Desert Sun – A Poem on Faith

Arizona Desert

sonoran desert sunset © 2012 Bo Mackison

“There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it” ~ Gustave Flaubert

I shield my eyes from the intensity of burning desert sun
desert heat rises and
sears my soul my
searching soul
seeking light that surrounds but is not seen.

I sink into the sand-earth
earth carved hollow from desiccated cactus roots,
disappeared thigh deep into the desert underground and
imagine rattlesnake burrows and packrat middens in the seconds
it takes for me to pull myself onto firm ground.

Terra firma.
Be not distraught.

The sun drops off the edge of the world and
night slips in quietly to
settle on my shoulders, oh the
star shimmer that lights the way
it stuns me, evokes cries of praise from my
oft-silenced voice.

I have journeyed long
endless cycle of sunrises and sunsets
the ascent and descent of countless moons

Now a multitude of stars light the heavens
milky streams of light
and with faith bound tight in starlight

I await the return of the sun.


Celebrating Poetry Month by posting (daily) from my collection of desert poetry, mostly mine, but with a few desert classics added to mix. Mining old blog post, journals, margins of desert-themed books, crumpled pieces of notebook paper in my desk drawer, and other places of possibility.

Conversation with a Saguaro


I will be waiting here
for your silence to break
for your soul to shake
for your love to wake.
~ Rumi

A Conversation with a Saguaro

Hello Bo, you’ve been talking to me now for several years.

Not sure how you chose me to be your confidante when you set up your make-shift office in the ramada near Brown Mountain, but I’ve watched you working in the shelter, taking breaks from writing or sketching. Wandering over to me, standing in my shadow now for — what? — maybe 4 years? Or 5? Doesn’t matter.

I am here for you. I welcome your visits, whether you come by for a daily chat or a weekly sermons or an annual sojourn for a long conversation. All are good, Bo.

We’ve had some heart to heart conversations, haven’t we?

You surely did not hear words echo from my spines, nor did my prickly arms sweep you from the gravelly ground and hold you in a compassionate embrace. But you may as well have heard such, felt such, for the same is true.

I do hear you and I do speak to you. I do hold you in a caring embrace. When you are happy, I celebrate your joys. When you are pensive, I listen to your thoughts. When you are sad, I offer you companionship.

I am a good companion, Bo. I will not be going anywhere soon, unless the fates intervene. Unlikely though. Saguaros in this part of the Sonoran Desert live a good 150-200 years. I’ve got years left to stand here on this blessed earth.


I see you, Bo. You are troubled. I see your tears. I watch as you stand in the desert valley, still and somber.  Go ahead, if you wish. Wail in your loneliness and fear and, yes, even in anger. Yes. You have permission. Cry out as loudly as you need to, as long as you desire.  Shout in frustration and anger.

I see you holding everything inside, bearing excruciating pain deep within, convincing yourself you are not too hurt nor too unhappy. I hear as you attempt to dismiss your feelings. No need, Bo. No need. You have permission to express your feelings. ALL of your feelings.

Stand in my shadow. Let the healing light of the desert sun stream all about you, warm you, but stand in my shadow. I will protect you from the harshest of glare.

I hear the conversation you speak within. You hold on to the deepest of disappointments, believing you have not carried your weight, you have not shown up fully in life. You have experienced vast betrayal, yet you inscribe your shortcomings deep within. You hold onto that litany of failures like a sacred mantle; you take on the burden of shame.

What if I tell you this? “You are not to blame, Bo. You are worthy of nurturing. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of kindness. You are worthy of respect. You are worthy, Bo. Period.”

I know of your concerns and worries, Bo. I feel your grief.

I, too, have felt grief, standing in this very spot for over a century. Let’s think about that, Bo.


I am a miracle, as are you.

Imagine a time so many years ago.

Not far from here, a tall saguaro blooms in the middle of a hot May. Pure white blossoms the size of saucers adorn her head. She is an elder saguaro and has been witness to much; her lower-half is pock-marked with holes and her lower flesh is wrinkled, worn, discolored from once desert green to a mottled brown-black.

And still, she blossoms on a hot night in late spring.

The white-winged dove, the Mexican long-nosed bat, and hundreds of species of bees and butterflies sip her nectar by the light of the full moon and pollinate her flowers. Each white blossom lasts only a day, then shrivels and falls to the desert earth. And in the flower’s place a large fruit grows, queenly and regal, bejeweled, the deepest of deep reds. The fruit is sweet and juice-filled, beloved, sustenance for coyote, javelina, the curve billed thrasher, cactus wren, birds of great variety.

Perhaps a bird sits on a branch of a potential nurse tree and drops a single seed into the receptive earth. The seed finds adequate protection and is blessed with enough rain to germinate and enough sun to help it grow and just enough luck to escape detection by birds and pack rats and desert mice who would gladly eat it for a tasty meal. A miracle indeed. I begin as a tiny seed and I grow into a cactus fifty feet tall.

I am a miracle, as are you.

A cactus produces 40 million seeds over a lifetime, and if lucky, one or two will germinate, grow, and survive long enough to become a saguaro capable of flowering and fruiting and continuing the legacy.

I am the one in 40 million, come alive from a single fallen seed from a long dead saguaro. As you, too, have been birthed from one in millions.

Blessed are we, yes? Truly. We are chosen.

Chosen. Blessed. Grateful.

And still, we both know sadness and longing and desire; we both know grief and fear and anger.


Let’s talk about grief.

We both know much of grief, yes?

I grieve when humans attack me and damage me for no reason other than a mark of their power and proof of their superior ability to destroy. I’ve been spray painted by gang members who chose to prove their blind ability to follow orders. I’ve had initials carved into my flesh by lovers who thought nothing of desecrating my flesh in order to misguidedly honor their love. I’ve had bullets shot through me and a more than a few bullets remain lodged in my flesh, bullets shot by humans who once again used violence and power to maim me as an odd proof of their bravery.

And still, I stand.

Regal. Beloved. Worthy. As are you.

No matter if others have scarred you for life, have left their marks in your flesh and trampled your spirit; have attempted repeatedly to destroy you, to mark you as less-than. No matter.

You, Bo, are still worthy of love. You deserve all manner of kindness and respect. You matter. You, Bo, are whole, are holy. Yes, Bo. You.

Come stand next to me and rest. Take respite from the sun’s strong midday heat. Come rest in my shadow. I will listen. I will embrace you in kindness and love.

I offer you myriad blessings of the desert.

All shall be well.

Owl, Coyote, Desert



“hoot hoo hooo-ah” calls the spotted owl
haunting the cottonwoods that edge the Santa Cruz
holy crossroads through the desert

a shadow. prowls. leaps.
pins me to the dry earth strewn with needle thorns
coyote’s tongue slips in and out, in and out
like grandmother’s needle piercing rough cloth to mend
the thin places.

my breath mingles with his earthy breath
coyote uninhibited
unrestrained he carries no shame; so alive he is
in his shagginess
with no regard for pointed looks, creased brows,
sharp words.
without seeing he sees
the bruising, my spirit broken and trampled,
he sees the footprints of resentment, authority defied.

my heavy-hearted words are considered, a remedy is offered.
the flickering tongue again
laugh girl, laugh with me
the desert offers no judgement
split open wide
spill yourself upon the desert rock and you will see.

be wild, the desert offers wild sanctuary.

do what you must do
be not afraid
I keep watch over you, desert one
my eyes pierce darkness as I watch hidden deep in the cottonwood canopy
there exists no night so black it denies my vision. nor you.

walk away from the river. this river runs dry, layers of
dust settled like bone ash pulverized sand and broken shards

there is no drink for offer here; there is no room at this inn

walk away, the desert calls beyond this place
there is drink in sacred vessels carved in slickrock,
search deep within the canyon shadow
for a place to rest. seek solace there.

I see your restlessness. go.
no longer will your desires be denied
take that first step
your longing unbinds your feet.

what is it you seek?

do not say “yes” until you have considered no.

Searching for Clarity on the Tumbled Rock Trail

Trail ©2015 Bo Mackison

… that is what learning is.
You suddenly understand
something you’ve understood all your life,
but in a new way.  ~ Doris Lessing

Searching for Understanding

Tumbled Rocks Trail, a meandering mile long trail through a lower bluffs talus field of gray, purple and pale green quartz, offers niches for studying tiny grottoes of splendor and lake views to the consider the expansive glacial landscapes. The trail is only a few feet above lake level, perfect for an intimate shoreline experience, always a thin place where land meets water.

Step by step, I slowly wander the rocky path, then find a spot to sit in this jumble of quartzite boulders. The lake, a  spring fed lake created by the damming of the valley in the last Glacial period, turns cold in autumn. I set up my temporary work space amidst the ancient boulders – a place where I can write, photograph, sketch, day-dream.

As I do most days, I draw a card from my deck of Desert Wisdom Cards  which I created while living in southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. (Each of 52 cards offers a desert photograph and a single word for reflection.)

Today’s card is CLARITY.

Desert Wisdom Card - Clarity Notice how your clarity helps you see others more clearly. Notice how that clarity feels within you and how you respond (or don't). ©2014 Bo Mackison

Desert Wisdom Card – Clarity  ©2014 Bo Mackison

While sitting on glacial boulders in Wisconsin, I pull a card that depicts granite and sandstone boulders in the desert, a sacred place which holds ancient wisdom. Coincidence? Maybe not..

Contemplating Desert Wisdom

Deep in a desert canyon, the cliff walls and boulders are etched with petroglyphs — a wilderness gallery of primitive art. The symbols – pecked into the black varnish of many desert boulders and canyon cliffs? Perhaps they are astronomical markers. Tribal symbols of belonging. The art of a story-teller.

Wisdom in the constancy of the heavens,
wisdom in community,
wisdom in the telling of the story.

I scribble a few notes, then wander through the rocks, take photos, explore a crevice filled with mosses and lichens. Daydream, stand in awe of the beauty that surrounds me, reflect on “clarity” and settle in to write.

A timed, free write on clarity:

It is impossible to find clarity in what is to come. There is only clarity in the here and now. Working from shadows to light. Reflections in light. A primitive understanding. There is a slow loosening, I am becoming more understanding, more content to be who I am. As I feel stronger, I gain more clarity and I can see my wondrous life-path unfolding in deep and mysterious ways. Yes. There will be delicious discoveries, painful heartaches, unexpected change, the ups and downs of living a life, fully aware. Clarity.

Much writing, thinking, and art  — all as guides to find ways of re-seeing and redefining the terms of old beliefs. Messages of “it’s all your fault”, “not good enough” and “you’re so sensitive” have played on an unending loop for too long. How to deal with the anger that surfaces — knowing that feeling is necessary and healthy and messy and time-consuming. All a big messy soup of raw emotions, memories and thoughts. Straining through this soup will take time and it will also add much clarity.

A quote and questions…

Anger can bring clarity and strength. When we let ourselves feel the full force of our anger, the clarity we receive can be amazing. When we recognize, “this is what ticks me off, this is why, and this is how I need things to be different!” we can experience the relief that such clarity can bring. A good relationship with our angry feelings can give us the determination to forge ahead, the strength to “stand our own ground,” the energy and focus to let the world around us know what is and is not okay.

~ From Eating in the Light of the Moon, by Anita Johnston, Ph.D.

  • How does increased clarity about myself, my plans, my dreams, my relationships affect my day-to-day…?
  • What does clarity on an issue bring to my life, to my work, dreams, hopes, to my relationships with others?
  • How will I choose to respond to new awareness?

What messages and further reflections on clarity might I take from symbols in my daily life?

  • things are not always as they seem
  • in the mystery of the slowly unfolding question lies the unexpected, a course of action, perhaps even an answer
  • symbols? incorporate symbols and metaphors as meaning in my life, clarity appears in bursts of connections.

There are always more questions than answers. Always more to explore, consider, assimilate.


My mantra:  “I believe nature offers opportunities for connection, the arts offer opportunities for self-expression, and life offers continual opportunities for growth and self-discovery.”  ~ Bo Mackison


Choosing my Word for the Year using Desert Wisdom Cards — Part I

Desert Wisdom Cards Set III

Desert Wisdom Cards © 2014 Bo Mackison

Every year for the last six years i have chosen a word for the coming year – a word to guide me, inspire me, encourage me.

In choosing a word for the coming year, I first looked up my words I’ve chosen the last six years – Show Up, Balance, Possibilities, Weaving, Soul-centered, and Wisdom. Some of those words played more significant roles than others, especially the words WEAVING from 2012 and WISDOM from this year, but I always place each year’s word in a prominent place on my desk.

To pick a word for 2015, I pulled three of my Desert Wisdom Cards to help guide me. The cards pulled at random were:


Visibility – A Desert Wisdom Card © 2014 Bo Mackison


  • This is a word I have struggled with much of my life. I see that I used a similar word, SHOW UP, in 2009. I have made progress in this area – from doing art to claiming my role as artist, from creating art in the privacy of my studio to doing nationally juried art fairs and festivals, from making personal books to creating a series of Desert Wisdom Cards, and offering three different sets for sale while also creating and giving workshops based on them.
  • None of this was done without struggle, and there were times when I hunkered down and didn’t show my face for weeks (or even months) at a time. But I have made discernible progress in the process of becoming more VISIBLE, in SHOWING UP.
  • Since it is still something I do with difficulty and much encouraging self talk, it is well worth considering that my word for the coming year would advance my goal of being VISIBLE.



Clarity – A Desert Wisdom Card © 2014 Bo Mackison


  • Lucid, clear in thought, focused. Only in extra-ordinary moments do I capture the clarity I seek – the flow of my creative vision, the words coming together to state my full intentions, the awareness of my place in a tiny part of my world.
  • I tend to wander, find my bearings by examining lots of alternatives, so zeroing in on one clear goal has always been a challenge, improbable and infrequent.
  • Yet, I wish for clarity in vision and I can create small practices towards that goal.



Delight – A Desert Wisdom Card © 2014 Bo Mackison


  • Of all the cards in the Desert Wisdom Card Set, DELIGHT is one of two cards that make me cringe when I pull it as my card for the day. (The other card that throws me is BEAUTY!)
  • Given that response, a response which I choose to notice, how might I infuse the coming year with more instances that provoke/encourage DELIGHT?
  • DELIGHT is a spontaneous feeling. When I look at the past year, I experienced DELIGHT, especially when stunned by stark natural beauty or  greatly amused by the antics of my one year old granddaughter or my best dog, Gracie.
  • Hard to plan for DELIGHT, but easily noticed when it bubbles to the surface. Perhaps I need to hold the intention, then, to be more aware of DELIGHT in my daily life.

Taking all of this into consideration, my practices for 2015 will include furthering my personal work of showing up and being visible, adding small steps to gain clarity and focus, and paying attention to that which provokes delight in my life.

In Part II, I’ll examine choosing my word of the year in terms of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and trans-personal aspects.

And I’ll choose my word for the year.

Do you choose a word for the year? Share your process and/or your word in the comments, if so inspired.