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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

desert cottontails

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

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