Simmons B. Buntin

Antler Among Poppies

On a field of desert poppies
          I learned to watch
                    for the finer forms:

cholla spines spilling
          from a body all
                     joints, or barrel cactus shin-

deep, wild hyacinth twined
          among wicked thorns.
                     Who but the buzzards

truly survey the land?
          Who but the scythe-winged
                     spirits know the old,

old blade that is death?
          This afternoon
                     that curved shadow caught

my heel, or so
          I thought. I bent
                     to find an antler, three-pronged

and bleached among the sulfur
          blooms. What I want
                     to say is that I left

the sharp prize after measuring its heft.
          What I think
                     is that one sacrifice across a plain

of seasonal brilliance is enough.
          But I faltered
                    under the gaze of those dark birds,

under the spell
          of chicory and mesquite.
                    Kneeling, I clasped the antler:

rising, I crossed back
          to the treacherous edge
                    of that beautiful, transient field.

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then sealed
                    the under-
                                        ground wombs
of Sonoran bees
                    with names like
                                        Diadosia ronconis &
Melissodes paucipuncta
                    are at a loss
                                        for profit
That is there is
                    no honey &
                                        no hive —
a thousand species
                                        except that ritual
that flower-mad dance
                    that risk of sting
                                        on sweet sting
& in a desert
                    in Israel
                                        ground-dwelling bees
                    the nectar from
                                        rich blooms
A thousand
                    species there
& like our
                    Tumacacori valley
                                        also a wall
to keep a people
                    out —
                                        & also too high
for the low-flying bees
                    to cross
                                        or cross-fertilize
the crops
                    grown south
                                        to raise
mad profits
                    and feed
                                        madder mouths
& how’s that
                    for fertile

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          But he that does not grasp the thorn
          Should never crave the rose.

                                 — Anne Bronte


Unless the rose
is thornless, the stem wine-
bottle smooth & burgundy—a scion singing
                    pinot noir

Unless from that stem
the leaves fall like tendrils, laced & lancelot

                              Unless the blooms are
                    double clustered —
heavy in their own delight
                              and yours?

That is a rose worth craving
                    & planting
                              in an Arizona
mining camp                                        circa 1855

                              The Chinese rose
dug deep by a Scottish bride is Tombstone

          (the outlaw town of the single
thornless tree in a desert
                    otherwise drunk with thorns)


Rather: desert
                                                   with acacias
                     that weave arroyos into wicked paths
                     that cluster like outlaws

Before the moon sleeps
with its lover
I want to memorize their names
                    winter thorn
                    sweet acacia
                    river wattle
                    cat claw
                    prickly Moses
                    white thorn
                    camel thorn
                    desert carpet
                    dead finish


Unless the rose is thornless
                    my silver-
beaked clippers would not sing
                                        the sheering
song—preserve the winter
captured from neighbor’s yard—
                    of full-moon night & leaves glossy
                    if not glowing

Does this merlot branch reach
back to the bride’s own bouquet?

the thought
                    though untrue

Unless the thorn stems
from acacia
                    & the spindle-tipped trellis
craves the Scottish cluster
of her heart wine-tinged & blooming

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Spooky, my wife says. They know my secrets.
This morning, as the light scratches
across the keyboard, I browse the homepage
and find my own glittering recommendations: cherry-
handled rose pruners, their glossy alloy beaks
spring-tuned; new music by the Silos, a Top 10
on Dan Steely’s alt-college country rock list;
and the books, the wonderful unfathomable books—
three or three-thousand sensuously bound
classics of love, mystery, and safe passage
into Sonora, Mexico. I hover above
No. 1,897,615: Click here to purchase.

                                                  Why not?
Even the Pinacate Press in Lukeville, Arizona
knows its wares are sung to me, the guy idling
eagerly outside Sonoyta’s port-of-entry,
travel guide buried in the trunk, the air burning
with recommendations.

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