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Western Love Song Refusing the Apocalypse

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For one, it’s hard to believe the world could ever end

when you’re sitting under a tree full of wild cherries

 

eating a seafood bouillabaisse while honeybees

buzz past your ears like allied biplanes on their way

 

to save you. In Santa Fe, New Mexico

my mother drizzled olive oil on a sliced heirloom tomato,

 

seasoned it with kosher salt and black pepper,

then we ate it while using her phone to identify

 

constellations. If you pointed the camera at the ground

the app would show you whatever stars

 

were shining on the other side of the world—

shapes that promise to return, to go on

 

even if we disappear from beneath them.

So it’s not that I think we’re invulnerable,

 

far from it. I just think the apocalypse is

an anthropocentric concept. The next morning

 

we had breakfast in a hole-in-the-wall café—

huevos rancheros, smothered burritos,

 

bitter coffee, heaven. And later the smell

of the farmer’s market, green chiles turning over

 

on red coals, pork sausages frying on skillets. I swear

it cured my hangover. I bought a bag of yellow pears

 

on my friend’s recommendation, and the old man

running the fruit stall handed me a black plum,

 

said you should try this, so I did. And then I bought a bag

of black plums. I sometimes get overwhelmed

 

by the sensation of taste coupled with the knowledge

of how far every ingredient has traveled

 

to become part of my meal, and the environmental cost

of that journey. Sometimes it feels the best thing we can do

 

is eat nothing and lie in bed waiting for one

of various fires to consume us, then let the world

 

become the world again. Last week

my friend woke up to a layer of ash

 

on her roof. She lives closer to the wildfires than we do,

but even here the air was thick

 

with smoke. We could feel it in the backs of our throats,

like the prairie grasses disappearing into ozone

 

were gradually becoming us. Ours

is a neighborhood of lost dogs. The same vanished yorkie

 

has stared out of a photograph taped to the mailbox

for weeks now. He’s wearing a blue bandana

 

with yellow stars, and thinking about it

can ruin me for an afternoon. We’ve returned

 

more than our share of escaped boxers

and labs, even once a pair of limping pit bulls

 

who were trailed by a group of kids trying

and failing to get them back. But people speed

 

through these streets, and I don’t want to imagine

where that yorkie ended up. I don’t want to

 

imagine what this place will look like in twenty years,

how much more of the wild, western expanse will be

 

hidden under suburbs. The houses go up so fast

they almost seem like the facades of houses,

 

just cardboard cutouts designed to make you feel

like nothing is left but the dreams of real estate agents.

 

If the west has a definition, it must be more

than the dust of a shrinking prairie

 

shook from the fur of a skittish coyote

crossing the parking lot of a sports bar.

 

When I went looking for my old house in Lone Tree,

I couldn’t find it at first. I was searching

 

for the prairie that used to run parallel to that highway,

for the antelope that threaded those hills.

 

I should have known it would be gone,

swallowed up in the city’s neon crawl

 

of strip malls and chain restaurants.

Like the jumping cholla cactus, the city’s thirst

 

so unquenchable its needles grow right through your clothes,

reaching for the water under your skin.

 

Yesterday after sex Lucia and I went outside

to find the hose had been left on, flooding the yard

 

with water in a dry season, and a pigeon

was lying dead on the patio, its head bloody

 

where it hit the kitchen window. I do wonder

whether we really see what we’re flying towards

 

at such speed. I said sorry, then buried the pigeon

in the yard, where a few of the birdfeeder’s corn kernels

 

had sprouted green against the xeriscape.