Somewhere in the haunted desert
I hitched my callow life to a man
who thought I hadn’t suffered enough.
He might have said that very thing,
You haven’t suffered enough. Young
whiptail lizards lined the cottonwood
path to the river where I walked each
day to remember who I was: She
who had not suffered. My hands tanned
in the sage-green air, I walked until
I was softer, until clouds, until I could
tame my colors and go back and cook
a lazy dinner. Once, he insisted I ride
home with his friend who was clearly drunk
so he could make a call he didn’t
want me to hear, an ex, a lawyer, a dealer,
I don’t know. I knew I didn’t like his friend
who drove too fast after shots of tequila
at the roadside Mexican dive with fake
spiky cacti in the foyer like stage props.
Maybe this is suffering, I thought?
Am I suffering now? Or now?
I felt most myself by the river. Vast
sorrel river ready to flood or tear down
everything in its way, hard to cross,
rapid and legendary. The color of the earth.
I did not want to throw myself in. Instead
I’d watch the whiptails skitter in dust.
Sisters of the small quiet pleasure of edges
and disappearing to safety. I can still hear
that river in my mind, my teacher. I can still
remember that day I left him, the arguing,
the fight where I kept my head down
and packed like fury was a new smart skill.
But mostly I remember the flitting of lizards,
how they had felt like kin and kinship,
how later, I read that the New Mexico whiptail
is an all-female species, reproducing by
parthenogenesis, asexual and yet genetically diverse.
Yellow lines run the length of their gray bodies
with vibrant blue-green tails when they’re young.
And as they age, their scales, their whole body changes,
until only the faintest blue remains, and safer now,
they become the earthen color of the river.
Ada Limón, a current Guggenheim fellow, is the author of five poetry collections, including The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Her fourth book Bright Dead Things was named a finalist for the National Book Award, a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She serves on the faculty of Queens University of Charlotte Low Residency M.F.A program and lives in Lexington, Kentucky.