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Alison Hawthorne Deming

1946–

Poet and essayist Alison Hawthorne Deming was born in Connecticut in 1946 and received an MFA from Vermont College University. She is the author of Stairway to Heaven (Penguin, 2016), Rope (Penguin, 2009); Genius Loci (2005); The Monarchs: A Poem Sequence (Louisiana State University Press, 1997); and Science and Other Poems (1994), which was selected by Gerald Stern to receive the 1993 Walt Whitman Award.

Deming's honors include the Pushcart Prize for nonfiction, the Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. She edited Poetry of the American West: A Columbia Anthology (1996) and has published several books of prose, Writing the Sacred into Real (Milkweed Editions, 2001), The Edges of the Civilized World: A Journey in Nature and Culture (1998), and Temporary Homelands (1994), a collection of nature essays.

Director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center from 1990 until 2000, she is currently Associate Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona and lives in Tucson.

Alison Hawthorne Deming
Photo credit: Cybele Knowles

By This Poet

3

Stairway to Heaven


The queen grows fat beneath my house
while drones infest the walls

reconnaissance to feed her glut,
wood ripped from studs and joists.

I’ll pay to drill the slab and ruin
her pestilential nest. How to find 

the song in this day’s summons? 
I’ve been accused of darkness 

by my inner light. My brother sits 
in the chemo chair another long day 

of toxic infusion, the house of his body—
bones, brain and balls gone skeltering. 

I sit in my parked car listening 
to Robert Plant recall how the English 

envied the Americans for getting 
the blues, getting all of it, into song.

I remember the dream where 
brother and sister, adult and equal, 

lean and white as lilies, as bare, 
dove into a mountain lake, black water, 

high elevation, fir trees growing 
in flood water that had joined 

two lakes into one. Do you ever dream 
of animals, I ask him, hospice bed 

looking out on a plywood squirrel 
perched on cement block wall.
  
Frequently. A lilt of surprising joy. What kind?  
Mostly the jungle animals. Then: I’m going 

to do my exercises now. What exercises?  
I like pacing, he said, immobilized 

upon his death nest of nine pillows.
Then he closed his eyes to become the inward one 

whose only work was to wear a pathway 
back and forth within his enclosure. 

Human Habitat

Some did not want to alter the design
when the failure message
said massive problem with oxygen.
Some wanted to live full tilt with risk.

By then we were too weak for daily chores:
feeding chickens, hoeing yams,
calibrating pH this and N2 that . . .
felt like halfway summiting Everest.

We didn’t expect the honeybees
to die. Glass blocked the long-wave
light that guides them.
Farm soil too rich in microbes

concrete too fresh ate the oxygen.
We had pressure problems,
recalibrating the sniffer.  Bone tired
I reread Aristotle by waning light.

Being is either actual or potential. 
The actual is prior to substance. 
Man prior to boy, human prior to seed,
Hermes prior to chisel hitting wood. 

I leafed through Turner’s England,
left the book open at Stonehenge. 
A shepherd struck by lightning lies dead,
dog howling, several sheep down too.

The painter gave gigantic proportion
to sulphurous god rimmed clouds
lightning slashing indigo sky
while close at hand lie fallen stones

dead religion, pages dusty
brown leaf shards gathering
in the gutter yet I cannot turn the page
wondering what I am and when

in the story of life my life is taking place.   
Now what.  No shepherd. No cathedral.
How is it then that I read love
in pages that lie open before me?

Resurrection

My friend a writer and scientist
has retreated to a monastery
where he has submitted himself
out of exhaustion to not knowing.
He’s been thinking about
the incarnation a.k.a. Big Bang
after hearing a monk’s teaching
that crucifixion was not the hard part
for Christ. Incarnation was.
How to squeeze all of that
all-of-that into a body. I woke
that Easter to think of the Yaqui
celebrations taking place in our city
the culminating ritual of the Gloria
when the disruptive spirits
with their clacking daggers and swords
are repelled from the sanctuary
by women and children
throwing cottonwood leaves and confetti
and then my mother rose
in me rose from the anguish
of her hospice bed a woman
who expected to direct all the action
complaining to her nurse
I’ve been here three days
and I’m not dead yet—not ready
at one hundred and two to give up
control even to giving up control.
I helped with the morphine clicker.
Peace peace peace the stilling
at her throat the hazel eye
become a glassy marble. Yet here she is
an Easter irreverent still rising
to dress in loud pastels
and turn me loose
in Connecticut woods to hunt
my basket of marshmallow eggs
jelly beans and chocolate rabbit
there fakeries of nature made vestal
incarnated in their nest of shiny manufactured grass.

for Gary Paul Nabhan 

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