Monday, October 8, 2018

Southwest Sonnets

September/October 2018
by Quincy Saul

with inspiration and editorial supervision from Kanya D'Almeida, copilot, and major thanks to Martin Saul y Diana Quintero, Jen Pearson and Robert Crying Redbear, Bodhi Harnish and Matilda Hernandes-Miyares

A rising smiling moon shines on the street
Where we are waiting for the bus to ride
Away from this big city, sick and sweet,
To where the heart and soul may open wide –

Above the metal forest now we fly!
To heights where we can see our Mother's face
And see the squares and smoke that make her cry
And see the maze and monster we escape –

Away to soils unpaved and skies unscraped!
To stars at night and birdsong in the day,
To holiness with blue horizons draped,
To roads of red and leaves of green we pray!

Deliver us from artificial life,
And in the wild pronounce us man and wife!

(Harlem - LaGuardia)

Where Pachamama's breasts rise from the plains
And garnet glaciers gather up her milk,
Where Comanche rode mustang without reins,
And raptors rule a silence gold and silk,

Where faithful geysers gurgle, spout and fume,
Where doors to underworlds are open wide –
Through which will rise a continental doom
And cast the country that we know aside!

Where buffalo are beautiful and wise,
Reminding us of dread ancestral crimes,
Where mountains lions stalk and grizzlies climb,
Where moose and elk and mule deer tell no lies.

Where fewest people live in all the land
There wilderness may take a final stand.


I cannot shake the sentience of stone
It lingers in my wet and fleshy mind,
Sometimes in chorus and sometimes alone,
The silence sings of all we've left behind:

It broadcasts from the spires sculpted by time
And resonates in canyons carved by rain:
An epic geologic verse and rhyme
By which the rock reveals that it is sane!

Where does a stone begin and where's its end?
Streaked or arched or crushed or pure or stained,
The stone is patient with its human friend;
Its message and its mission here are plain.

One day they just may learn to read the stone
And join its song, in chorus or alone.

(Druid Arch)

Relentless rocks of rainbow brown and red
Rising and melting in vast flows of time,
Through which they travel lifeless and undead
And preach in panoramic pantomime...

To those who learn to read the canyon walls –
The slickrock and the arches and the spires;
The rock that balances, the rock that falls;
A cosmic story spun on silent gyres...

The silence round which all the world revolves –
The rock which cannot lie and cannot die
Reveals relentlessly and thus resolves
Our every who what when where how and why.

They teach the ancient past if you will read,
And prophesy the pacts of destiny.

(Canyonlands and Arches)

Symbolic? Allegoric? Literal?
Or were these categories not conceived
By those who painted on the canyon wall
And therefore surely not to be believed?

Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, Socrates –
These names may conjure feelings of the age
When ink distilled from bark and stone and leaves
Was painted on this canyon's turning page.

In silent contemplation among friends
The past, present and future may be one,
And life and art and rock – no start or end;
Fused by sudden rain and scorching sun.

The time machine is ready. Death presides.
Join the grand gallery with living eyes.

(Horseshoe Canyon)

I first came here seventeen years ago
But of that I no single cell remains!
Where memory and soul reside, who knows?
I ask the ancient canyon's curves and stains.

Red and redolent of mystery,
Cradled and cracked and curved by times caress,
These holy halls hung with prehistory,
Born of matter, riding spirit's crest...

A precious woman reads by candlelight;
A single giant flower blooms nearby,
And somehow I and I are one tonight,
As canyon rims cut slices of the sky.

The future remains safely round the bend
With its towering pasts and unknown ends.

(Hurricane Wash)

I came, I saw, I posed and clicked away
And captured every moment on a screen,
With camera I pounce and pierce and prey,
Accumulating all that I have seen.

How is a picture taken and from whom?
What language binds the thousand words it's worth?
What mother tongue will speak them and what womb
Has carried all these stolen souls to birth?

Does a landscape have a soul to steal?
Or only us, who beg and volunteer
To feel the rapture replacing the real
While through a lens at wilderness we peer?

Nothing escapes the tourists' cyclops eye
Except the vast and unknown world inside.

(Bryce Canyon)

America the beautiful, how did you get so bland?
How did your grace and glory peak and pass?
May we remember to live for the land –
May Southwest stone redeem Northeastern grass.

How has a New World aged so suddenly,
Which once won freedom from its kings and queens
And now is throne to money's monarchy –
May Southwest red redeem Northeastern green.

The roads which led to Rome have led us here,
A continent transformed into a mall,
Its people bred on plunder, pomp and fear –
May Southwest spring redeem Northeastern fall.

Where wilderness exists there is still hope
May Southwest dreams redeem Northeastern dopes

Where pavement ends and desert silence starts
May Southwest hoodoos heal Northeastern hearts

Where juniper and sagebrush blooms and grows
May Southwest sonnets flee New England prose.

(RV park)

A straight-up land of red and brown and gold
And orange polished silver by the sun,
And rain that carves the canyon's drapes and folds,
Where blossoms green from dusty cliffs are won,

With pools of emerald and thrones of white,
Where angels land and Sinawava soars,
Where from the weeping rock new life delights –
The raven calls, the mountain lion roars!

Vertical reservoirs of porous stone
Which from the desert air and wind divines
Sand sagebrush, oak and alder, penstemon,
Maidenhair ferns and golden columbines!

Where velvet ash and canyon grape preside,
Breathing in the blueness of the sky.


Abbzug and Hayduke rested here from work
Defending the Kaibab the night before –
Where fiction has been known in fact to lurk,
Where Colorado cuts to Vishnu's core...

A million years are measured by the inch
Where gods and fossils flow, aeons converge,
Revealed and resting in the canyon's pinch,
New myths and greater mysteries emerge.

Where Pahaweap and Wikataka weave
When all the clocks of timelessness strike noon
And uplift and erosion have conceived,
The grand abyss is staring back at you!

A window to the soul of Mother Earth!
What will you do to carry dreams to birth?

(Grand Canyon North Rim)

He travels to this marvel of the world
And climbs the mighty mesa's highest shelf
To where all nature's secrets are unfurled
And there he takes a picture of himself.

Who bred this race of posers on the rim?
They turn their backs upon the face of God
And flex and pout and prance and prate and grin –
What path to desolation have they trod?

Technocracy and Narcissus are one,
United in the kingdom of the lens,
So no one cares to see the river run,
Or contemplate their own impending ends.

He's here to be taken and then to take;
The vultures know the end is near, and wait.

(Grand Canyon South Rim)

The oldest town from sea to shining sea –
It never signed a treaty with the Whites
No water pipes, no electricity –
Here a nation sings and sows and fights.

With just a few inches of rain a year
Their mesa is their paradise on earth,
A chosen place that most would dread and fear,
Where purple, red and yellow corn are birthed.

Here a people triumphs over greed.
They know their past and dare not till the land;
“To sow a sietch, be one with what you need” –
Surrounded twice, they doubly understand.

Sing praises from the hilltops for the rain!
Or beg the ants for refuge once again!

(Old Oraibi; thanks to Robert Crying Redbear and the Red Rock Native Arts Guild)

 ¿Podría poesía de Aztlan
Amanecer o transnochar en paz
Y fe que su rima será imán
Por un conjunto de su luz fugaz?

The sonnet is a stranger here, like me,
It rhymes and scans with words from far away,
Yet here it is, and here it strives to be,
And here it strives to listen and to say

Que somos las semillas de Aztlan
Chicanos Shaking Spears for life and truth
Que los antepasados nos llaman
That unity is destiny – here's proof!

La isla de tortuga nos parió
And we are closer than we ever know.


With jagged teeth of stone to saw the blue
A weather maker calls and conjures clouds,
Its pantheon of ridges guards the truth
Which draws into its heights the pilgrim crowds.

This crown of spires which Turtle Island wears
Is garlanded with lakes of blue and green;
The summit summons us with truths and dares
In consultation with aquamarine.

The top wears the horizon like a hat
Which it takes off at night to feel the stars –
Meaning is running like sequoia sap
Away from cities, nation-states, and cars.

Great ark of stone whose prow pats seas of scree,
We walk and rhyme and sing in praise of thee!


The marmots and the pikas don't know why
The weather's getting warmer every year.
Up the slopes they're squeezed into the sky
Until one day their race will disappear.

What happens when the mountainside runs out
And nothing's left to climb to reach the cold?
That final council of small paws and snouts
Shall reach conclusions that no words can hold.

On summit islands all across the earth,
They'll come to breathe the planet's last cold air,
To say goodbye to beauty and to birth,
And greet their deaths without doubt or despair.

United in their final loneliness,
May our own ends have half their holiness.

(Glacier Point)

A separate reality of stone,
Where granite's rainbow reaches epic heights
And partners find togetherness alone
Against gravity's self evident rights.

The captain steers the valley with a prow
Worn smooth by seas of ice older than man,
Who had spent lifetimes contemplating how
To climb it free – a woman proved they can.

So ancient walls of dawn outlive old fears
And things are done that no one dreamed before –
El Capitan climbed without ropes or gear!
A new era has come! Who dares do more?

The captain is not conquered when he's climbed
As words are not surrendered when they're rhymed.

(El Capitan, for Lynn Hill and Alex Honnold)

Where does the wild begin, where does it end?
How is it tamed and how is it reborn?
Who is its enemy, who is its friend?
And when were we from this wild bosom torn?

Is wilderness outside or deep within?
Why do the civilized still hear its call?
And why did domestication begin?
How does an ecosystem rise or fall?

We ponder this in “wilderness preserves”
Where bears with tags in ears are photographed,
We wonder what the park system conserves –
A Christian ark? A positivist raft?

We must be one again with wilderness
So we are cursed until we know we're blessed.


One legged giants! Brown and gold and red
With slender outstretched fingertips of green –
They may stand centuries after they're dead
Indeed they challenge what life and death mean!

Whose tiny seeds require fire's sparks,
Who've watched civilizations come and go,
Elemental spirits, armored arks,
Who need to burn before they sprout and grow –

Their roots are interwoven underground,
Helping each other grow through wind and drought,
And in each trunk, whole ecosystems found –
Between heaven and earth, no straighter route!

Teach us how to be beneath your limbs,
Remind us how to sing your sacred hymns!

(Giant Sequoias and Coast Redwoods)

The shining sea is breaking on the shore,
Thick with the salt that ancient mountains gave.
The sands, fewer than stars, do not keep score,
The moon, invisible, rides every wave.

Great blue domain, we pray you shall prevail
And teach the land the peace that is your name!
We pledge allegiance to pacific sails –
Wash away our continental stain!

And carry us from port to poisoned port
With tidings of an oceanic peace
Fated to reach the East, West, South, and North,
Pacific, Manifest your Destiny!

Full fathoms thrive! One day you'll be our grave
Of dying coral is your patience made.

(Ocean Beach)

The journey ends as it began
Seated in a metal bird of pay –
The traveler begins to understand
In twilight what began at break of day.

The wilderness survives! And rock redeems,
And plants are the ambassadors of gods
And animals the architects, whose beams
Hold up the roof while nature beats the odds --

So we, who burned and basked in red and green,
Who tempted heights and depths on rock and sand,
We are not now as we have always been,
Transformed, transposed, translated by this land –

A road trip and a riddle full of clues
For memory to reckon with its muse.