Lonely, open, vast and free,
The dark’ning desert lies;
The wind sweeps o’er it fiercely,
And the yellow sand flies.
The tortuous trail is hidden,
Ere the sand-storm has passed
With all its wild, mad shriekings,
Borne shrilly on its blast.

Are they fiends or are they demons
That wail weirdly as they go,
Those hoarse and dismal cadences,
From out their depths of woe?
Will they linger and enfold
The lone trav’ler in their spell,

Weave ‘round him incantations,
Brewed and bro’t forth from their hell?
Bewilder him and turn him
From the rugged, hidden trail,
Make him wander far and falter,
And tremblingly quail
At the desert and the loneliness
So fearful and so grim,
That to his fervid fancy,
Wraps in darkness only him?

The wind has spent its fierce wild wail,
    The dark storm-pall has shifted,
Forth on his sight the stars gleam pale
    In the purpling haze uplifted.

And down the steep trail, as he lists,
    He hears soft music stealing;
It trembling falls through filmy mists,
    From rock-walls faint echoes pealing.

Whence comes this mystic night-song
With its rhythm wild and free,
With is pleading and entreaty
Pouring forth upon the sea
Of darkness, vast and silent,
Like a tiny ray of hope
That oft-times comes to comfort
When in sorrow’s depths we grope?

’Tis the An-gu, the Kat-ci-na,
’Tis the Hopi’s song of prayer,

That in darkness wards off danger,
When ’tis breathed in the air;
Over desert, butte, and mesa,
It is borne out on the night,
Dispelling fear and danger,
Driving evil swift a-flight.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 28, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

I’m walking in sight of the Río Nambe—

salt cedar rises through silt in an irrigation ditch—

the snowpack in the Sangre de Cristos has already dwindled before spring—

at least no fires erupt in the conifers above Los Alamos—

the plutonium waste has been hauled to an underground site—

a man who built plutonium-triggers breeds horses now—

no one could anticipate this distance from Monticello—

Jefferson despised newspapers, but no one thing takes us out of ourselves—

during the Cultural Revolution, a boy saw his mother shot in front of a firing squad—

a woman detonates when a spam text triggers bombs strapped to her body—

when I come to an upright circular steel lid, I step out of the ditch—

I step out of the ditch but step deeper into myself—

I arrive at a space that no longer needs autumn or spring—

I find ginseng where there is no ginseng my talisman of desire—

though you are visiting Paris, you are here at my fingertips—

though I step back into the ditch, no whitening cloud dispels this world’s mystery—

the ditch ran before the year of the Louisiana Purchase—

I’m walking on silt, glimpsing horses in the field—

fielding the shapes of our bodies in white sand—

though parallel lines touch in the infinite, the infinite is here—

From The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems by Arthur Sze (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Arthur Sze. Used with the permission of the poet.

       “the ones who live in the desert,
        if you knew them
        you would understand everything.”

         –lucille clifton


coming to the desert for the first time

and the night turns over a millennia before you
just say the name mountain

of mountains—make more
out of bird formations or drainage pipes

deserts build water
so drink the lightning


so you have been here for some time

velvet ants and paper wasps testify
sandstone bones are left long under sage

bones sculpted by sand—sand that collects its legs
in the atmospheric heat to storm and swallow

an entire city—a city that too builds its water
from fly ash—drink from that now

the cactus wren finished the lightning


there are those who come to the desert
because they have always been here

wind coyotes grow thorns
in the inches of light sunsets have

of mountains—do not make a mountain
reach for one and let it turn away from you

Originally published by 92Y. Copyright © 2020 by Jake Skeets. Used with the permission of the poet.

Mule deer browse in the meadow
                           and meander in clusters down the slope 
                                         across a dry pond bed;

at a shooting range, we stare at a machine 
               loaded with orange-centered circular targets

                                          but are not here to practice firing at ducks;

you climb a metal ladder, sit 
             on a bench high in a ponderosa pine, 

                          and, gazing far, say hunters shoot from here;

we step onto a floating dock, while swallows 
                           scissor the air, loop back, 

                                        fuchsia-streaked clouds undulate on the water;

and when we canoed around a floating island of reeds,
              I understood we came here  
                                          to ignite behind our eyelids—

a yellow-headed blackbird perches on a cattail;
                                         beyond a green metal fence, buffalo graze—

while water runs into this pond, before it spills 
                             over a metal gate into the Río Chamita,

                                                                 we gather our lives in this pooling—

Originally published in Michigan Quarterly Review Online. Copyright © 2021 by Arthur Sze. Used with the permission of the poet.


The word acequia is derived from the Arabic as-saqiya (water conduit)and refers to an
irrigation ditch that transports water from a river to farms and fields, as well as the
association of members connected to it.

                                                            Blossoming peach trees—
                                                            to the west, steel buildings glint 
                                                            above the mesa.                                                         

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Acequia del Llano is one and a half miles long and begins
at Nichols Reservoir dam. At the bottom of the dam, an outlet structure and flow meter
control water that runs through a four-inch pipe at up to one hundred-fifty gallons per
minute. The water runs along a hillside and eventually drops into the Santa Fe River.
Fifteen families and two organizations belong to this ditch association, and the acequia
irrigates about thirty acres of gardens and orchards.

                                                            In the ditch, water flowing—
                                                            now an eagle-feather wind.


Yarrow, rabbitbrush, claret cup cactus, one-seed juniper, Douglas fir, and scarlet
penstemon are some of the plants in this environment. Endangered and threatened species
include the southwestern willow flycatcher, the least tern, the violet-crowned
hummingbird, the American marten, and the white-tailed ptarmigan. 

                                                            Turning my flashlight 
                                                            behind me, I see a large 
                                                            buck, three feet away.

Each April, all of the members come, or hire workers who come, to do the annual spring
cleaning; this involves walking the length of the ditch, using shovels and clippers to clear
branches, silt, and other debris.

                                                            Twigs, pine needles, plastic bags
                                                            cleared today before moonrise—                  


The ditch association is organized with a mayordomo, ditch manager, who oversees the
distribution of water according to each parciante’s (holder of water rights) allotment. The
acequia runs at a higher elevation than all of the land held by the parciantes, so the flow of
water is gravity fed. 

                                                            Crisscrossing the ditch,
                                                            avoiding cholla,
                                                            I snag my hair on branches.

Each year the irrigation season runs from about April 15 to October 15. On Thursdays
and Sundays, at 5:30 a.m., I get up and walk about a quarter of a mile uphill to the ditch
and drop a metal gate into it. When the water level rises, water goes through screens 
then down two pipes and runs below to irrigate grass, lilacs, trees, and an orchard. 

                                                            Across the valley, ten lights
                                                             glimmer from hillside houses.


Orion and other constellations of stars stand out at that hour. As it moves toward summer,
the constellations shift, and, by July 1, when I walk uphill, I walk in early daylight. By
mid-September, I again go uphill in the dark and listen for coyote and deer in between the
piñons and junipers. 

                                                            One by one, we light
                                                            candles on leaves, let them go
                                                            flickering downstream.

The Ganges River is 1,569 miles long. The Rio Grande is l,896 miles long; it periodically
dries up, but when it runs its full length, it runs from its headwaters in the mountains of
southern Colorado into the Gulf of Mexico. Water from the Santa Fe River runs into the
Rio Grande. Water from the Acequia del Llano runs into the Santa Fe River. From a
length of one hundred paces along the acequia, I draw our allotment of water.

                                                            Here, I pull a translucent 
                                                            cactus spine out of your hand.

From The Glass Constellation: New and Collected Poems by Arthur Sze (Copper Canyon Press, 2021). Copyright © 2021 by Arthur Sze. Used with the permission of the poet.

Female Rain

           Dancing from the south

                 cloudy cool and gray

                      pregnant with rainchild


At dawn she gives birth to a gentle mist

flowers bow with wet sustenance

                   luminescence all around



Níłtsą́ Bi’áád


Níłtsą́ bi’áád

             Shá’di’ááhdę́ę’go dah naaldogo’ alzhish

                     k’ós hazlį́į́’


                              níltsą́ bi’áád bitázhool bijooltsą́

                                  áádóó níłtsą́ bi’áád biyázhí bídii’na’



            níłtsą́ bi’áád biyázhí hazlį́į́’

                   ch’íl látah hózhóón dahtoo’bee ’ałch’į’ háazhah

                        áádóó nihik’inizdidláád

From Songs from This Earth on Turtle’s Back: Contemporary American Indian Poetry (Greenfield Review Press, 1983). Copyright © 1983 by Laura Tohe. Used with permission of the author.

every tree
a brother
every hill
a pyramid
a holy spot

every valley
a poem
in xochitl
in cuicatl
flower and song

every cloud
a prayer
every rain
a miracle

every body
a seashore
a memory 
at once lost
and found.

we all together—
in the night
dreaming up
the cosmos

cada árbol
un hermano
cada monte
una pirámide
un oratorio

cada valle
un poema
in xochitl
in cuicatl
flor y canto

cada nube
una plegaria
cada gota
de lluvia
un milagro

cada cuerpo
una orilla
al mar
un olvido

todos juntos—
de la noche
el cosmos

cece cuahuitl 
ca totiachcauh 
cecen tepetontli 
ca tzacualli 
ca teoyocan 

cecen tepeihtic 
ca cuicayotl 
in xochitl 
in cuicatl 

cecem mixtli 
ca tlahtlauhtiliztli 
cecen atl 

cece tlactli 
ca atentli 
ca necauhcayotl 
in oc tlanextilli 

nehhuantin tocepan— 
in cemanahuactli 

From Snake Poems An Aztec Invocation, by Francisco X. Alarcón (University of Arizona Press)

The morning is clouded and the birds are hunched,
More cold than hungry, more numb than loud,

This crisp, Arizona shore, where desert meets
The coming edge of the winter world.

It is a cold news in stark announcement,
The myriad stars making bright the black,

As if the sky itself had been snowed upon.
But the stars—all those stars,

Where does the sure noise of their hard work go?
These plugs sparking the motor of an otherwise quiet sky,

Their flickering work everywhere in a white vastness:
We should hear the stars as a great roar

Gathered from the moving of their billion parts, this great
Hot rod skid of the Milky Way across the asphalt night,

The assembled, moving glints and far-floating embers
Risen from the hearth-fires of so many other worlds.

Where does the noise of it all go
If not into the ears, then hearts of the birds all around us,

Their hearts beating so fast and their equally fast
Wings and high songs,

And the bees, too, with their lumbering hum,
And the wasps and moths, the bats, and the dragonflies—

None of them sure if any of this is going to work,
This universe—we humans oblivious,

Drinking coffee, not quite awake, calm and moving
Into the slippers of our Monday mornings,

Shivering because, we think,
It’s a little cold out there.

Copyright © 2019 by Alberto Ríos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 2, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

As of
A meteor
At mid-
Day: it goes
From there.

A perfect circle falls
Onto white imperfections.
(Consider the black road,
How it seems white the entire
Length of a sunshine day.)

Or I could say
Shadows and mirage
Compensate the world, 
Completing its changes
With no change.

In the morning after a storm,
We used brooms. Out front,
There was broken glass to collect.
In the backyard, the sand
Was covered with transparent wings. 
The insects could not use them in the wind
And so abandoned them. Why
Hadn't the wings scattered? Why
Did they lie so stilly where they'd dropped?
It can only be the wind passed through them.

Jealous lover,
Your desire
Passes the same way.

And jealous earth,
There is a shadow you cannot keep
To yourself alone.
At midday,
My soul wants only to go
The black road which is the white road.
I'm not needed 
Like wings in a storm, 
And God is the storm. 

From My Mojave by Donald Revell. Copyright © 2003 by Donald Revell. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books. All rights reserved.