When you leave the Yankee East and,
crossing the vast Middle, reach the American West,
the air gets drier, and the world
becomes roomier, dreamier.
The forest is called desert – Sonoran –
in spite of the oily bushes
of mesquite and agave and every cactus.
The kings are called saguaros.
They are tall and theatrical.
Some have arms on which you
could hang a sombrero, if you were a giant.
Some just like to pose, pole-like,
in the colourful sunrise.
One has two perfectly-formed breasts.
If you lived here you would worship
these beings too.
I had only one week to experience
This so-called South West.
The walks in the heat avoiding jumping-cholla stings,
followed by nights joking, huddled around a fire.
The repeating tunes of mariachi music
while we ate pricey cow flanks
with fresh guacamole and salsa
on warm tortillas, at a lunch meeting.
If you know the good life,
I was tasting it.
Miles and miles away from Plymouth
I felt nothing of the pioneer’s excitement.
I was a voyeur, an outsider.
The good life was so bland, I longed for home.
Home was nowhere, only there. Only ahead,
further west, it seemed,
where the Fellowship called.
Lucky me. Lucky me.
The world was roomier, scarier.
I was nineteen and tasting it.
I followed the thread, did not draw back.
I did not note the day when the fall began.
Perhaps there in the desert,
whilst I laughed among new friends
as they composed
The Ballad of John Loser.
Or was it later, nearby the Pacific coast
where each person was a pole,
striving to reach the sun, and not one
cared about the booby saguaro?
Was it with a blow to the head
or was it with a stab to the heart
in the land of the palos,
where breasts and milk don’t matter?
Damn your striation and keep your dendritus.
We don’t measure prickliness or pollination.
We’re only poles; going upward, sunward.
When a saguaro dies
how long do you think it takes
for him to notice the trauma;
Till the once-fresh, green trunk
is cowed, finally horizontal,
forming a spindly wooden basket?
In death, for the first time,
the gods have better things to do
than polish his trunk and colour his fruit.
Now he has to work for everything.
Still, there is enough to live –
to spread some seed, to shine,
to pose for the tourist’s camera,
to stand an inch taller.
Perhaps more life lies ahead
than before the wound.
But now he has to work for everything
in a war against the clock