The Naked Desert
by David Del Bourgo
Coming home from a sales call
at the Naval Weapons Center,
China Lake, stop at McDonalds
in Mojave for take-out coffee.
Winds gusting from the west at
sixty-miles an hour slash
around the tail-end of the Sierras.
It’s too damned hot to be wearing
a long sleeve shirt & tie,
even out of some misplaced
sense of modesty.
Up the last ridge on the crest
of Antelope Valley, a dust cloud appears
a dingy wall of sky that stops dead
as if held in check by an unseen hand
just before the dry lake bed
at Edwards Air Force Base.
It’s picked up all the rich loose silt
from Lancaster & Palmdale,
invading sheet-rock boxhouses & tilt-up
warehouses & strafing vacant lots bare of
everything save scrub & bottle brush.
It’s simple to strip this already bare
landscape in my mind, imagining what it
was like before us, letting my eye
roam the skin-smooth sand sloping over
the jutting rock clavicles,
mountain tops hidden beneath
the microcosmic death of a billion years
buried by brackish prehistoric seas,
& get dizzy in the drunken face
of rust-reeling rock buckled & thrust
absolutely oblivious to my speculations.
Wheel over the south ridge past
Angeles Crest Hwy.,
the sky clears & headlights are
doused. Finally get smart
& loosen my tie, then kick it
up to 75, keeping my eyes peeled,
never the fastest on the road.
Get to Pasadena half an hour early
for the workshop & stop at Continental
Burger, a college hangout.
Order a Greek souvlaki pita sandwich
& sit at an outside table
drenched in the loud, demanding
voices from pretty young faces,
suddenly annoyed by their
perpetual, senseless laughter,
trying to count the drives
down mountains & other things
I don’t normally count.
I’m still in shirt sleeves
when night falls, unjacketed
like the kids who don’t seem to
give a damn about the cold.
I sit stubbornly in the dark
thinking of that dust
& how heavy it looked
on the ancient valley floor.
PHOTO: Mojave Desert, California. Photo by AltoBob, used by permission.
NOTE: The Mojave Desert occupies 47,877 square miles in the Southwestern United States, primarily within southeastern California and southern Nevada, with small areas extending into Utah and Arizona. Its boundaries are generally noted by the presence of Joshua trees, native only to the Mojave Desert. With elevations ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 feet, the Mojave Desert also includes the lowest and hottest place in North America: Death Valley, 282 feet below sea level, with temperatures that often exceed 120°F from late June to early August.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “The Naked Desert” was written while I worked at Hewlett Packard as a sales executive and traveled to a navy base in the Mojave Desert. At the same time I ran a poetry workshop at Cal Tech, so I used to race across the desert to get there on time. After several years I noticed how flat the desert was with mountains seeming to grow out of the sand. I asked a geologist at the navy base how the desert was formed, and he explained to me that this area used to be covered by a sea and the flat sand was silt deposited on top of the mountains over millions of years.
PHOTO: Sand dunes, Mojave Desert, Death Valley, California. Photo by PDPhotos, used by permission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Del Bourgo has published over a hundred poems in literary journals such as Epos, California Quarterly, and The Tiferet Journal. His work has also been featured in anthologies, including Sephardic Voices, The Literature of Work, and Three Los Angeles Poets, a Spanish translation of American poetry. Two books of his poetry have been published through small presses. Elie Weisel wrote the cover note for one of those books. He is also a member of Squaw Writers. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he is presently working on a novel about the feminine divine.