Back to Issue Twenty-Four.

Desert Triptych



The path down the Way of the Cross
isn’t straight but tangled, web-like,
a place to get lost and then found.

Wind rattles the ocotillo as I pass,
crazes the juniper, conjures a cloud
of red dust on the cliffs. The wooden

crosses creak and sway as the rain
blows in. Here everything’s tempered
by extremes—the downpour runs off

to the muddy Chama River, a fire
on the mountain rages. The garden path
circles big volcanic rocks, lavender

peeking from the blackened pores.
Overwatered, the yarrow lining
the way grows too tall and topples.


The desert can’t take so much rain:
the main road washes out in rivulets,

crumbling into the river below.
Nothing soaks in. Vespers drone on

toward the comfort of another
Sabbath, in saecula saeculorum—

silence can till you up, maybe,
make words stick and reveal

what completes you, let some sprit
soak in. Or else the quiet carries

parts of you off. The desert, too, has
its small voice, a coyote song at midday

echoing in the canyon, the cottonwoods’
green rising in counterpoint to red cliffs.

The abbey church behind the garden
built on rock, under rock, sheltered

in repetition, perfumed—a muddy river
rising fast to cut off the road.


Three days I wait here to rise into
some new life, but I can’t even believe
from this cell, praying only to leave it—
more empty words, my eyes to the horizon.

The river trees across this distance turn
blue under pinnacles of rock, those remnants
of old time: what impossible contentment,
to stand and be worn. And fires still burn

out west despite the desert rain.
The bells call me back—terce, sext,
none. Hours and days drag like the text
my voice softly joins, then rush on again.

—Christ in the Desert Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico


T. J. McLemore lives and teaches in Fort Worth, Texas. His poems and interviews have appeared in Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Michigan Quarterly Review, Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere.

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