The Desert Knows | An Excerpt from Desert



Stories define
us, it’s
true. And they

matter, though
they always
leave so much
out. I

like it
that way, keep telling
them to

desert, and desert

keeps filling in
whatever it
is we’re missing.

For months now
death has felt
frail and far

away. Breath
surprises me. The usual
morning ridgeline
surprises me, sun-

lit wasp
wing, lichen-
stained bark jade-

green. Breath
pulses, pulses. So
far away

death. How
will I ever
find my way back
home there?

The desert never
mentions arrival. Solar

heat, sky, dust-
light, a few parched
colors: they

rinse so far
through me
there’s nowhere

else to go. I
set out.

Snow goes on
falling, flurried
all day
through it-
self. Once

things get simple
enough, there's
no understanding or
even recognizing

them, like this
flurried snow nothing
more than

flurried snow
falling, falling
through all
our knowing. Or my
face in a mirror

gazing out, gazing
out at
itself utterly. Who knows

how far
I’ve come. But to keep
moving, sometimes
you need
things simple.

If we could not
speak, not
share the bright
clarity of whatever


with us, who
could bear
it? The day is all
yellow desert

here, blue
sky. Less and less

happens. How
is it
there’s so much
more to say?

Autumn-worn desert
grass in late
sun, its
scratches of

light horizoned
against blue

sky: how
could this routine
sight feed me

so perfectly? Feed me,
feed me, and keep
hunger wide-

open? Death
lives in us

like this: one more
way desert
its distances.

Light thinks
through things in its
own way, ignites

every detail of
their every

surface, and the eye
opens those
bright surfaces
all the way

inside me: mesquite
bloom, cottonwood leaf-

shimmer, sky. They
say beauty is
only skin deep, mere
surface, but light

knows how deep
surfaces go.

The desert knows
how it is, the empty

desert. I
bow to rain.

I wake
every morning the same
person. Same life-

history, same
mind, same eyes

looking. Some-
times, when the boredom
seems almost
endless, I

walk out among
mountains the same

mountains, sky

sky, and I understand
them perfectly.

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David HintonDavid Hinton’s many translations of classical Chinese poetry have earned wide acclaim for creating compelling contemporary poems that convey the texture and density of the originals. Hinton has received many national awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, both major awards for poetry translation, and most recently, a lifetime achievement award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Learn more. 

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