David Lee is the author of thirteen books of poetry, including A Legacy of Shadows: Selected Poems, and the former Poet Laureate of Utah. He lives quietly in St. George and/or Pine Valley, Utah, with Jan, Jon, and JoDee, where he scribbles and wanders the county roads and trails, all at about the same rate and pace. Read other work by David Lee published in Weber Studies: Vol. 5.1 (Poetry); Vol. 13.1 (Conversation); Vol. 13.1 (Poetry); Vol. 23.3 (Poetry); Vol. 24.3 (Poetry).
Rhapsody in Slickrock a
Song for the Roadrunner
Homage to Abbey
Quetzalcoatl, the Morning Star, calls
the sun to come forth, like Lazarus.
Crystal and blinding,
first light pours
from the Mother of God's serape,
then gold lace, color mates with light:
red rock, blue sky, obsidian arroyoshadow,
thick golden light
brims in the sandstone basins,
its touch on the lips
under a cloudless sky.
Now a bright alluvial fan
liquid and shimmering
like Juan Diego's roses melds
as God's arms bend and encircle
the entire goblet rim,
earth and sky fused
into the color of morning.
Below the horizon
great cloud formations,
ancient primordial creatures,
burrow the planet's underbelly
as they rise in darkness.
Mature, bloated and angry,
they scuttle to the midmorning light
at the earth's rim,
clasp the bowl with gnarled fingers
and peer over the desert
like cumuli-nimbi gargoyles.
Small noon winds kindle
and breathe the first moist
crushed sage scents of the desert
as the giants gather, merge and multiply.
In the distance colliding ions
swell and crack
as the thunderheads pile.
Tlaloc's army of anvil-headed warriors
throbs in ecstatic dance and
musters for the assault
upon land and sky. "Mira,"
sings a Leconte's thrasher from the yucca.
"Mira." From a mesa oak thicket
an acorn woodpecker shouts
" Mira, mira!" "Mira." " Mira!"
The gods' remuda of wild-maned mustangs
band, roil and stampede.
Their hooves tear the desert floor
into whirlwinds and sheets
of dark sand as they
scour the mesas and arroyos,
lash the sage and rabbit brush
into writhing flagellants,
the creosote bent penitentes prostrating
at the steps of the Guadalupe Shrine.
like distant canonfire
shakes the desert air.
A banner sweeps
between earth and sky,
La Nublina, Walking Rain,
the beaded curtain
windswept into a soft curl.
Raindrops evaporate in the dry heat
before they reach the desert floor,
the sky half covered
with the foreshadow.
A roadrunner huddles into itself
beneath a prickly pear.
Bolts wrapped in thundershouts
assault the buttes and mesas.
Lightning volleys join earth and heaven.
A flashflood river of fire screams
through a canyon of tortured sky,
its rank ozone breath hovers
beneath the rumbling maw
of the blackened ceiling.
Earth darkens to smoky shadow,
the freighted scent of water
heavy like steam.
Midafternoon, a loud crack
like an angel's wing
snapped out of its shoulder socket.
The slipknot cord
holding the purple robe loosens.
The great cloud sags,
touches one spine of a stretching cholla
and bursts like the belly of Judas.
With a great roar
the clouds release the rain.
Curtains of water,
stabs of lightning,
booming crashes of thunder,
a shrieking wind, La Llorona
wails in the darkened afternoon,
the land awash
as the cascade gushes
from the opened side of a swollen god.
Rain teems, gathers,
surges over the parched earth.
The mesas spurt water spouts,
floodstreams course from the bluffs,
the slickrock glistens
under the mizzling sky,
lavish in the crystal rush.
Lightning explodes into a butte,
ignites the drumming rain
into vivid furor. Pitchforks
flash the sluicing downpour,
paralyze the water in midfall,
the desert glazed like porcelain,
sandstone ridges kneedeep in flow,
waterfalls down their sides
gleam in this frozen moment
of an expanded time that never was.
In the next instant the squall quells,
the torrent diminishes to a shower,
then nothing at all.
The clouds move on,
in the distance
As if a great rain-wakened serpent
slides toward the campo raso,
a huge hiss swells
from the streambed of an arroyo,
a red torrent swarms from the gully,
suddenly cast forth
from the desert's throat,
la sangre de diosito desierto
surges after a head of suds
lathered into bloody froth.
A water avalanche,
the flash flood roars
like a starving beast
fast on the spoor of a doomed prey,
its belly gorged with storm detritus,
the living and dead
carried to the Colorado,
its scream rises above the scour,
" Estupendo! Estupendo!"
The desert tsunami
cascades in a crescendo
Blue sky in the south.
Shafts of light slice
the ragged clouds in the west
and prowl the bluff edges
like snuffing coyotes.
As if God stands in surveyance,
sombrero back, rolling a smoke,
boot up on a grey stone,
a rainbow, one foot
in the Colorado gorge runoff
and one on the shoulder
of the La Sals,
frames the steaming desert.
From a scudding cloud
a last splinter of lightning
crackles above the bootheel,
a blue diamond matchflash
on the spur rowl,
A purl of grey haze,
the air softened with the smell
of wet creosote.
A globe mallow river of sky floats
above the crimson desert. Nighthawks
hang on the air, then fall with a bullroar
into the spaces between light and light.
Under the red crust sprouts uncountable
writhe toward morning.
Spadefoot toads crowd the twilight
in la fiesta sapito as the males
emerge to bellow their lust
and hunger from puddles and basins.
Lovelocked females spew eggs
into the murky charca water.
Red in the bending light,
winged termites swarm the pools,
pulled from the earth
and flightbequeathed by the rain.
Cliff swallows stitch the air
and bats tumble across the shadows.
From the bluffs the shy voices
of the canyon wren float
like small waterfalls. Toads cling
to the edges of their potholes, harmonize
in counterpoint. Owlcall, dovecoo,
hawkscree, jaysquall, ravencroak
blend in an arpeggio of jubilation,
a glockenspiel of praise to the chubasco.
Coyotes from the ledges, locusts
rustle in the cottonwoods,
a murmur of distant water,
the scent of desert rain.
Venus nudges Mars into abeyance.
Song and incense fill the cathedral.
Red sky at night, shepherd's delight.
Under the Evening Star color and light mate:
red sky, sand, stone, shadow. No te preoccupes,
paisano, all the world, todo el mundo,
ripens with rainsong tonight.