Two Desert Poems

Sonny Liston Considers The Ways Of Vanity From Heaven


Anna’s hummingbird

on a barrel cactus thorn:

his chest thrust out as if

he is sucking up all the oxygen

in the Universe.


He takes off buzzing like

a fighter plane stooping

out of the sun, proud

as Cassius Clay pounding me down

February 25, 1964…

Was that his vanity making

him do all that,

taunting me as he gave me that whooping

calling me a “big ugly bear?”

My mother raised 21 children,

and Ali finally died of Parkinson’s disease

didn’t he?

That didn’t end in vanity

did it?


I wonder now if beautiful creatures

inadvertently take the way of vanity

as I did in my life

flirting with pretty girls

in Casinos

acting as if I’ve read some

some book or another when

I’d only glanced at

the back flap



diving off

from a tall cactus plant

to challenge some tough opponent

finding nothing but my own reflection

in that flat, hard glass

right before everything

went silent.

Palm Canyon, after the rains.

Palm Canyon, after the rains.

Write here…

In A World Gone Generous (For my sisters Mary and Pam)


the adults settle in while the children fuss,

or stare straight ahead until they wiggle

into their dream worlds

waiting for the first words.


And the first words have always been:

“Dearly Beloved”

spoken to the children and friends,

spoken  to the spirits

who wander the shade,

lest we forget

that this was once 

an inhospitable country.


A thousand years ago

on this spot

were stones as hot as skillets

and fresh water as rare as an arrowhead

scuffed up from the dirt.

Those first people,

the Chumash and the Cahuillas  (ka wee yas)

are walking past us now

still desolate with thirst

and struck dumb in disbelief

at just how much there is

right here

right now. 


In the shade too, are those who

once loomed large in our lives

and didn’t understand us then.

They stand just out of sight,

their sun dazzled eyes seeking ours

knowing there is no currency

to their apologies.  


Dearly Beloved

when you spread your mud cloth on the sand

those thirty years ago

you would have no way of knowing

this day was waiting for you,

with troubled marriages

troubled children

troubled times

to live through.


But now

in your seventieth years

you are victorious

in the love

as perfectly suited to this earth

as rain

or cactus flowers

or your grandchildren

fidgeting to play

with the ghosts of the Cahuillia

children passing through. 


Those who didn’t understand you then

have no power over you now.

No referendum, no

law can change the reality

they are no longer a part of,

this is why their inconstant forms

shift from foot to foot

silently both wanting

and not wanting to come in.

And though they are not forgiven

we can if we wish, 

welcome them to take their place

in a new world made generous 

by this blessed shade

by this blessed company

and by your well deserved

and honest love.