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Drought Pastoral

Michael M. Weinstein

2022 Winner, Allman Prize for Poetry 


I wanted you, desert
you red incorruptible

parchedness perched on
the earth’s bone shoulder

songless as the hot
wind soughs through you

and the dump truck windows
gleam like opened blisters

at high noon. Today I
heard the grass growing

whispering its one shared word
blade to blade until the whole

green lawn knew it. Guilt
seeped up into me droplet

by droplet until morning
cast it off shivering, every

tiny globe. Which lives
and which deaths do I own?

A barrenness
thrives in me

a flock of toxins feasts
among the styrofoam

takeout containers my organs,
sprawled in the sun, become.

It happens so slowly —
the kidneys’ deliquescence

the wrists’ eight dinky bones
ground to a powder that seeps

into groundwater, granular
as one egg in the slurry

of my womb. To be holy
is not to hope anything

grows from this, I know,
to stand impassive as a cliff’s

face, formed when the desert rose
up in grief millennia ago

and not expect
nourishment or resurrection

in a handful of rain.
But I can’t stop

bleeding for the future
as the automatic sprinkler

seems to love the curb,
casts its glistening veil

of tears over and over it.
Open up, desert

and let me down into you
seven thousand feet —

where once the cage stops
shaking I can hear my lungs

breathe — where once
your pleats of rockflesh

clutched a silver seam
for boys like me to rip

and scrape the clots
of bounty out. I want

that dark igneous
solace of just

before they knew what
we had in us.