“The Years We Lived in the Desert” by Megan Merchant

Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2019: Artist’s Choice


Desert Road by Ellen McCarthy

Image: “Desert Road” by Ellen McCarthy. “The Years We Lived in the Desert” was written by Megan Merchant for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2019, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Megan Merchant


I cooked without sugar, left the picture frames empty,
learned how to speak fluently about juniper,

elm, and pine to fill that dust-space. We married, deboned
fish on the back porch, drank wine

with fruits infused and I lied openly when you asked about
my dreams, what woke me shaking and soaked.

Vacancy is not an adequate splint for love. I was told to treasure
the red dust that grained in my hair and ears, the phantom

rain, the flat-earthers who gathered and measured the arc of sunset—
the shape of the world is as good of a religion as any,

but my god, have you heard the panged-song of coyotes, their
voice-wound loud, not afraid to tremble, not stomping

to smooth the cracks, or pausing in the open long enough
to pull the yucca spines from their skin.

The years we lived in the desert, I woke each day with a plan
to leave, drew maps of the land along the bottoms

of my feet, and practiced blurring into the infertility, not as an
art form, but as a relief.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
May 2019, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Ellen McCarthy: “I shot the picture sitting on the back of a truck, struck by the radiant blast of two colors and two simple shapes and felt a jolt of joy. So it startled me that this image aroused so many poems about disquiet or dejection—’their/ voice-wound loud.’ My chosen poem’s first line yanked me by the hair into its doleful world: ‘I cooked without sugar, left the picture frames empty …’ By the last line, I had forgotten my original vision and was nodding in agreement: Yes, yes, the desert can ravish us in more ways than one. It’s a land where we must always have an escape plan.”

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