Letter to America by Alison Hawthorne Deming

One Poem

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Territory Drive

I went for a walk again today over the hilly street
      bordering my subdivision
                                     went a mile
            to where the street splits
                        then climbed to where
        the median strip
                             shelters brittlebush
                  and penstemon    
                                    in wild bloom and
there where the road split
                        I was relieved
            of commodity and commerce
                                   as the street was relieved
     of our customary speed
                            to get somewhere.                                                         

The air was mild        the sun sharp
               desert light         intense
                        as is         my isolation
     made requisite             by a being       or is it
                   a non-being         dispersing
            in the global         humanosphere
noncellular         nonmetabolic           unable to grow
                or replicate        without a host
     crumbled bunch of twine              oily membrane
            protein spikes that        Velcro to human lungs        
                        the virus needs us           and we
             the numerous             comply

 or not
            walking alone             noting
     pleasures in the familiar               that we had
               once found          abroad
                        Lyon’s silk looms
                                the Alhambra’s heavenly garden of Islam
          Delphi’s mystic air
                                   now it’s mica flecks
                                                           in roadside gravel
                        little stars in the firmament
                                               of what keeps us grounded
              when the angst makes us spin.

I don’t know how
                        to speak of grief         I feel
                                               the floor
        break open beneath my feet           fall into
            abysms of the unthinkable                 just imagining
                                   my daughter         my grandsons…
but seeing the semis
                   lined with quick-built
                                   wooden shelving
                          stacked with white-wrapped
            the sheen and contour            of the shrouds
                 I force myself           to write
                        learning        to see
     each one of them          as among my beloveds
                   each word            an act
                         of defiance     against      the unspeakable.

I walked out and returned
                                      the phainopepla
            churring from atop                 the leafless mesquite
                        fearless in its black           satin camo
     matchtip flames        atop ocotillos
                                               the yardman
                        loading his trailer
              with pulled weeds                ring of shovel
                                   scraping dirt                                              

then heart swelling
                        at scent of orange blossoms
             neurologic memo           to the sense of smell
                  a paean to hope                that my body
                         my brain        can still equate with
        spring and all
                                    while the neighborhood
                   contracts              behind disinfected doors
                              and we          winter ourselves
                                  keeping the difficult distance.




Alison Hawthorne DemingAlison Hawthorne Deming’s most recent poetry collection is Stairway to Heaven (2016). She is a Regents Professor at the University of Arizona and lives in Tucson and on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada.
Read additional work by Alison Hawthorne Deming appearing in Terrain.org: “Letter to America,” “Spill Stories: Drag Racing to the End of the World,”The Cheetah Run,” “Ruin and Renewal,” three poems, plus an interview with Alison: “A More Encompassing View of Human Flourishing.”

Header photo by Simmons Buntin. Photo of Alison Hawthorne Deming by Cybele Knowles.



Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.