"To a Desert Poet" by Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman is the author of eight collections of poetry, all published by Wesleyan University Press, the most recent of which are Cascadia (2001) and Pieces of Air in the Epic (2005), which received the William Carlos Williams Prize for Poetry, and Practical Water (forthcoming 2009). She has also published three chapbooks. With Patricia Dienstfrey, she edited The Grand Permission: New Writings on Poetics and Motherhood (Wesleyan, 2003). Hillman teaches at St. Marys College where she is the Olivia Filippi Professor of Poetry and works with CodePink, a social justice group against war. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

To a Desert Poet

You traveled, your mind set forward
slightly like your father's watch.
You went toward the blurred edges
to make a skin of now, of later.
The place of origins included 
dust that spoke, the particle spirits,
a hawk with its droplet of blood,
an armored toad. 
Ancestors looked on. You etched
letters with a stick, making matter
of the beautiful & the felt.


2/     (a divination)
The first symmetry was lawless.
You had to invent water,
to pull meaning from form—
a darkness between rhythms—
& always at the edge of noon
in pale pavilions & ramadas of straw,
your practice coded in shadow, 
the sweet promise of a visitor's well.
Remember the dream of a little owl?
It came willingly to your hands, &
everything quivered around
where it flew in —


Your loved ones gather strength 
after an illness; they put their heads 
against the years. They hear 
the molecular rattle of the mesquite, 
the finding bin of syllables, 
their mothers' unchanging breath.
They ask what is possible, given
the wretched governments of earth.
A poem can't do much but
it gives off sparks from its wheels,
the bristle & the clicks, mostly
at moments of resistance.


—& when you went out in the world
after the long disease of yourself
& saw the colors of the world
right before they arrive, the dulls
& browns of the absolute season, 
mauves streaming in the waters 
of a year, you knew the features 
of the world are the same 
as the language of the soul 
& by traveling in those elements 
you'd lose your fear —