trees and are the bones
and blood clot of the Gobi. They would believe anything here
and that’s why we came. The tender violence of our love
begins to convulse in the bare room. The walls palm
the rattle of instars, the coos of waterless trees
and we’ve the clear conscience of paladins who believe
in love, of gunslingers sent to the electric chair.
In the morning, my knee smarts against
the water-pump. I stare at you working its jaw,
secretly watering the wildflowers that appear
at every gas station, at the bottom of every paper cup.
Ms. Adams All Covered in Flowers
The manicured earth, bloody with minerals and cornflowers
idles under the grain silos
like a gas station attendant off the bend to Clare, Iowa –
A line of cement dribbles into the fields.
A mother slumps in an armchair with the collapsing will of a girl in love
and the labored breathing of a newborn; cheeks flushed over empty whiskey bottles.
She is fertile with water. She is ripe with god and sea oats.
Bald stalks stiffen under ploughshares. Throbbing in the ambulance,
the color of turpentine, life
gasps in her throat, and drags her into the dull radiance of the following morning.
But she does not want its courtesies: the saltpeter
of early spring, Thrasymachus’s semen
smiling in the bed linen, a bluebottles’ wings in a glass jar, a photo album.
Lately, freight trains have been calling to her in the night,
carrying kernels that all look and taste the same, nourishment enough to sustain
a country, save for a mother and two or three cats.
In Honor of Henry Miller’s Enormously Famous Words: “I might have turned into a human bomb and exploded.”
I might have married the last scion of the patriarchy of the January sun
and shrieked the shape of life, like a seafaring bird,
every night; the dreams of a child are often as heavy and soft as water balloons.
I might have loved a butcher’s son, with the indolence
and the loose bearings of a ship lost at sea. I might have abandoned
the conspiracies of the heart altogether and resigned
myself to working public squares and certain side-streets like a Parisian girl
of the 17th century pretending to sell turnips and cabbages,
standing in the rain and suppressing a little cough. I might have been featured –
as my poor mother had hoped – in neon advertisement for
chewing gum, tobacco, fishnets. I might have, like Pygmalion,
fallen in love with a false image I fashioned from stone
and boredom, for the love of god and Coca-Cola, for everything decent
and American, and no one would have been the wiser.
I might have never come here, learned English, or won a spelling bee.
And you might have met me and thought to yourself
that this girl is not so very extraordinary. In fact, she is a bit too dreamy
and melancholy, but to sit in this sticky café and to recall
your sleeping face in the tremble of early morning light is among
a class of things that could not have been otherwise.