The Tower Journal

David Chorlton

Flash Flood

The heat had swollen until the air could no longer
contain it. Earth dry for months
lay hard, while the sky
tilted first toward the west horizon,
then toward the east.
Phantoms rose from the asphalt
along the centuries-long road
that runs past the mission church
so white it rises every summer from its foundations
and floats on pure faith
when the only pilgrims are coyotes.
The arroyo close by had its banks
scratched where light
tried to claw a way out.
An electric wire of cicada calls
connected the desert to
the pine oak forests in the mountains,
which greyed into clouds
for which only black was dark enough.
The first raindrop
                      fell slowly to ground
where it slapped into the dust
and made a star. All traffic
stopped as a downpour
swallowed the beams from headlights
no longer aware of which
direction they were pointed in
and as fast as water ran off
into red earth there was more
to replace it. The rainfall slaked
a year’s thirst in seconds
before it drained away
and turned over
any stone in its path. Old cars
and new cars floated by
at the same speed. The current carried
uncashed checks, a map folded to the area
where someone had been lost, a wallet
gaping open where its contents
disappeared, a page of ancient
music on which the notes weighed more
than the paper, wrappers
left behind from a picnic, broken boughs
and shoes with laces
still tied. The flash
that set the torrents free
soaked back into the clouds. When light
returned, all memory
                     had been erased; the land
rose to meet returning sunlight
and to present all
that had been built upon it
as if it were appearing for the first time.
The pathways returned,
leading through scrub to the river
where undocumented immigrants
met with conquistadors
and only the animals
                     went on as before,
without caring which century they were in.

In Passing

(to be read with Webernesque, for piano, by Gil Dori)

        . . . passes
without anyone knowing
what it is the shadow of.

Just a touch
on the shoulder
with nobody close, as if

the wind had fingers, nothing much

to be concerned about,
except . . .

In Captivity

The starling who lives in the back room
was rescued before he could know the outdoors
where others of his species flock
and peck an existence from the earth.
He’d be lost in his natural state, but he’s bright
and curious and busy all the time
rearranging objects in his cage, which makes him
cultured as starlings go, but not so much
that he understands the talk
about raising from extinction certain birds
killed off after they once were so many
they were anonymous
until the last one was taken in
and given a name to die with. He doesn’t understand
any more than I do
how Passenger Pigeons could be reassembled
from parts left behind, and neither does he know
whether DNA would make them all
the same bird a million times over. He’s singing
as though it wouldn’t matter anyway, just as last time
it didn’t matter to the hunters
when they didn’t care which ones
they killed first.

Copyright © 2014 David Chorlton

David ChorltonDavid Chorlton was born in Austria, grew up in Manchester, England, and went to live for several years in Vienna before moving to Phoenix in 1978. Arizona’s landscapes and wildlife have become increasingly important to him and a significant part of his poetry. His Selected Poems from FutureCycle Press appeared in 2014. The shadow side of Vienna provides the core of The Taste of Fog, a work of fiction published by Rain Mountain Press.

The Tower Journal
Fall/Winter 2014