Into the Desert
Playlist by Kim Addonizio
On September 2, 2018, I presented a radio show on BBC-Radio 4 about Walter de Maria’s land art sculpture, The Lightning Field, which was constructed in the remote high desert of New Mexico.

The poems here are those I share on that journey into the nature of art, culture, and our place in the world. Read below, and listen to the show to hear them aloud and learn about The Lightning Field.

Listen to the BBC program (available until October 1, 2018):
1. Rattlesnake
Stanley Vestal
2. Culture and the Universe
Simon J. Ortiz
3. To the Desert
Benjamin Alire Sáenz
4. Invisible Fish
Joy Harjo
5. High Desert, New Mexico
Kim Addonizio
Sinister bandit of the underworld
Bediamonded and lithe and insolent,
Loll in the sun until the intruder hears
The dry grim humor of your rustling tail.
Two nights ago
in the canyon darkness,
only the half-moon and stars,
only mere men.
Prayer, faith, love,
                       We are measured
by vastness beyond ourselves.
Dark is light.
Stone is rising.

I don’t know
if humankind understands
culture: the act
of being human
is not easy knowledge.

With painted wooden sticks
and feathers, we journey
into the canyon toward stone,
a massive presence
in midwinter.

We stop.
                       Lean into me.
                       The universe
sings in quiet meditation.

We are wordless:
                       I am in you.

Without knowing why
culture needs our knowledge,
we are one self in the canyon.
                                                                    And the stone wall
I lean upon spins me
wordless and silent
to the reach of stars
and to the heavens within.

It’s not humankind after all
nor is it culture
that limits us.
It is the vastness
we do not enter.
It is the stars
we do not let own us.
I came to you one rainless August night.
You taught me how to live without the rain.
You are thirst and thirst is all I know.
You are sand, wind, sun, and burning sky,
The hottest blue. You blow a breeze and brand
Your breath into my mouth. You reach—€”then bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
You wrap your name tight around my ribs
And keep me warm. I was born for you.
Above, below, by you, by you surrounded.
I wake to you at dawn. Never break your
Knot. Reach, rise, blow, Sálvame, mi dios,
Trágame, mi tierra. Salva, traga, Break me,
I am bread. I will be the water for your thirst.
Invisible fish swim this ghost ocean now described by waves of sand, by water-worn rock. Soon the fish will learn to walk. Then humans will come ashore and paint dreams on the dying stone. Then later, much later, the ocean floor will be punctuated by Chevy trucks, carrying the dreamers’ decendants, who are going to the store.
Temple of the rattlesnake’s religion.
Deluge and heat-surge. Crèche of the atom’s
rupture. Night blackens like a violin
and bright flour falls from the kitchens of heaven.
This is where the seams begin to loosen,
where you can walk for miles in any direction—
rabbit, lizard, raven, insect drone—
and almost forget the shame of being human.
Smoketree. Sage. Not everything is broken.
Horses appear at this remote cabin
to stand outside and wait for you to come
with a single apple. Abandon
your despair, you who enter here forsaken.
The wind is saying something. Listen.
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