Two Poems

The round world, squashed a little at the poles

The round world, squashed a little at the poles,
affects applying her extremity.
Her spiral skies lash helpless ground for miles
and, reapportioning humility,
great promontories frame her greater lands
and vice versa, as valleys look on high.
And waters vaster than the desert sands
rise up or roll, frozen or suddenly,
from mysteries beneath. Aurora’s night-
hued crackles’ silent splendor makes the hands
of one intrepid witness fuse to pray,
another kneel and stammer at the sight.
And even scruffy reeds, when caked in white
along the Chena, take a breath away.


I visited the desert. There I saw
a skull the desert winds unsanded—or
it had a life of sorts and was trying
to re-emerge, as you’ve told me to do.

And everywhere the place was as a mirror;
my friends at night, moonlit, and serenaded
by the whistling wind, looked like eager corpses
walking. It was fun. It was eerie. It
was sad, for everything became a mirror
I could not keep from gazing into. When
I closed my eyes to shut it out, of course,
there was you. Then I opened them. A far-off
saguaro glowed in the dark and I blinked
and thought I saw you where it was, the height,
the dryness, and the needles. Then I blinked
again, and no, someone had placed their hat,
a hat that looked like yours, on top of the
cactus; the breeze was slight, so didn’t knock
it off, like stomach juices that churn and digest
but keep things moving downward, downward, down.

Was I in heaven, hell, purgatory,
some combination of all three, a weekend
camping trip organized to cheer me up
only succeeding in making me look
at precisely what my friends wanted to help
me not look at anymore?

But once or twice a year even the desert
is granted amnesty by heaven, which
has a good cry over something, I suppose,
and dowses the whole place with rain.
And this was that night! I lay in the open
air, opened my eyes, and noticed that all
the stars had closed their eyes as I had opened
mine, but clouds were lit by an unearthly
source, as if a city rose not far away
and its skyline illuminated upwards.
No such city was close, but the effect
was magical, as the light flicked on and off
and on again and off again, and then

I felt a drop—no, heard it
on my sleeping bag, thought it was a creature
and panicked, but with further drops,
my friends waking up and moving to the tent,
I knew, this was the night of rain. Now, rains
in deserts, I’d heard, usually start in day
because of the way the heat makes the air turn
and all that. This was a night rain—how rare!

I smiled, got soaked, and stayed in it till sunrise
when everything around—the tent, the cacti,
sand, rocks, cliffs, the very dust in the air—
glistened like a child’s kaleidoscope,
or a counterpane soaked in an oily iridescence
where the oil was the Oil of Joy and Gladness I
once read about in some holy text somewhere,
and I was grateful, grateful that I had
you once—not grateful for the loss but not
so sad that it outweighed my laughter then
in the morning, in the desert, my friends asleep,
when I danced a rain dance, thoroughly improvised,
totally unnecessary. Did you send
the rain from where you are? Did you? Did you?

—James B. Nicola, New York, NY