I was born in the desert
By Patrick T. Reardon
In the desert, I was thrice tempted.
I was offered two stones to eat and five rushes.
Atop the Temple, I was offered my stolid submission.
In my heart, I was offered a lock-up catechism.
I ate insects in the desert —
fig beetles, tiger beetles and larvae,
darkling beetles and blister beetles.
I wore sackcloth in the desert,
harsh as rales,
powdered my skin with crematory soot.
In the desert,
my father came out of no cloud to say anything.
My mother sang no Magnificat.
The ferocious voice I hear in the desert
may come from another hidden cave,
from an archdemon or angel, in dread or triumph,
but certainly pain
— or on the wind, a caravan rage
— or from my throat.
The desert is a baby crib,
shard and grit,
a lullaby of sweat,
migrating vermin under the skin,
the inside-skull itch, glazed gaze —
evil fleshed spirits pecking innocence like carrion,
The blank sun rises and sets in the desert,
a Bible without tenet, a map to blindness.
A skittering somewhere
in this honeycomb rock face in the desert
is the voice of God,
eloquent as falcon scat.
In the desert, I received stigmata.
I was prisoned in solitary.
My eyes refused what they saw.
I was unworthied.
This is my politics:
desert facts, fulcrum of desert power,
the Boulder Queen, larger than the Cosmos,
looking down from her own heaven.
In the desert, I licked blood,
worried the contours of pain.
I believed in doubt
and committed randomness many times
since my last Confession.
If you follow my instructions, you can read the desert:
In the desert, science is the rise and fall of an idiot sun.
Lights on, lights off.
In the desert, health is learning the rules.
Watch your step.
In the desert, Isaac leapt from the pyre and slew Abraham.
Holofernes cut off Judith’s head.
Eve killed Abel and Cain and one hundred billions.
Goliath dined in the desert
on David’s scrawny bones.
Mary strangled the baby,
fed Jesus to the sheep,
body and blood.
In the desert,
I listened for choirs,
clawed the dirt with fingernails,
hurried without aim,
knelt to no effect,
prostrated myself in the empty river bed,
whistled through cracked lips,
debated the mourning star,
sought prophesy in cave bones
— shake, drop, stare —
smelled sad perfume on the wind,
surrendered to echoes,
curled into a small frightened animal,
twitched and twitched and twitched
as if shaking myself to sleep.
In the desert, I was misquoted by the rock face.
My words were rearranged by the wind.
The lizard swallowed my autobiography,
the plume moth my elegy.
Red harvester ants
walked evil sentences into my mouth as I slept.
In the desert, my brother’s head exploded.
He had the final word finally.
In this desert moment, he did not stutter.
I hope he did not.
I hope he did what he did
without a pause for memory
of his twenty-three thousand days,
I hope he moved the gun with clarity and dispatch,
a clean break after so much jagged.
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
In the desert, a raptor feeds her nest,
and I lay my head nowhere.
Patrick T. Reardon
This poem originally appeared in UCity Review on 11.27.19.