Alison Hawthorne Deming
Two Poems from Stairway to Heaven
What the Desert Is Thinking
We know the desert has consciousness because the saguaros
stand up and speak as one about the heat.
They tell the Gila woodpeckers to come in out of the sun.
They tell a man or a woman lost without water to lie
in the column of shade they make out of their kindness.
The saguaros all hum together like Tibetan or Gregorian monks
one green chord that people hear when they drive
through Gates Pass and come to the place where they gasp.
Beauty does that though the nihilist will make an ironic joke
about the note of surprise that has escaped
from his or her loneliness. The smile from the joke will cover
for the smile for joy. That’s okay. Consciousness
is like the saguaro’s decision to wait half a century to come up
with arms though arms were in its mind all along.
The Laughter of Animals
The animals do not laugh
except hyenas but they
mean hunger or feasting or
get off my back. The laughter
of animals erupts as
a gesture that ripples through
flanks or freezes head and eye.
For them too the spontaneous
is a means of defense.
Nothing is funny
to animals, pure muscle
more serious than the history
of thought, though I have seen
dance for joy in the rain.
From Stairway to Heaven, by Alison Hawthorne Deming (Penguin, 2016).
Alison Hawthorne Deming will read at the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival, Civic Center Park, Berkeley, California, October 1, 2016. See calendar or the Watershed page for details.
Alison Hawthorne Deming is author of numerous poetry collections, including her newest, Stairway to Heaven, just published this September. Her previous books include Rope, Genius Loci, and Science and Other Poems. She’s also author of several nonfiction books, including Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit, Writing the Sacred into the Real, and The Edges of the Civilized World: A Journey in Nature and Culture; she’s co-editor of the anthology The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World. Her work has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center, the Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University and the Bayer Award in Science Writing. Former Director of the University of Arizona Poetry Center and a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow, Deming is Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in Environment and Social Justice and Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, Tucson
— posted September 2016