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Twisted Junipers: Poems of the Utah Desert

Updated on September 7, 2020

Utah Desert

Chess-Set Pinnacles of Rock
Chess-Set Pinnacles of Rock | Source
A Maze of Sandstone Rock
A Maze of Sandstone Rock | Source
Twisted Juniper
Twisted Juniper | Source

Poems of the Utah Desert

Twisted Desert Pine

Out in Dinosaur National

Monument where three states

of mind--past, present and future--

come together in a time bubble,

on the sunny Utah side resides

the ever-so bleached remains of

an ancient juniper, who knows

for how many endless centuries,

with a wrenched and twisted trunk,

stubbornly resisting desert heat

and wind and lightning strikes.

No wonder the writer Edward Abbey

was reminded of his very stubborn

Allegheny father when he

stood before a desert juniper

whose branch-fingers stretched

out to scratch a bright blue sky.

Chess Set Canyon

Purple larkspur and golden banner sway

on edge of giant orangish towers

carved alone by wind and rain.

Dark red and pink-grey cliffs

of bowl-shaped canyon stand like pawns,

silent in a game of chess that never ends.

Stillness settles in at sundown with

slanting rays shining through pinyon pines.

Desert Chiaroscuro

Ghostly puffs of wind

howl into silence

only to return again

with pine-needled voices

as we stare at petroglyphs

of the Utah desert canyons.

Some of the images seem

to speak, with breezes' aid

that strong winds with snow

and fire will come to our

country in a very forceful way

for a long period of time.

But will you look

at those high La Sals

blanketed white in snow

rising so high above

the desert and immune to

blowing dust and searing

heat where fields of

pepper-grass and scorpion

weeds sway back and forth

oblivious to that skyward snow

that buries slopes of

rocky talus into stillness.

But not so much on the desert floor

where strawberry cactus

blooms beneath needles

of protection against the

forceful gusts of reality.

3 Gossips

Within Arches National Park

there is a sandstone formation

called the Three Gossips

rising petrified in the sky.

Why did these three turn

into unforgiving stone?

Was it because they

whispered in the wind why

a certain college professor

did not receive his tenure?

Was it because they

mumbled about a certain

priest who mispronounced

a word in ridiculous fashion?

Was it because they gossiped

about the President being black?

Was it that funny person

who didn't know the difference

between an anecdote and

an antidote in daily life?

Was it because an officer

killed by friendly fire "deserved it"?

Who knows why these three

gossips were turned into

stone as a kind of gigantic

petroglyph testifying to

the purgatorial mistake of

speaking ill of others only

to be freed after a million

years of erosion by the wind.

Utah Haiku Sequence

Utah Moon

Buffalo berry

leaves glow in crescent moon with

their own soft green light.

Utah Noon

Yellow-toed lizard

does push-ups on hot red rock

not far from Salt Creek.

Utah Sun

Copper-green soil glints

in Upheaval Canyon sun

where shade trees are sparse.

Utah Stone

In the heat of orange arch

pinyon jay's feathers flutter

in sudden, cool breeze.

Down the Navajo Loop Trail

Amazed with the maze of

multicolored sandstone

spreading before us, we

take the Navajo Loop

ever downward on sandy

soil into a narrow slit

of orange canyon walls

and out the other side

to see among the pines

an immense array of

pinnacles rising above

like bishops, kings and queens

ever at play through the seasons

under the indigo skies of

a mystic Bryce Canyon.

A Pre-Columbian Glimpse Inside a Kiva

Within the Canyon of the Ancients

just beyond the Colorado line,

lies an Anasazi ruin called

"Lowry Pueblo," containing one

gigantic kiva where people

bustle around dressed in

bright-red robes garnished with

eagle feathers and turquoise.

The summer people sit on

one side while winter people

sit on the opposite side upon

wooden planks to tell their stories,

whether of summer warmth and

maturing crops of corn and beans

in the midst of a cold winter, or of

severe blizzard endurance during

the heat of mid-summer when

Sleeping Ute Mountain lies in haze,

all the while a lone medicine priest

stomps on pine-wood boards

to make the sound of thunder,

or of frozen, popping cottonwoods.

The poem "Chess Set Canyon" originally appeared in my collection of poems Palms, Peaks and Prairies (The Golden Quill Press, 1967)

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

© 2015 Richard Francis Fleck


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