Sunday, August 21, 2011

Adaptation (Poem)


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.


S. Etole said...

You've presented a vivid picture of the desert in its diversity.

Beachanny said...

Beautiful journey through the plant life of deserts I know without knowing their names. Reading this was like seeing a light shone on plants that I could see but whose names I've never heard or known. So beautiful as I could reach out and touch them. Thank you, G

Reflections said...

So feeling the starched embrace... dry, cracking grounds, gritty clay surrounding beautiful prickly plants.

jen revved said...

A loving and beautiful artist's portrait of the desert-- that place riotously full of life that we often think of as so spare. This poem takes me there again where I spent hours, my father teaching me about the flora/fauna there-- I remember always looking for the Indian Paintbrush as we called it-- a tour'd'force of texture and place...xxxj

Brian Miller said...

you flow through this is jumpin in a stream and just letting it take you...hard to pick a fav part, but where it really took off for me is...

its beaver pads armored
with barbed spines that slapped

against a forearm said...

You painted the textures here with a master's touch full of delicacy and flourishes. As a biology major with a focus in ecology this was a real treat. Thank you!

Victoria said...

Maureen, this one is near and dear to my heart. Reading this, I realized that I have now lived in Nevada longer than anywhere else. I love this place and the desert. What a great theme to illustrate texture. I'm going back to savor it a second time. Thanks for sharing this with us at dVerse.

Victoria said...

I don't think this posted the first time. I'm so glad you chose the desert for the theme of texture. I've now lived in Reno NV longer than any place else and spend winter in Palm Desert CA. I love the desert, its textures and colors and raw beauty. Thanks so much for linking this to dVerse. It's a beautiful read and I'm off to savor it again.