Julie Hensley grew up on a sheep farm in the Shenandoah Valley, but now makes her home in Kentucky with her husband (the writer R. Dean Johnson) and their two children. She is a core faculty member of the Bluegrass Writers Studio, the brief-residency MFA program at Eastern Kentucky University. Julie won The Southern Women Writers Emerging Voice Award in both fiction (2005) and poetry (2009). Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Anthology and regularly appears in a variety of journals, most recently in PoemMemiorStory, The Pinch, Blackbird, and Louisville Review. Her chapbook of poems, The Language of Horses, is available from Finishing Line Press.
After six months, I drove back to the desert like a lover.
December. In the wake of a slow, winter rain.
Week-old grass curled back into the sand
like the golden fur of some sleeping animal.
A few leaves still clung to the spiked rods of ocotillo,
gray-green, desperate like the tongues of cats.
Those already fallen darkened the base of each plant
in reverent, measured shadows.
My eyes followed cut banks washed into the earth
by the season of my absence,
hoping for some sign of forgiveness—the slip of a coyote
across the highway.
The smell is never the same.
I wanted to separate the air into parts,
dedicate my breath to each one—
Mesquite, Resurrection Moss, Mormon Tea—
spread them in front of me like colors on a spectrum.
I knew then that identification is the same as love,
another word for possession,
and I remembered what I had seen years before
and hours south of that place—
the nests of pack rats beneath a sandstone overhang
clotted with fur and stones and waste,
twigs bleached like pale bones, yucca curling in dry ribbons.
As night rose up out of the sand,
I looked for a place I knew,
the dusky splay of soil and volcanic rock
where the ridge folded and slid into the desert floor,
and something thickened inside my chest when I couldn't find it.