the land once dissolved in hungry tongues of basalt
grown still red-black boils roil and burst and freeze
holding form the trajectory of long ago volcanic force.
But not so long ago if you listen.
So, listen still in the searing sunlight down from the bajada where the titan glowing
mass of lava once bulldozed inexorably, slugged and slowed and stopped, left a steep headwall
along the basin’s southern border—wall of plastic pockets, craters, nesting grounds—and had
its fill, over centuries, of sand, cryptobiotic crust of love grass, heat, summer rains.
Grown over now. An ocotillo shouts arms up in fuchsia-tasseled bloom.
Crouch in the shade of the gnarled ironwood. Smell
the old and spicy damp of morning creosote burning
off its oily fumes a hundred degrees and climbing.
Heft the bit of broken clay, thumb the pimpled lip:
When did it last hold water?
On a morning much like this, she would’ve already beaten in
twenty miles maybe, or more, as of these few hours dripping
past dawn. Would’ve roused when the great hunter had only just stretched
his bow above the horizon in the east. Smell of bodies
on the ancient road yipping coyote? or tamed dog?
Lepus californicus shoots across the overgrown basalt wall, bounding ears and blur of fur.
A growl bark! breaks the glassy air tear tear over the surly hills.
For her, the way ahead is not so many hundreds of miles that she can’t
afford to watch the merry chase. Bead of sweat slips between breasts.
Another ration round of water and then—no use for empty vessels—puts her burden by
for the basket of dried abalone.
You stand from your crouch leave the sherd
in its divot where it’s lain
for some idle time.
Post-MFA, Lora Rivera worked for several years as a literary agent's assistant and a biographer for foster children. Her stories and poems appear in a number of journals, most recently The Eastern Iowa Review. She likes: prickly and soft things, rocks and climbing on them, people and connecting to them, green olives (and eating them), and tiny ferns because they are old and slow to evolve and so must be very wise. Extracurricularly, she juggles: Vice Presidency of a nonprofit climbing organization, novelling, and penning a collection of desert-themed vignettes. Find her online at lorariverainsidewriting.blogspot.com or at twitter.com/lroseriver.