Across the flat of ocotillo and daggerleaf,
the earth ruptured disappearing into a box canyon,
I hallucinated spaces when the sky followed.
A golden eagle blackened the arid vastness
and then vanished again to the raging sun,
my ideas chaos as a dry thorn warmed my cheek.
Touching blood the color of rocks and dirt
allowed the lizards to enter
a shaman’s dreams beneath the flowering palo verde.
The cloudless desert brought a feral longhorn
to the lip of the cliff, this taurus constellation shined
above a pile of bones in the waterless dust.
Bared to the silence here,
summoned through myself to desolation,
I dragged my former corpse from the wash.
Mesa of ashes abrupt from the sand,
I windowed my fear
to be honest with the landscape’s power.
Snow upon the distant mountains belies
the lashing sun upon my back,
I covered my eyes with a red cloth
searching the light for the ascetic’s God.
A coyote roamed the terraced stones
and then became a desert stone
forged with a moment’s lightning.
I cannot pray under your watching sky
even if you are dark and quiet
as the burrows of rattlesnakes and owls.
Red petroglyphs on the western face
told the story of a hunt
forever to this passing day.
I freshened my mouth with water
for the soaring raven to escape the death
it shadows upon our fata mirage.
I followed cat tracks between the crossing arroyos
until the tracks became white stone.
Cottonwoods vibrant green against the desert sky
led to the slip between two hills
where rows of dripping ferns covered a holy cavern
at the base of a sheer wall.
I watched the water fall in every color through the ferns
into a bowl beginning a stream.
A snake eats a mouse in the clearing,
I dug into my lip with a flint to unlock my jaw
to swallow the hurt purity of this meaningful absence
as lions haunt the dry slopes.
The world dances like a goddess in painted skin,
the deer rut,
I planted a broken antler in the hot sand.
John Swain lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Red Paint Hill published his collection, Ring the Sycamore Sky.