The Cholla Speaks
Poems From Desert Life
This first poem discusses the curious but beautiful balance of strength and generosity out on the wild desert.,
Chollas (Cylindropuntia spp.) are often considered weed plants as they create hazards and obstacles to anyone traversing their environs. They are, arguably, a bit too free in reproducing themselves—a broken segment can hitch a ride on anything (or anyone) and take root where it finally falls or is knocked off. But they hold a very particular place in the desert ecosystems.
The formidable nature of chollas is found in their needle-sharp spines, which radiate in all directions and can catch anything that passes by. To those spines, add the presence of highly irritating but nearly invisible glochids, and you will understand why the cholla demands a respectful distance from the observer, humans or larger mammals of any sort.
None of this deters the birds that feed and nest in their branches; on the contrary, these peculiar cacti become a place of protection for many of the smaller creatures.
Do not touch me:
Though I grow against the sky,
And the sunlight flows through my spines
Like water over stones;
Though I bless you
With the brilliance of my blooms,
And create fruit
And nesting places for the winged birds,
And sanctuary for small creatures
That house above my roots.
I will even give you a taste of shade–
Just a little–
When the sun is all in all
And the ground is fire.
Do not touch me,
Though I make a miracle
Against the sky,
And I wear the sun
On each spine’s tip,
Though my blooms hold wine
And I make fruit for all–
Yes, even for you–
Though the sun climbs my branches
Like a ladder,
And my roots are a bulwark for the soil.
Do not touch me;
I stand guard
To keep in memory
That these things do not belong to you
But rather to themselves.
Do not touch me:
I stand guard.
I was walking my young dog Felix when I felt him stop…
My dog stops and stiffens;
I can see nothing from where I stand
Till I spy a shadow:
I am happy to say that no rabbit, dog, or human was harmed in the making of this poem! The rabbit was not actually chased, and I was not pulled off my feet by an enthusiastic but rather large pup. His leash manners have vastly improved!
Last night, when I stepped out of my front door, the brilliance of the moonlight met me long before I saw the moon itself.
Glow of the half moon
flows through the open doorway:
so simple a light.
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