The Caravan
(Feature Contributors)

©2001 Anne Spliedt

George Dickerson
The Bones of Heaven
The Book of the Dead

Paul Espel
Last of the Nabateans

Charles Fishman
Sharav Aliyah
In Dilmun, the Crows

Ruth-Miriam Garnett
Correlates for Persephone (Proserpina)

Sheri Fresonke Harper
Georgia O'Keeffe: Red Tree, Yellow Sky
Bitter Campari Orange Poster

Patrick Henry
Nimrod Enigma

Maureen Holm
Gila Feathers

Vicki Hudspith
Forgiving the Desert

James Ragan
The Mayor Boils a Speck of Dust

Sam Rasnake
My Last Door

Thomas Stein
Mojave Miles

~ . ~. ~

The Bones of Heaven
George Dickerson

When children of the desert are starving,
They crave far more than wafers of sand.
Their bellies are crypts where war's gargoyles howl.
No fish swim the fonts of their fly-gummed eyes
When hunger's thistles stitch them shut.
Their husks of voices are shucked-off choirs.
Their fingers are harps for the empty wind.
They will eat anything. They will eat tomorrow.
For them, the sky's a scoured bowl.
Oh, God, my indifferent God,
Witness how cold, how far, the stars
Are flung from their scavenged dreams!
The bones of heaven are long sucked clean.

~ .

The Book of the Dead
George Dickerson

How like Cleopatra she sailed down Sixth--
But without a barge or a burnished throne--
As regal as she could artfully be,
Carrying an armful of groceries--

Startled, as if I might be a grizzled
Caesar, popping up unconscionably
Around the corner of a New York street,
Unwelcome phantom of an ancient tryst.

She said my name as a convert might speak
The forbidden name of a toppled god,
With a slight derision and some regret.
I gave her a wink. She offered a nod.

We chattered like palms in a desert breeze,
Uttering some putative pleasantries:
"The Sphinx lost his nose." "Claudius is dead."
"Whatever happened to that awful Fred?"

She seemed to tremble as I pondered how
I'd slipped the sandals from her suntanned feet,
Then ringed my fingers though her cloistered hair
To wed the ineffable sweetness there.

We'd dreamt of forever with flesh on fire--
I still remember with a vague desire
The quickened tightening of kindled thighs,
The descant of her diminishing sighs.

Her slender hand flagged my thoughts away.
Pretending to forget her nudity,
Well sheltered now in her autumnal coat,
I studied the past in her amber eyes.

Fumbling with gloves that were suddenly tight,
I remembered how, in the civilized
Forum of our marital rooms,
We fought ferociously, just to be right.

Curious strangers to our former selves,
With wistful smiles and the hesitant dread
Of a past long-conquered, we parted again
At the raucous corner of Sixth and Tenth,

All rancor gone in the mercy of time,
Not emperor or an Egyptian queen,
She with her groceries, I with my cane,
A wicker woman and a rattan man.

Crotchety ghosts of our youthful sorrows,
Weathered wrecks of the lost tomorrows--
The little murders of our marriage bed,
Encrypted here in the Book of the Dead.

~ . ~

Last of the Nabateans
Paul Espel

Petra, desert capital of the Nabateans,
was a center of the caravan trade. Lost
for centuries, it was rediscovered by a
Swiss explorer in 1812.

The truck you hitch a ride on
stops in the middle of nowhere.
August in the Arabian desert--
even the children look old.

Sandstone canyons guard a hidden
entrance as you head down that
narrow pass in a stunning heat,

then gawk at temples, tombs and houses
cut deep in the rose-rock walls.
It's empty as the desert sun
till a one-eyed Bedouin kid appears,
"Coca Cola, mis-ter?"

Shifting foothills lead you off in
the dusty mountains. You're worn out,
sunburned, lost. A few likely exits
dead-end and your canteen is dry
when you curl up under a ledge
that's like a stuck out tongue.

The shadow you wake to is a bearded
old man who looks like Moses, says only,
"Mai?" the local word for water.

He beckons you to a private cave;
inside is a faded red soda-pop cooler,
1950's vintage, American standard.

Its peeling stencil sells
The Pause That Refreshes. And he tries
but you're not buying. So he brings out
a jug of wine that's free and clear.

It's almost dark when you stumble
back to the lost city. Thanks to
Moses--who's beginning to look
more like Columbus.

© 1991 Paul Espel

(Paul Espel's poetry and various prose appear frequently in the magazine. His "Groovin' in Palm Springs" appears in this month's Fiction/Short Prose section.)

~ . ~

Sharav Aliyah
Charles Fishman

All night the wind was howling
Sand the color of Jerusalem
sailed with the storm and grew darker
until it took on the hue of ripened wheat
the granular texture of unrefined flour

All night it flew: a swirling heat
that scoured the Negev and encrusted
the Judean hills with the silt of dream
and memory       The wind's quick tongue
licked each brick and left it gold

then coated each pane and tile
with seething dust       At last, the sun
went dark under yellow drifts
and you slept deeply and long
The world you knew had been

vanquished       and a gold flag flapped
a crescent of hammered gold scythed
through the air: the scimitar wind
had entered you and borne you far:
this was Arabia and you were wrapped

in a chador of gold        Your tongue
was still in your mouth       but it had forgotten
how to form syllables       and your eyes
were lowered       weighed down by an old
misery       your braceleted wrists

were too pale for one who lives with the sun
and your bejewelled fingers were empty,
for you held nothing but your place
and your tenuous beauty       The hot wind
the Hamsin       had lifted and changed you.

~ .

In Dilmun, the Crows
Charles Fishman

In Dilmun, the crow screams not,
the dar bird cries not dar-dar,
the lion kills not.

(--an ancient text)

Nor do the dates weigh down the palms
that have kept their silences for centuries
Water will not burble through the desert's
yellow sand       nor will gazelles leap gracefully
into the cooking fires at twilight

In Dilmun, fish cry not in the gulf
of the pure spirit       nor do they fill the sea
with abundance       with a swift and rhapsodic
beauty       Not copper but salt wind edged
with tincture of plutonium        Not bronze
but slivers of singed glass        And the wolf
licks the pelt of the lamb

Once, this was a thrice-blessed land
where crows sighed instead of cawing
where the lion languished in her den
and pearls grew plump as dates.

Why was this Eden abandoned?
Did its gods abscond with the rain?
Did the aging priests and temple deities
hear the dar bird singing? Did the burial
mounds bleed with coppery greed?
Or did the fish-eyes of pearls peer
too inquisitively into the future?

In Dilmun, the graveyard prospers
the journey towards death screams
with the blackness of crows       Water
weeps not in the scorched silence of desert
gazelles leap not       And lions kill

(Charles Fishman has published several pieces in the magazine this year.)

~ . ~

Correlates for Persephone (Proserpina)
Ruth-Miriam Garnett

There is a man somewhere, intruding upon light;
a streak of silhouette across a moonlit path.
He may be cold or hot, the season of his blood
courses steady and slow against his veins
(Imagine a waterfall sealed within a cave.)
This man holds something; a piece of pomegranate.
He sucks the seeds and the crisp tart sap.

What a man eats, he knows (beforehand).
What the tongue savors, it always (afterwards) tells.

This man sucking the seeds of the pomegranate
could talk to you of hearing water and looking for its source.
Of a sky, unfailingly blue. Of the harvested tempos
of his youth. Of the bread in our mouths.

I have eaten the same fruit, so am bound to the soil
and the fragile seasons in the center of myself.
I am owned by a thing that erupts, a being whose language
splatters curses. I fix on all upheavals surely coming,
smile wan at killing, casual love. Infer all ritual
to be either a hard bargain or a doubt. Air sucks my raging.

I accept that there is little to do, that the hours come
numbering the same; that the repeated fall of night
promises nothing; that calling a name a thousand times
makes but slight wind against these shadows;
that you lose everything, then you begin.

The man who eats the fruit is no confidant,
but a traveler in my imaginings; a desperate pledging
to the sanity I seek. He is walking the night for me
along some road under sparse trees, his clothing mottled
by the moonlight falling through the leaves.
He will steer my thoughts, he will chisel the world
and the decades looming against us both.

I am told there are forests beneath us, there is water.
There are ancestors' bones that will soften and harvest.
There are words sunk deep in rivulets to bolster memory.
There is life ballooning, breaking beyond silence.

Can we, any of us, break away
in our straightening, in our waking;
can we touch the sky?

(Ruth-Miriam Garnett is the author of A Move Further South (1987, Third World Press, Chicago) and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts (1992) and the Missouri Arts Council (1980). Poems have appeared in Black Scholar, Callaloo, Essence, New Rain, Pivot, River Styx, Steppingstones, and her credits also include critical articles and book reviews. She is the former Assistant Editor of Proud Magazine, a St. Louis-based quarterly covering urban issues, and in 1993 launched the Harlem Arts Journal. She has taught creative writing, directed workshops, and/or produced major events in New York (City College; Scarab Poets Workshop), Missouri and Oklahoma. Ms. Garnett earned a B.A. from Harvard and is now doing work in Cultural Anthropology at Columbia. This is her first appearance on the magazine.)

~ . ~

Georgia O'Keeffe: Red Tree, Yellow Sky
Sheri Fresonke Harper

You're broken, maybe already dead.
But poised there, at the center of your soul's desire.
Shade blankets your rooting,
the unbleached pool of uncontrollable want,
a thirst unsated by water.
All parched and salt sundered.
All beaten and purified by blind angelic brilliance.
You can hear a grain of sand shift
but nothing breathes.

Here, at your desert,
where the apparition of temptation meets you.
Emboldened, you reach
for the devil of your desire.
You reach, but are broken off,
before heaven.
Your lifeless limbs keen in a tuneless wind.
You are frozen in a timeless ghost dance
in which no shame plays your sin's hollow voice.
The sin of wanting beyond life.

You've reached eternity, where only will
can withstand the punishment of heaven.

~ .

Bitter Campari Orange Poster
Sheri Fresonke Harper

Wonder into which morning the pale
ghostlike fog of Homer has arisen. Hear
his indistinct mutterings through chapped
lips that chomp and lick. Sleep-crusted
eyes blink to free him back to today
along an unlit path closing behind.
His candle near burnt out. His cup
holding a blaze of bitter campari orange.

At late hours his step creaks bared wood
floors, disturbed in passing by his ungainly
belly. All breath closed in by nestling cold.
Homer, the grizzled and gray-bearded steals
to prevent tomorrows from slipping as away as
warmth, long john reds buttoned except
to gape at throat. His mischievous
and momentary gleam about to softshoe it.

Take from him his tottering pride, slash it
like an orange, peel cut it in spiraling dangles
and leave Homer's passing carmelized
and sugarized and easy to slosh down.
The condensation that is left, all bitter campari
orange, is a stylized poster to hang in a portrait
hall, a place of winter and alone. He's been
put to bed, except for his haunting tread.

(Sheri Fresonke Harper was recently awarded a certificate from the University of Washington's extension program in Poetry. Publications elsewhere include West Wind Review, Heliotrope, and Jeopardy. A native of Renton, she is currently working on a science fiction novel. This is her first appearance in the magazine.)

~ . ~

Patrick Henry

The harsh desert wind blowing in today
But welcome after the heat of yesterday,
A cooling fan after that gong-beating fire
Now settles its dust to cover the grey city
That might disappear as if it has never been:
Only another dune lost in the vastness
To answer the question, Does it really exist?

If we need any city, then why not this
Straggle of mud, sand and timber adrift:
Dust threatening to roll up its name in legend
Like a magic carpet wiped clean of its pattern
Back to unprinted yarns blank as the desert,
Its trade, learning and character gone forever.
Even now many think it has never been at all.

~ .

Nimrod Enigma
Patrick Henry

Dark folds of history cover steep, icy slopes
Trudged up to this summit where a monarch commanded built
Figures believed being powers before Bible times
Changed this land but for this peak that ye have climbed
To shiver exposed to bare harshness of cold earth
From time poised on a knife-edge in cruel climates then.
Now gloom shrinks and dawn light spreads on shoulders of giants
Looming fierce: but the gods have lost their heads

In earthquake long since, heads rolled on hard ground,
Detached to stare stonily at land they ruled,
Now claimed by no-one: a no-man's land to pause in
And hope no thunder strikes now in this eerie spot
There grey light gives away to blood-red of the sun
Grasping guilt-stained fingers up the highest rocks
We stand on, firmly knowing this most solid fact:
Creeds of man are frail layers seismic force can crack

Easily as it shattered these gods now feared no more:
Forbidding stares cut in stone and rounded eyes
Mirroring mine bewildered at their downfall in this place;
Once strong but became the weak point in the earth's crust,
Splitting to plunge lives down infernos scriptures warned
Will overtake wrong ways as cities seen bombed and besieged:
Cathedrals and homes crushed, people in fear laid to waste:
A reminder here of our planet's fragile course.

~ . ~

Gila Feathers
Maureen Holm

Like any habit, he repeats himself,
forsaking me in nightmares,
making love to me in dreams,
eyelids closing upside down,
locust in his teeth, he weeps,
for the gila's vision of his feathers splayed
across the desert's memory of green.

~ . ~

Forgiving the Desert
Vicki Hudspith

If only I could spend an afternoon on my back
Summer in my lungs
If only I could rebuild my city
Under a canopy of trees
Instead of listening to the horns of war
And bagpipes blowing for the fallen
This autumn has seen days beautiful as ball gowns
Hang in shreds
If only I could have emptied my pockets
And admitted that the idea of cranberry sauce
Fills me with fear and weakness
If I could have grabbed at false salutations
While you stood by broken hearted
Perhaps I could have held the face of worry
While you slept
In a heap of bountiful isolation
Residing behind the curtain of your eyes
Which is gone when you look my way
Were the russet moments of autumn
Merely an agitation toward something incomplete
Or an arrow pointing
At the abundant lips and fingers of seasons
I couldn't give
I am no longer able to speak my native language
And use only the barbarous invectives of "polite society"
Rendering my heart the size of a prune
To shrink upon the density of itself
This seed of love
Oh if I could open the sky
The desert sand would fly in feverish turns
And we would eat again
Crouched comfortably behind sighs
And it would be so simple to know you
Weapons thrown down
Eyes pushing back dry heat
Forgiving the desert for its lack of trees
I live among the lace remains of metal and glass
And carry particles of emptied air
From every cloudy day into the sun
I'll never be Gandhi
But maybe one of these days
I'll stop being petty and become Mother Teresa
Then I'll heal the world, cure myself
And pinch a camel's ass
To make it back kick madness from an Afghani moon
Shaking harshness from the clouds
If only rocks of sugar
Could sweeten the bitter sea

~ . ~

The Mayor Boils a Speck of Dust
James Ragan
for the "You know" generation

One day we are walking in the desert,
the next, entrancing on a verb.
The mayor asks us for a speck of dust to boil.
The rain has moved to Eastern earth.
We had never missed the water,
reason being absent in the West.
North and South our hands had mimed a language
for the tongues we mottled in our mouths.
But while the words are thinner,
and sentences are worse;
the subjects, once agreeable,
now disagree on course. Syntax bows
to "you know," and simile to "like."
And while the mayor boils dust
to gain a speck of water,
we will talk, you know, our verse,
and dust will fill a fossil
for the law Pascal our mayor quotes,
that while the pressure in a fluid
spreads equidistant to every border,
dust will be rationed coast to coast.

~ . ~

My Last Door
Sam Rasnake

Very green out the window
A most perfect mountain
And light on the river
is particular in its leaving
The world is still
but somewhere, a persistent mockingbird…
I have come to the end of something
(Adapted from Georgia O'Keeffe's letters.)

Lie down on this table
and life is believable

Stars are easy

Deep curls of limbs ready
a night so tall the world
stands on its head


Your tongue is warm
Your words intent on defining
the motion that isn't needed
when blue is enough
and your fingers are hidden


My mouth is a leaf
My hair drifts to sea
but I leave the words of a fool
on the bank of this book's dark folds


I try to stay away from the flowers
but the deep hints of your red won't let me go

After an hour of watching
I melt and pool against the hard floor

then you daub me to your brush
so the fine hairs can work me into shadow


The hot sky goes on--
past every limit

You walk from here


A dark fall waters the arroyo--
black bolt--cuts the earth
down to my toes

I feel the shaking

(Sam Rasnake's poetry has appeared in various journals such as Literal Lattè, Poem, Portland Review, Defined Providence, and Switched-on Gutenberg. The author of two collections, Necessary Motions (Sow's Ear Press) and Religions of the Blood (Pudding House), he edits the online poetry journal, Blue Fifth Review. This is his first appearance on the magazine. He lives in Tennessee.)

~ . ~

Mojave Miles
Thomas Stein

listening to miles davis's
jack johnson tribute &
driving wild horse canyon road
after a day desert hiking
mojave's hole in the wall trail

jazz documentaries
get miles wrong

lame decades-old film clips
of junkies nodding & smoking
in the 5 spot village gate vanguard
birdland anonymous blacks
riding night els through harlem
cliché images supposedly explaining
miles's unique themes & moods

no miles's music
is here way out here in the mojave sun
time's wild intensity is his theme
moods of snow-capped volcanic peaks
singing sand dunes
barrel and cholla cactus glowing
like phosphorous with spring's tropical blood
somnolent snakes slowing stirring
within winter's sharp sleep
mountain lion ghosts caressing time & dreams
thermaling song of winged gods
haunting limestone walls wind-carved
temples of unknown yesternow myths

listening to jack johnson &
driving mojave's roads

jazz documentaries
get miles wrong

his ideas & emotions
aren't symbolized
by corny archival photos
of extinct nyc neighborhoods &
pompous self-serving comments
of critics dj's & academics
miles would swing on & deck


miles's music is
signs of night creatures
solar flares sand storms
nocturnal dens tracks
howls spirits & stars

miles plays life wild natural & free
through his mysterious horn

his sound is
gentle as raptor's shadows sliding
across silica-seared petroglyphs
violent as eternity shattered
ancient stone spires
lying newborn & naked
beneath chaotic infinity

(This is Thomas Stein's first appearance on the magazine. He lives in Bismarck, North Dakota.)

~ . ~ . ~