We Awaken in Stages

Counting the things I’ve been given,
Or stumbled over, or found —
Each moving like tumbled amethyst
Over my fingers, clicking as I tell:

The scent of slow-thaw spring
Dogs and drums
A ring of gray stub-oaks,
Bounded on the southeast by a chortling creek.

A sun-splattered kitchen I stalk through,
Reading Pinsky aloud from a book
That floods my palms, overspills poems.

Dangerous angels, fingers of fire,
Tongues of flame that pause in their flickering,
Bearing tales:
Where I’m from, people still put stock in rainmakers.

Afternoon sunshowers — flowers loaned droplets
Paying interest in exuberances of gold
(brittlebush, bladderspot, mariposa lily
cane cactus, blazing star, senna, spiny daisy)

Why must it always be the One Shining Thing
Or a life spent looking for it?
I had a sleeper’s childhood, nothing like a poet’s,
And I don’t remember dreams
So much as a series of slow awakenings
To sagebrush, seraphim, percussion,
Brief, mad bloomings,
And the muted click of semi-precious stones
Passing one across another.


I went through a period of about 10 years in which the well went dry; I wrote only two poems between 1993 and 2005 that were worth keeping. This is one of them.

After graduate school, I returned to the semi-desert part of Colorado I’d done some undergraduate work in and fallen in love with. Desert flowers and a months-long assessing of my life to that point gave birth to this poem.


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