The Giant Cactus of Arizona

The cactus in the desert stands 
    Like time’s inviolate sentinel, 
Watching the sun-washed waste of sands
     Lest they their ancient secrets tell. 
And the lost lore of mournful lands
     It knows alone and guards too well. 

Wiser than Sphynx or pyramid, 
     It points a stark hand at the sky, 
And all the stars alight or hid 
     It counts as they go rolling by;
And mysteries the gods forbid
     Darken its heavy memory. 

I asked how old the world was—yea,
     And why yon ruddy mountain grew
Out of hell’s fire. By night nor day 
     It answered not, though all it knew, 
But lifted, as it stopped my way, 
     Its wrinkled fingers toward the blue 

Inscrutable and stern and still 
     It waits the everlasting doom. 
Races and years may do their will—
     Lo, it will rise above their tomb, 
Till the drugged earth has drunk her fill
     Of light, and falls asleep in gloom. 

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 23, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.