In the Desert by Edward A. Dougherty

In the Desert

        for Mary Hood

These ripening summer mornings, the light
is up early, and today Bach is on the rise—
all those intervals and filigrees. A woman
who delighted in counterpoint
left the conservatory for the biology lab
exchanging one pattern-search for another
and ended up studying ants—pheromones
like a fugue. In an ant colony, she said,
no one is in charge.

Do travelers in the unknown
see it all as just not-yet-
figured-out? A problem
to solve? Where is the mysterium

tremendum that sets us quaking,
trembling like aspen leaves
under the influence of forces
greater than and beyond us?

From the deserts of Kazakhstan,
the arid lands of Mongolia
the rain shadow region of the Gobi,

yellow dust plumes to drift
over coastal China, Korea,
the Japan Sea, even the Pacific.

Though inanimate, the earth
is on the move. And now,
though tiny, particles like sherpas

bear microscopic burdens
of cadmium and other metals,
so small, so small, and yet

an officewoman in Kamakura
or a schoolkid in Portland
can breathe them in, and they

still traveling, can pass, pass
through cellular membranes
into the blue waterways of the blood.

We are thirsty,
so parched
with knowledge,

so dry with thirst.
And that well
is so salty.

Where is the spring,
the freshwater?
Where is the source

of hope? How can we
trust the future
we are making?

Listen, listen—
the patterns
are not complete.

Edward A. Dougherty is author of 11 collections of poetry, the most recent being 10048 (Finishing Line), about the World Trade Center and 9/11. His latest book is Journey Work: Crafting a Life of Poetry & Spirit (Apprentice House), which is part memoir of ripening as a poet, of lifelong spiritual seeking, and of peacemaking in Hiroshima, Japan. Granted the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Scholarship and Creative Activities, Dougherty lives in upstate NY, in a small city defined by hills, the convergence of three rivers, and a glass company you may have heard of.

Image Credit: Dust storm over east Asia/ “yellow dust” from the Gobi Desert []