Karen Alkalay-Gut

DESERT POETICS

 

The four-fingered hand on the map

duplicates the same brown mountain range

we observe with tourist awe,

as we begin our steep descent

into the dried river bed

between index and middle.

While we rest, the rising sun

slides shadows of rocks,

transforms forms like clouds

from profiles of ancient patriarchs

to heavy-bosomed fecund goddesses.

Some of this is seen

through the ring of my canteen

while we exchange desert legends

on the clinging of thorns to cliffs

like ancient mountain climbers.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

The desert breeds monotheists,

someone suggested in a seminar on Job.

Thirty years later, in these mountains, I add††

sculptors, artists, poets.

 

No matter what Aristotle says,

the statues the desert forms

of its very will, are imitations of their own:

the salt melting through the mountains

after rains, boulders slipping

from cliffs with the drying of the sun.

 

That old man, leaning cheek on hand,

observing our little caravan from his mighty

height and incredible size, reminds me,

absurdly, of Chagall (Rorschach

ink blots, the ancient skeptic inside

whispers: the mindís need to humanize

abstract phenomena).No!See that enormous foot,

the rivulets defining each tendon!And over there

the lion rising from the sand, tensing supple thighs

into a leap, north to Bethlehem.

 

The sky above

is only backdrop,

 

a blue sheet

 

hung up as foil.

 

 

 

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