The Shedding Season

Days roll into limp cigarettes hung from a torn smile,FullSizeRender-39
Coughing shade from flowered lungs
With sulfuric flourishes.
The sweet rub of match.
Temptation stained thumbs.

The tilted season leans its heavy shoulder
Into the crook of spring.
Greased hair, plain white tee, flicking ash,
Daring the wind to ignite.
Drag racing with the forked tongue lot,
The silent serpents hidden in 14-karat grass,
Bladed beauties, luminous skin in bold patterns,
Distracting the eye with nubile flare.
What did mama sing over the sizzle of eggs?

Red touch yellow, kills a fellow
Red touch black, a friend of Jack

But Jack was nimble; he was quick.
He changed his colors in a season, grew five inches,
Lost his boyhood looks, morphed into stone to
Prey upon the girls of summer,
Scatter their hearts like blackbirds
Just to watch a glass collision,
Falling for mirages and heady desires.

His hands found their shoulders,
Massaged the muscles along their delicate bones,
His cold blood pumping,
Working well in the heat.
Posturing, he went for the runt of the neighborhood
Who had blossomed into coral perfection.

But she remembered the taunts of yesterday
When he gave her the slip,
Folding into shadows,
Watching the man-made lakes expose bathing lines,
Ringed history rubbed into rocks,
Slipping out of their silted suits
With greedy evaporation.

And she struck him in one fine leap.

 

Burgeoning Clouds

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The rain came in hesitant bursts
Tentacles spawning and retracting
A jellyfish moving in an ocean of silted sky

I drank from the oval bowl
Sipping the gratitude of high places
Open vistas unleashing boxed thoughts
Passing through me
Wind with voiceless imprints
Liquid whispers
A drink for the thirsty held to parched lips
Blistered from too much sun and confinement

I never did well in small spaces
Even in forested places
The trees suffocated
Sped my heart, pulling me upward
Never wanting to be grounded
Too much earth to contend with
Perimeters to pinch at my skin
My legs climb with language
The patter of sole to dirt

I wove my body into the stretched fabric
Of mist and memory
Of land where water fell, tripped and searched
Into the seas carrying
Old man with creased faces and bulbous noses
Women with daggers and babies, lovers in waiting
Finger painting a sky with my mind’s eye
So childlike in sight
My body could disintegrate
Leaving me with immortal vision
Enough to drink distance
Until peaks bow into light

As rain streaks the sky
Blossoming into an array of color
A glorious arch rewards those with
Lifted heads
A willingness to wait out storms
A mind quiet enough to understand
We choose our view
In the burgeon of clouds

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In Yesterday’s Pocket

I pulled out summer
Lapping and licking the surface
To wear through the veneer of today

Desert sage scented thoughts
Reminding me of the wild thing I was
Unstructured mind with winged words
Fingering the silver fruit
Picked from the greasewood lined washes
Gathering enough to launch into dry snow

Shifting through lint
The bits of jean and pearl
A shell from when I used to follow
A leashed moon into the ocean
To taste the dark, beaded breath hummed upon my lips
Engaging in the lucid world of salted sea foam
And silky weeds laced beneath my feet

I rode the California boardwalks at night
Wishing to disappear
Gripping my place in fisted comfort
Palming granite and chipped mica
Globes of fuzzy, dusted starlight
Knowing mountain linguistics
And playful sculpted shadows

I hadn’t learned to change my colors
I was creosote after rain, a thick humid hazel
Skinning my knees on angles
Painting my soul with hues clinging
To a weighted sky

I was not
Lemon colored
Sliced into high corners
Or beach built and sun drenched
Laughing in bursts of ray and sea spray
Island scented beauties lounging in sand
Bikinis on bikes, stopping boys on skateboards

I was
Desert scented, tomboy tough
Rough you up, the mouthy kind
All grit and saturated saguaro pulp
Preparing for drought, a thorny covering to protect
My distance
Lost without mountains

I remember the feeling
As if it belonged to someone else
Sifting though the lint of seasons
The stones of faraway places
The lost and found of love and people
The ripples of time it took to
Build a resistance
To lighthouses

Until I finger the collective yarn
In yesterday’s pocket
Little discoveries
Of who I used to be
And the compasses I still follow

-S. S. Hicks

 

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Creosote bush, aka Greasewood

The Devil Dances on the Horizon

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In the yawn of the parched desert
A thief waits to strike the wandering souls
The broken down car, the lone hiker,
The unbalanced soul, seeking vortexes
Buried answers, buried treasures
The lost arrive, the found return
A gladiator thrown into a pit of bread and circus

Too late as a fiery hand is placed upon your eyelids
Performing ceremonies, rearranging your senses,
Stripping bones of memory and flesh
To wash in the foggy bottles of rain,
Saved from the barren rivers threaded with cottonwoods
Offering cups of shade, teatime moving with winds
Brewed by the underlings, the shadows thrown under the desert brooms,
All the invasive creatures that will not be eradicated
Empowered by disgust and neglect
Cup them in your swollen hands
For one last fight

You will win when everything is lost
So sink your toes into the surrender
Wading gently into the jaws of the horizon,
The lapping tongue and swollen tonsils, clouds wedge in your jowls
Coughing on the orange dust of sand swirl
Test the waters as you swim into a saturated sun
The prickly pear stain and crimson coated cactus slabs
The pink halo blooms and fiery cholla globes, torching an entrance
Crawl through the window shards
Your ticket will be taken as you find your seat,
While the clever thief strips you of your desires and sight,
Narrowed down to one, unquenchable craving
Delirious upon the realization you will be erased

You consider the consumption
To roam the expansive halls of limestone and quartz,
To rest your bones on the warm rocks, sharing space with reptiles
Your fingers dragging along the smooth stone,
Shaped by the potter’s wheel of time
Allowing spirits to finger your pockets,
Pull your insides, leaving entrails as a warning to others
Milky white skulls, home to the skins of shedding snakes
You have entered the arena unprepared
Staring at the devil on the horizon
Wishing you wore your dancing shoes.

-S. S. Hicks

 

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Flowers in the Cacti

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In a nest of thorns the hummingbird feeds,
Prying open the clenched fists,
Protecting warm fleshy centers
Where sweet nectar rests
In folds of velvet pedals,
Simmering in a pollen soaked bath.

But the hummingbird stays hungry
With nothing to prove, nothing to lose,
Imprisoned however
In a frantic sputter of movement.

If it stops, will it know
Spring is built upon skeletal winters,
Dormant desires, littered masterpieces?
A mulched decay of seasons,
Fallen statues that once wore halos of blooms,
Crowned by Mother Nature
When she set her army to work
In the Sonoran desert;
The soldiers that kept watch, daring dreamers
To extinguish in the bright exposure.
Can you flourish in all that heat? she’d demand,
Or will you slither into the parched earth
And declare silent wars at night,
Rattling and howling in protest?

Does the hummingbird feel the residue
When it suckles the sunbaked blooms?
Feel the thorns as it wedges its
Fluttering body, its receptors heightened?
Do thorns make it sweeter?

Or perhaps thorns are
Expected.
A nuance.
A nuisance.
Bittersweet.
Irrelevant.

One thing is certain,
The hummingbird
Stays hungry.
That alone
Gives it
Flight.

-S. S. Hicks

 

 

Sunset Witness

 

 

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S. S. Hicks (Sunset off Yarnell Mountain)

 

I drove into a sun-drenched,
Arizona sky.
Met the horizon swallowing day.
Hiked for miles to
disappear into the stretch of land.

In blankets of clouds I stood.
Casting a line
to catch shadow puppets
swimming in valley streams,
patterns snagging on reflections.

Surrounded in trees saturated in lichen green,
pillared stalks of the century plant,
dirt threaded in golden grass,
branches twisting into gnarled sculptures,
clawing at the blue tarp sky,
stirring colors to paint
the sweet carnival.
While the earth begged to be noticed,
dwarfing the demons in our heads.

 

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S. S. Hicks

How Hot Is It? Let Me Tell You . . .

sun

Since I read a lot of posts complaining about the cold winter last year, while secretly chortling away with Mr. Burns-like laughter, it’s only fair I reveal the darker side of Southwestern living….the summer.

Let me tell you how hot it is. It’s so hot . . .

–For three days in a row now it’s been 115 degrees. And for three days in a row I dreamed of ice fishing in the nude. There has to be a connection.

–I put my running clothes on this morning, took one step outside and lost 10 pounds. Granted it was water weight, but tomorrow I plan on taking two steps, and by the end of the week there’s a good chance 60% of my body will have disappeared and I will emerge as Golem.

–Heat advisories now just recommend an Alaskan vacation.

–Pool parties are Jacuzzi parties with dead mice in the skimmers, after their botched attempts to drink…something…anything.

–It feels like you’re watching the second season of True Detective. Once outside you become confused and disoriented; you forget the names of people around you and can’t keep track of your life’s narrative, unable to recall why you live here in the first place . . . Oh yeah, because last winter was like the first season of True Detective when it made perfect sense.

–Everyone I come across is zombie-like and can’t be bothered with pace. I was in a 40-minute wait line at the post office. In NY, where winter storms invite fistfights over the last can of beans, a brawl would have broken out. But all of us in line knew our cars had turned into an Easy Bake oven and no one wanted to leave the cool 68 degrees safety zone with perfectly good Wifi and Kenny G playing. When the postal employee yelled, “Next,” people just waved her off and grunted.

–Birds spontaneously fall out of the sky.

–I’ve acquired third degree burns from the plastic and metal parts of my car. I wasn’t foolish enough to get a leather interior. In Phoenix, that’s like a hot dog telling a 7-11 clerk it wants a ride on that cool spinny thing. No, no. But when you get cloth, you forget about the other stuff, like the ignition, seat belts, and steering wheel. You know, necessary contact stuff in order to avoid collisions. And good Lord, never leave chapstick in between the console. All I need is a wick to make a candelabrum for Frankenstein.

–I heard someone humming “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes” in the checkout line, and I hummed along with him until the cashier joined in. The bagger thought he was being punked.

–When you grocery shop, people just eat the pint of ice cream in the parking lot. No sense in wasting a perfectly good milkshake.

–When my older kids come home from the school, I have 20 minutes to lecture them about grades, food pyramids, sex ed, and skincare without sass-back or eye rolls before their heat comas wear off and their faux teenage outrage returns.

–Everywhere you go, water stations for humans and dogs are set up in businesses like first aid booths at a Knife Throwing convention. Want to classy it up and double your cost in services? Throw in some cucumbers – double your profits. (Note: Writers can’t afford these establishments. But we know it’s just hipster water anyway.)

Finally, the other day I was in a ladies room when I was propositioned for a bottle of water by a slumped over Midwesterner on vacation. I obliged and told her, “Next time splurge on airfare in February. I know it only costs $50 to fly into Phoenix right now. But there’s a reason. Cah-peesh? Fly home, my little snow bird. Fly home. This is no place for you until mid-October.”

“But I thought y’all said it was a dry heat?”

“That’s just what we say to relatives back East so we can feel superior year-round.”

She is probably overlooking Lake Michigan now, blogging about how hot it is here.

To that I say, “We’ll see who’s laughing in winter. We. Will. See.”

Stay cool!

Who Let the Scorpions Out?

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I was a scrappy kid growing up — the youngest of three, the only girl, always ready to out-crazy, out-punch and out-run my two older brothers. At five, I had mastered the side karate kick with precision and speed. To this day I still use it when they come at me, claiming to be playful. They’re older and fatter now so it’s a lot easier, and I’ve kept up with my yoga, keeping my kicks high and mighty. That’s the first rule of sibling rivalry: Never let down your guard.

Likewise, this is the first rule of the desert. Behind our childhood home there were acres of mountain wilderness, which we explored and roamed daily. We came across more snakes and scorpions and desert creatures than we could count, saving our finds for dinner conversation and nothing more.

Quick rules: coral snakes — red and yellow kills a fellow, red and black is a friend to Jack; rattlesnakes – freeze, then make a large arc around them; tarantulas are slow and gentle; don’t pick up rocks unless you’re prepare for the quick scurry of scorpions and centipedes; ignore coyotes, bobcats, and javelinas, but if they come at you in a pack, grab a large stick and scream like a banshee. [Ironically, the most terrifying incident was running into a swarm of migrating bees. Let’s just say it wasn’t my finest hour of cool. Luckily I heard them before they saw me and I made the fastest getaway of my life.]

But more and more, the desert was getting crowded with development. Frank Lloyd Wright imitation houses were all the rage. Homes with more angles than a geometry final exam started popping up. Isosceles triangles and rhombuses filled our desert space until my folks declared it was time to pack up and move further into the mountains. It was a big move at the time and like most kids, we resisted. I had already built the finest palo verde tree house with a “No Brothers Allowed” sign hammered into its green trunk and I didn’t feel it was an easy transplant. But kids have no say in their parents affairs. It was the early 80’s after all.

So, my mom, dad, brothers and I climbed into our wood-paneled station wagon, the kind with the rear-facing back seat, and headed further north to view a spot of land, ready to embark on a new chapter of desert dwelling. My father had always dreamed of building a house. As we drove, shedding civilization, burrowing further into the land, and my brothers had less drivers they could provoke into road rage by giving them the bird, we began to realize, Dad was really going for it. This was no joke. We drove off blacktop and headed to a vast amount of land littered with cacti and brush, with a white flag of surrender plunged in the middle of a lone valley.

“Here it is!” he declared with triumph, like he was homesteading, but with all the expenses of being a landowner.

“It’s nice,” we all said, staring at the range of mountains, a wash at the foothills, and a large expanse of desert where we would build a corral and stables. No neighbors. No civilization. Just lots and lots of thorny space.

“Ah, you hear that?” Dad said.

We shook our heads.

“Silence. It’s the sound of silence.”

Then my brother hit me and I screamed, just to show him there was no such thing when you have children, followed by a round of, “Will you stop touching me!”

My mother had brought a blanket and food because nothing spells picnic quite like thick cacti, creosote, brittlebush and anthills the size of mini Everest. She paced, scanning a good spot, coming up empty, while Dad carried on.

“And the kitchen will be here. Your bedroom will be here. And way, way on the other side will be your brothers.”

I perked up at that. Way, way? Other side? Yes! 

This lasted all of twenty minutes. Then came the photos. There’s a picture of me in my dolphin, two-toned shorts, holding a wildflower, grinning in a sea of desert. Mom gave up on setting out a blanket and we ate our sun-soaked sandwiches on the flattest rocks we could find, swatting away gnats and stomping off the ants.

Hearing the promise of horses, my brothers became excited about the move. Also, being male teenagers, they were already less suited for society. It was obvious they would either become convicts or cowboys. Unfortunately for me, they chose the latter, using me as a runaway calf, roping my feet until I mastered resentment and how to take a face plant. (Note: You want to stay loose, so you can roll away fast.)

There was a lot of Dad pointing and smiling, mapping out his dream, while my brothers and I collected scorpions and centipedes in the cups Mom brought. Soon we had an entire army of bugs. We built a rink for them to maul each other in, while Mom, still holding the blanket, nodded alongside Dad, disguising her reservations about the whole move.

After a couple hours, we packed up, ready to return home and plan the timeframe of what would follow. I diligently let my scorpions and centipedes go and climbed back into the station wagon with my brothers, who were again in the rear-facing back. We weren’t even a mile away when the shrieks of horror had my dad pulling the car over.

“What? What? What?” he yelled.

“The cups of scorpions and centipedes got knocked over!”

All the car doors flew open and everyone screeched, running away from the station wagon, including Mom and Dad. Two lone empty cups were turned over in the back and all the bugs scurried in between the cracks of the plastic seats, burrowing into the crevices, clenching their lobster-like claws and moving their tiny legs.

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“How many were in there?” my father demanded.

“I dunno,” my brother said. “Twenty?”

Then they fought over who spilled the cups.

“Why were you bringing them back?” my mother yelled. “You were supposed to let them go!”

Then a round of finger pointing ensued.

Here we were: five people, ten feet away from a station wagon with all the doors open, in the middle of the desert, yelling, pointing, freaking out. Too bad a satellite image couldn’t have captured it.

After a half an hour of standing there, we decided we would all sit in front, as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. We drove back into civilization with five people in the driver and front passenger seats laughing and kicking like a pack of wild coyotes. I kid you not. And suddenly, us moving away from civilization made sense. We may have tethered our dreams to my father’s, and it didn’t take long before civilization found us again, but my father was right about the desert. You can hear your own voice — and that’s where all dreams start.