Salvaging the Desert Homestead
Jeffrey C. Alfier

Salvaging the Desert Homestead

When she and I arrived at last, it was bindweed
and thornapple, kingdoms of rodents among haphazard
cacti, a desiccate tool shed that stunk of wood-rot
and grease, canted like something shoved aside.
But the place was never a burden. The hush of it all
fell to my affection: the front steps enfolded
by wild vine, like bony hands at prayer, the scant
gauze of sun-bleached curtains, the slack bow
of power lines that once tethered the house to the world.
Sometimes we found fallen nests under the eaves:
sparrow or finch, she told me, the molted skin
of a rattler woven among the nests’ twigs.

We set to work with the few tools we owned, sealing
walls and gaps from sand blown in from arroyos
that made wind visible. We sifted ancient nails,
cottonwood leaves and mesquite pods, slivers of bottles,
a headless doll she held up and joked over as I swept
ashes of vagrant cookfires, seared bones of vanished
rodents, a phone book brittle as deadfall. Out back,
we found a gas grill flooded gray with ash, firewood
stacked and surrendered to camphorweed and cocklebur,
a swing set gone to gravity and oxide. Toward
evening, we felt canyon bats scuttle toward us.

In time, we’d swear those who’d held this ground
before us would drift past in apparitions along the fence
line, melding to nightfall, to dust blowing in forever
from Mexico, coating awning and roof that sheltered
all we’d redeemed here in conjecture and grace:
our homestead reclaimed, its pens and troughs
soldered and filled, awaiting livestock, any good crop
our fallow field grants, a life to gift us night’s untainted
starfall, a glissando of wind through the rooftop
antenna—an obsolescence we decided to let stay,
leaning as it did, listening hard for a signal.

Jeffrey C. Alfier

is the winner of the 2014 Kithara Book Prize for his poetry collection Idyll for a Vanishing River (Glass Lyre Press, 2013). He is also the author of The Wolf Yearling (Silver Birch Press) and The Storm Petrel: Poems of Ireland (Grayson Books, forthcoming). His recent work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and Tulane Review.