Mile after mile, the torched chaparral:
its sole pulse, an itinerant cricket.
Arson and ozone,
that tarry smolder of creosote bush,
the broken family of mesas.
In the time it takes to smoke
a menthol superslim,
eucalyptus passed into memory.
Colorless, mostly crystals, a mild anesthetic.
Buzz those cold receptors, under the skin.
Menthols: the price of cool.
Maybe the ground remembers,
like the rind of a melon.
“Take what you need,” it says.
And what could be sultrier
than rain. Rain, don’t go away.
Bare limbs recall joy they were shaped for,
while eighteen threads of April
tether the sheltering motel eaves
to the patient soil.
Afterglow is an eye in the dark,
the shared cigarette, obvious as
that creaking vacancy sign.
Heat rips through the chamise
and flickers up the canyon:
fifty tongues funnel into a roar,
ravishing in its concentration.
One live coal in the hand—not yours
this time, not mine and yet,
somebody lit that streambed’s wick.
Seen from the chopper,
kissing the fire scar: spits of rain,
and terrain, like the wrong side of a blanket.
In the time it takes to raise a child,
ex-chaparral lurches onto its thorny feet.
Between the sheets of cheatgrass,
hummocks of red brome unravel,
a downward chill, fleecing mesa mint
even the sage of its room and board.
Where is the bunchgrass now?
the scrub oak?
Land again, in see-through fingers of rain.
And that cricket—a pulse,
a plea: Oh world, these feet of clay.
Laurie Klein’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southern Review, New Letters, Ascent, Mid-American Review, Natural Bridge, Potomac Review, and other journals. Winner of the Thomas Merton Prize, and a founding editor of Rock & Sling, she lives amid acres of mullein in the Pacific Northwest. Her first collection is forthcoming with the Poeima Series from Cascade Books.