Mojave Ghost Story

How often I’ve heard it whistling through canyons.
A name, like a cowboy lost among dead stars.
I know the apparition I’m supposed to see in this:
ghost rider, violet silhouette in a pale desert moon.
I get a feeling that spills out of the clouds, like
mourner’s breath, but a little less air, a lot more Zen.
Men die in thin atmosphere.  Squint into cottonwood
strung with corpses like shirts on a line.  Squat
on the edge of the Great Cliff.  Before looking down,
a glance over the shoulder at the wide plain, continent
of femur and skull and useless blood.  Little rivers
running backward in time, boatloads of confused eyes
searching for clay on the banks, for shape, for home
in a country of midnight.  Every one of them claims to
feel a hand hover above—reaching for a soul or for
a holster, none can say.  The ghost rider turns away
to peer down, down deep into coyote’s eye.  Angels
and wings don’t mean much out here.  It’s cool water,
dry boots, the musculature of backs and the guitar of
a woman’s body, music wading up from matted fur
into fire, ash strumming into thin atmosphere
where the slight light of early dawn wets the wick
of one dead star at a time.  Ghosts go to bed alone,
palms cradling a language never spoken,
scrambling up dream ladders to a dry lake moon
where love is lost in the desert of white, and a violet
cowboy falls like a Buddha on the peak of his knife.




Michael Dwayne Smith's most recent collection, "What the Weather's Like, Only Stranger", arrives spring 2014 from Emerge/ELJ Publications. Post-hippie professor, editor in chief at Mojave River Press & Review, he's been awarded both the Hinderaker Prize for poetry and the Polonsky Prize for fiction. His work appears in excellent journals like burntdistrict, Word Riot, Stone Highway Review, decomP, >kill author, and the Cortland Review. He lives near a ghost town in the Mojave Desert with his wife and rescued animals.