Alison Hawthorne Deming is the Agnese Nelms Haury Chair of Environment and Social Justice and professor of creative writing at the University of Arizona. She was the recipient of a 2015 Guggenheim fellowship. Deming is the author of numerous books of nonfiction and poetry, including Stairway to Heaven (Penguin Poets 2016) and Death Valley: Painted Light (George F. Thomson Publishing 2016), a collaboration with photographer Stephen Strom. She lives in Tucson and Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada.
Excerpt from Stairway to Heaven: Poems by Alison Hawthorne Deming, copyright © by Alison Hawthorne Deming.
Used by permission of Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a divsion of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
What the Desert Is Thinking
By Alison Hawthorne Deming
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 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. ✜