My Mistress, the Desert
Now I don’t think that I was the first,
nor will I be the last to refer to the desert as a beautiful woman,
a very beautiful and tricky woman.
Not malicious now, mind you, but just enough to keep your mind where it belongs—on her,
and that’s good
because you just don’t go running around out there like a, like a starry-eyed kid.
You’ve got to know where you’re at, every moment you’re out there
and she demands it and that’s good.
So, I’d like you to meet my mistress, The Desert.
I passed this way some fifty-odd years ago
and my mistress was wearing wild lupines in her bound-up hair
and nothing much more than a spider web elsewhere.
(You see, it does get warm out there.)
Well, I was just fourteen years old at the time
and to say that I fell in love with her would not be quite right—
I crash-landed, head over heels in love with her and she laughed at me!
She laughed at me when she saw me blushing, and she said,
“Well, what do you know? Today I have me a boy, a mere blushing boy.”
And I said, “Dammit, I am not blushing.
It’s just that that damn sun could burn a person something fierce out here.”
And she says, “Ha, ha, now don’t you kid me, my boy,”
and she keeps calling me her “boy” like I’m an adolescent kid,
which, of course, I really am,
but she’s breaking my heart and I find out later that is just exactly what I needed.
And she knew it, God bless her, she knew it.
She made a desert man out of me in two short lessons and that was just the beginning—
the beginning of a long line of rendezvous that stretched across a long line of years.
And just recently, not too long ago,
I went back out there just to check on her and nothing had changed
except my mistress was wearing fire penstemons in her bound-up hair
and had completely forgotten the spider web elsewhere.
(You see, sometimes it gets warmer than others out there.)
Well, she laughs at me again only this time she laughs because she sees I no longer blush
and she says, “Well, what do you know. Today I have me a man, a real man.”
And I say, “Now don’t you get too damn smart, my dear.
I’m out here to meet a woman, a real woman.”
And she gives me a look with those flashing eyes,
reaches up and takes the penstemons from her bound-up hair
and shakes it loose till it covers her there.
Then she parts her hair, just a teensy wee, peeks out and says to me,
“My dear, your woman’s in here,” and indeed she was through all these years.
But I don’t know, as I, as I sit here this afternoon. I think I shall never go back again.
She’s no longer there, I am told but I…know…different.
It’s just that it’s colder now out there, and still, I know I will go back
for I’ve already told the pilot who will take me there to make the flight
in the still of night,
and scatter my ashes in a long, straight line so my mistress can find me there.
And she’ll smile at me with eyes grown soft through the passing years, and she’ll say,
“Well, what do you know? My boy is home to stay,”
and she’ll take the wild flowers from her bound-up hair
and shake it loose till it covers us both and it’s warm again out there.
(at Bob Nolan's home, June 8, 1980 – taped by Bill Bowen)
William G. (Bill) Bowen, a friend of Bob Nolan's and an artist, was listening to Bob recite some of his longer poems and persuaded him to record them on tape. Bob recited My Mistress, the Desert in his own back yard on June 8, 1980. He told Bill that he had committed several of this type of long poem to memory but hadn’t got around to putting them down on paper. If Bill had not grasped the opportunity that day, we would never have heard the beautiful word picture Bob left of the desert he loved so well. He died just eight days later.