554: Sonoran Desert Poem

554: Sonoran Desert Poem

554: Sonoran Desert Poem


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I almost moved to a desert once. Or rather I did, but not for as long as I intended. I moved to the Chihuahuan desert in New Mexico, and for a good month or so, I thought I might call it home.

There was something about those dramatic skies that could change in an instant with a coming storm, those otherworldly pinks of the Sandia mountains, and the thick sage-smell of the bosque along the Rio Grande that made me fall in love with the raw beauty of North American deserts.

As a rule, I tend to distrust forced wisdom from others. I even distrust myself if I suddenly find myself opining in the middle of the conversation about something I’ve “figured out.” I don’t think I’ll ever figure out much. Or maybe I’ll have a little respite here and there, a moment of equilibrium. The only time I do trust wisdom, it’s the wordless knowledge that comes from the land itself. The mountains, the riverbeds — I’m always putting the “Oh” in ocean when I see it. A hand going over my mouth. I may not know much, but I know enough to understand that the land knows more than us.

I remember once going for groceries just outside of Albuquerque and the light hitting the Sandia mountains above the grocery store ⏤ and being struck by how small I was. How small everything was. I was loading the groceries into the car and had this overwhelming feeling that nothing truly mattered. Not in a way that meant I didn’t love the world, but in another way. Everything I was worried about was some miniscule grain of sand in the otherwise endless mass that made up the world. It knocked me out of myself, or rather, it brought me back to myself.

In today’s tremendous poem, we see the power of the desert, and how the wisdom of those mountains can teach us something about release, about surrender, about what we cannot know.

Sonoran Desert Poem
by Jake Skeets


coming to the desert for the first time

and the night turns over a millennia before you
just say the name mountain

of mountains—make more
out of bird formations or drainage pipes

deserts build water
so drink the lightning


so you have been here for some time

velvet ants and paper wasps testify
sandstone bones are left long under sage

bones sculpted by sand—sand that collects its legs
in the atmospheric heat to storm and swallow

an entire city—a city that too builds its water
from fly ash—drink from that now

the cactus wren finished the lightning


there are those who come to the desert
because they have always been here

wind coyotes grow thorns
in the inches of light sunsets have

of mountains—do not make a mountain
reach for one and let it turn away from you

"Sonoran Desert Poem" by Jake Skeets. Used by permission of the poet.