Watch darkness roll into the desert
on the back of the wind catching on
prickly pear, its beaver pads armored
with barbed spines that slapped
against a forearm leave tracks asymmetrical.
Reach for devil's lettuce to experience
the sharpness of hairs. From the pincushion's
florets pull fruit, papery-scaled. See how
the Nevada onion's cylindric tip tightly coils
before withering, how the seeds of the devil's
claw snag a foothold in the hooves of cattle,
one after another taking its turn at fleshy green
unicorn horns before more pods spill forth
their capsules of prized protein and oil.
Along the roadsides, in sandy barren flats,
stop to measure the toothed margins of the desert
sunflower's leaves. In the dry washes picture
the silvery puffs of the feathery Apache plume
done up as war bonnets, arrow shafts, and brooms.
Thirst not for the milky juice of the skeleton
milkweed with its sap containing rubber,
but listen sharply for the rattleweed
that will make your horse go crazy. The popcorn
flower's a forget-me-not, its leaves shaped
like spatulas, its flowers clustering at the tops
of stems spiral-wound. A rosette from the gravel
ghost touches up your hat's wide band
and the sweet scent of the dune evening primrose
covers the desert floor with tissue papers stuck
close after winter rains. Let the star-vine guide you
through the canyons, the showy hop sage
among pinion, woody bottle-washers, their petals
peeling open at dusk, tracking thick shrub.
Moon flowers in arroyos reveal their purple throats
as javelina dine on agaves and bristly-eared jerboa
prick a way with whiskers long through night-fed burrows.
© 2011 Maureen E. Doallas
To travel through the desert of the United States is to engage in a study of adaptation. The range of plants — some toxic, others not — and animals is extraordinary. The color and shapes of flowers, the textures of leaves and stems, contrast and not, with all serving some purpose in maintaining an ecological balance while also often benefiting humans and other animals.
Yesterday, dVerse Poets Pub posted a feature on the poetics of texture, and this is my response to the invitation there to create a poem that evokes sensations of texture through imagery. All the plant life and animals mentioned in the poem are found in various areas of desert in our Southwest and West.