Erik Lloyd Olson

The Church of Cactus by Christine Sloan Stoddard

High and Dry in the Mojave Desert

Since drought took hold, the trees lost their last fruit,                                                           grass seared to sand where life would not take root,                                                                and clustering figs shrunk by the ravening sun;                                                                       the streams stood still where silver used to run                                                                         in throats carved from the stone that fed these lands                                                                   of thirst, where only memories filled our hands.                                                                    Parched like the flowers, we thought we too would die.                                                              Without a saving cloud, the furnace sky                                                                             burned brazenly with blue incessant fire.                                                                                  We only prayed to see the sun retire.

Until dark clouds rolled slowly over us                                                                                  against the purple sky, tumultuous,                                                                                               to burst on arid steeps and rend the air,                                                                                        echoing like the shrills of pitch despair.                                                                                       And when the sluice of rain suddenly fell,                                                                                       the withered figs allowed again to swell,                                                                                       we knew the mercy in our marrow bones                                                                                       arising green amid the burning stones.  


Rondeau Redouble: The Gun Among the Lawless

Unjustly wronged, forbearance cast aside,
   We let the chamber-mouth turn things around,
Reverse wrongs done, recast misfortune’s tide
    Until the foe who downed the friend is downed.

No barrel can undo that burst of sound,
   Call bullets back from wounds in friends rent wide
But we wreaked vengeance with ours, pound for pound,
   Unjustly wronged, forbearance cast aside.

Our slack hands and our panther-feet belied
    Our deep-held tension always tightly wound
But at the drop of a card and cheat denied,
    We let the chamber-mouth turn things around.

Though parched with heat, our water all but dried,
   We traced the guilty voices to be drowned
Where desert spread past sight on every side
   Until the foe who downed the friend was downed.

We tracked them through the wastelands like a hound,
  Fired at the camp where murderers would hide.
Then through the clearing cloud of smoke, we found
  The wrong ones lay dead, misidentified,
                                                         Unjustly wronged.

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