Leaving Sonora

by Agha Shahid Ali

living in the desert
has taught me to go inside myself
for shade
—Richard Shelton

Certain landscapes insist on fidelity.
Why else would a poet of this desert
go deep inside himself for shade?
Only there do the perished tribes live.
The desert insists, always: Be faithful,
even to those who no longer exist.

The Hohokam lived here for 1500 years.
In his shade, the poet sees one of their women,
beautiful, her voice low as summer thunder.
Each night she saw, among the culinary ashes,
what the earth does only through a terrible pressure—
the fire, in minutes, transforming the coal into diamonds.

I left the desert at night—to return
to the East. From the plane I saw Tucson’s lights
shatter into blue diamonds. My eyes dazzled
as we climbed higher: below a thin cloud,
and only for a moment, I saw those blue lights fade
into the outlines of a vanished village.

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