The Southwest Part of the Truth

Ioanna Carlsen


“My dark and cloudy words

they do but hold the truth . . . ” 

– The Pilgrim’s Progress                    

It’s true and it’s not true, it’s partly the light
that makes the bone-colored clouds
seem to web in shadows down the mountains,
graze in the horse-footed valleys, the heart of the desert,
suddenly take root and water-shape the land.

It’s true and it’s not true, it’s partly just life,
water wells up in the sinks of houses,
butter aches its heart out on the stoves,
words hold truth like a sieve holds rain,
and words, like shadows, slither over walls.

It’s words, which are half-lies,
yet words must mean something,
since the hills in half-light are spined with death,
since it’s words, and trees, and seasons,
that give the mountains their cool and steady breath.

It’s true and it’s not true, it’s partly a lie,
but frost is something personal,
fruit not reaching tables, dying on the trees before you,
windows bone-colored, and bones
staked in like fences, aching in your hand.

It’s true and it’s not true, but southwest of life,
every seventh summer, the summer comes
when bones well up in their hollows with rain,
deciphering dreams or a message
from the black and white rays of the sun.

IOANNA CARLSEN’s poems and stories have appeared in Poetry, Agni, Field, Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Review, and in many other publications. Breather was awarded the 2019 Off the Grid Poetry Prize. She lives in the country outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.

image: Edgar Payne Desert Sky, c. 1930