One of the Lords of Life

Peace to all living things,
I scribbled in the log on Vulture Peak
Because time was short and it was true.
Then I stood, like any American, alone,
To be in that immense desert glow.
Down into dusk, the Hieroglyphics and the White Tanks,
The Big Horns, the Harquehalas, and the Bradshaws
Offered bent, brown rock, forests of saguaros,
And hidden life to the emerging stars.

Lampless, I turned and scrambled three-point
Down the chimney, blaze to blaze,
Until I met the saddle dirt,
Then bounded down a crooked trail
Into the darkness growing visible.

A whisper in the shape of a green branch
Lay before me.  Wonder not, it said.
And so I did not wait, although it ruled the path.
I had no chance to stop and listen
To the quiet voices of my education.
Only when I landed on my right foot
One runner’s pace above did it become
A sinuous emperor of emerald
Warming himself on a rock in the patience
Of silence, cunning, and exile.

Nature does not suffer decay: always new,
Unlike the memory on which minds turn,
It unfolds like emptiness.
One word, his name, sparked from nowhere
And sank into my foot.
A hand reached down, carved wings,
Then plucked my muscles with more light.
Too big for dinner, too sudden for his surprise
To coil up and rattle out an argument,
I jumped into the current of our doing.
Pebbles tinkled like dice
As I leapt over the fat green snake
Who squirmed silently beneath my soles
Like a piece of animal cactus,
And I did not fall, I landed with a gravel crunch
Between the cacti, unstung, miraculously erect,
No mouth of numbing ash, no broken ankle,
Below the double distance a rattler can strike.

Strange alteration in me.  The fruit was praise.
Mojave green: I do not think I missed my chance
With you, but took it where it lay —
As if I had the choice.
You are still prompting my words
Away from deep, high speculation
And into one breath after another —
The coincidence of dusk and sage,
The distant glow of Phoenix, and the dying sun.
As I climb slowly up into these thoughts,
Remembering my long, headlong descent,
On which I lost the trail, then found it again
And walked out from the mountains in darkness,
I see you turning, raising your head in cold curiosity
As I vanish beneath your jaw, and I hear you calling my name,
Although you are ignorant of it.

-- Reprinted from Poetry