Where the Desert Met the Sea

…………..I had a dream where the desert met the sea. Imagine it—a shore of fleshy dust filled with creosote and mesquite, limbs small and fragile like those of the starving. My skin began to feel as though coated with fire, and the chair of earth I sat upon crumbled from dryness. I viewed the sea as through the thickness of glass—the sea with its many windows, its grey sharks feeding on the words that I had poured, like water, into them.

…………..At once, dusk came—that space where the curvature of time stands balanced as though on the edge of a coin.

…………..I remembered hearing that, ions ago, the desert with its liminal nature had once been home to wetlands, ancient shores littered with the debris of the past. It was then that I began to wonder how many windows were inside the windows, how many panes I was from the sea itself. And then, searching but seeing no reflection on their smudged surfaces, I wondered in whose mind I had dreamed this place, this coupling of opposites.


In vision, the sun
beats itself, as always, against the dry desert
earth. A spray of minerals and calcite
scatter along the ground.

There are no rivers, except the one
which effortlessly slithers and parts the continent,
the way a canoe slices water
or a snake slashes through grass.

The washes are empty and waiting,
and I remember that a thing empty
desires to be full. A fox carcass,
torn by vultures, is covered
and infested with flies. Skeletons

litter the ground—a fish skull lies carelessly
as if someone had tossed it out, thinking
it would be bad luck to keep such a thing.

Here, there is an unbearable brightness—
something Van Gogh must have seen
inside those days in his yellow fields.
Like him, I feel a desperation, a dryness

that permeates and singes through to my bones.
When I try to speak, my throat feels at once
brittle and swollen. My hands and arms
begin to burn and fall into powdery gray ash.

At my feet, a snake begins to stir
and then turns into river. I begin
to think I have been left here
for the ghosts to ravage. I remember
being told by a local, these mountains
are full of spirits, mountain spirits, kachinas.

I pray for a simple offering—milk and honey,
a piece of juniper—because I am not real
otherwise. I pray for you to hear

my plea, O blessed and cruel one of my heart.
Unlock your own mouth, this once.
Cough something, anything, into the brutal
vision of sun. Plant a husk in my ear.

Turn my thoughts to burnt offerings.
If you won’t come, if you won’t do this,
then turn away. Only then,
may you kill me in silence, in silence.

Laura Stringfellow is a poet whose work has recently appeared in various literary journals and magazines, including Right Hand Pointing, Clementine, Unbound, Déraciné, and Neologism Poetry Journal.

Image banner: Anna Rodríguez Carrington via Flickr Creative Commons