Never Stop Seeing the Mountains


on that first ride in the jeep
top down and wind wild as
the roaming javelina
i turned his way
as the mountains squared their shoulders
and the sun melted on their peaks
“do you ever stop seeing the mountains?”, i asked, eyes full of their reflection
you shrugged
and i glanced their way again and whispered
“don’t ever stop seeing the mountains”

i was 18 then

i couldn’t imagine how anyone
would ever not notice them
guardians encircling this
still and sacred land
the saguaros paused in mid-stride
down the ridges

i was from the Midwest, you know
my mountains were cedar trees
that poked holes through the humid air
and through my bare feet below their canopy

mountains were rusty silos, pregnant with the year’s harvest
and telephone poles
with wires stretched from farmhouse to farmhouse
and the crumbling steps leading to the heavy door
of my catholic school

“never stop seeing the mountains”, i reminded myself
as I insisted we lay the most verdant sod in the backyard
of the home we just watched rise from a patch
of desert dirt.
our patch of dirt.

i was 23 then

but the corn fields beckoned
every time i visited home
and i couldn’t help but pet the leaves on trees
as if they were the silken hair
atop the heads of our future children

when the crescent-shaped studio
because our next abode
the mountains were our front stoop
here is where i fell in love
with all that the desert
offered in silent, un-bending sacrament
those mountains knew my footsteps
and gave me her Ocotillo as daily bread
and watched my own womb-mountain
emerge from my fertile soil.
“never stop seeing the mountains”, a song
that circled back and lived now.
in me.

i was 27 then.

our children have climbed the branches
of her Palo Verdes
and sipped the water from her
hidden, teeming rivers
(holy water)
they have called to each other
from within her canyons
and chewed a bit of the
wild mint spied among the dry wash
i read once that some creosote bushes
could be 12000 years old
and then i cried
because of course…
i’ve made laurels out of globemallow
and garlands from her brittlebush
and music from her mesquite pods

this is the place
this land of many contradictions
this percussion of my heart
this serenade of monsoons that
holds vigil for the tears that come
when i try to speak of its beauty
of the way
the arroyos filled
if for just a moment
on the day our children
breathed in their first Sonoran sunset
“never stop seeing the mountains”

i know that i belong here.
i know because i’ve memorized the angle
of the mesas
that are framed by my windshield
and i can discern the winter light
and the smell of coming rains
i belong here
because my spirit learned to compose itself
alongside the howl of the coyote
and the tender display of the wildflower’s center
the desert, she says
“Child, come closer.  Beneath my robes is treasure.
The kind you need not fear.
I will show you how to protect yourself
and still flourish
and still love
and still feel worthy
of those first desperate drops of rain
so that you open your mouth
as wide as your first cry
and splay your palms in holy receipt
and take the gift that is yours.
Child, never stop seeing the mountains”
see, the desert, she is wise.

and i can curse the heat
but i know that even wildfire is a sacrifice
the desert makes
so that a pine cone that has waited and waited
can release its seeds
in the blaze
and the dead brush can be offered as ash
and we can take that same ash
and drag it down our cheekbones
in a momentary ceremony
of ourself
because we too need release in the fire
we too need to burn
so that everything old is new again
see, the desert, she knows.

never stop seeing the mountains
this is my supplication
even among a city who draws quilts of smog
over her head at night
and whose freeways tattoo her landscape
and whose shades of dust stand out so sorely
but then we remember
that there wasn’t any green in the womb
browns and reds, the first colors we saw
filtering through her skin

the desert, she is patron saint
to all of those who were told
“your ideas are barren
your heart a wasteland
your body shameful
your memories unforgiving”
because they forgot
that you are so firmly tethered to the earth
by deeply forged roots
and that you won’t be shaken
and you won’t go thirsty
and that you’ll bloom when
everyone least expects it
you are brutal
and you are beautiful

never stop seeing the mountains
never stop seeing the mountains



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