The Devil in the Desert
by John-Michael Bloomquist

“I began to pray daily, hourly… I took long rides out into the desert where I could be alone at prayer. I prayed with my wife in the evening. As I tried to understand my problems I tried to find God’s will in acting on them.”

—Wernher von Braun,
Fort Bliss, Texas, 1946

The dawn was purpling when I drove
to Mount Franklin, reflecting in pools of pink
sand, warm as the mouth of God. The yucca
rising with their gold dodecahedron flowers
glowed like zoomed-in stars. God is here in the
desert, leading his chosen. Of this I am sure.
I am parched for the lost ocean that roared
through here. A rattlesnake was sunbathing
on the rock I usually sat on. Black diamonds
on its khaki back, embossed lapels
down its buzzing rattle, a rain stick
pointing skyward. Its body curled into
two drops—a hissing infinity band.
Christ denied the devil when he was offered
the world, but how could I resist the SS
offering me the heavens? Yes, I let myself
be bitten to drink the milk of a golden cow,
but I kept the faith I’d remain in a state
of grace, even after working for Hitler.
When Christ came down from the mountain,
he was a wound broken through the desert
like dew. I shooed the snake with a stick,
and you, Christ, trekked back with a snake
folded across your shoulders. The good
shepherd carrying the lamb of woolly smoke.
You, God, are the pillar of fire that lead me to this
promised land, you were the stars burning close
through the telescope my mother gave me
for my confirmation. You were there
where the bodies were stacked. I was committed
to the heavens with or without your presence—
you, the grace of a snake lifted on a bitten stick.

 

Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 22, Issue 4.

John-Michael BloomquistJohn-Michael Bloomquist was most recently living in Mexico as a Peace Corps volunteer until being evacuated due to Covid-19. He now lives in DC. His poetry has been published in The Michigan Quarterly, Third Coast, Painted Bride Quarterly, Portland Review, Atticus Review, COG, The South Dakota Review, The Carolina Quarterly, The Southeast Review, and is forthcoming in Atticus Review and Heavy Feather Review.

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