Atriplex canescens

Fourwing saltbush
Erin Renee Wahl

A haibun for the saltbush, for the journey, for Merwin. 


When I go into the Organs I carry poetry with me, and the blossoms of the desert reach out to touch my hands. The saltbush quivers, leading me along the trail, pulling me like an ocean current, full green booms swaying. A plant that beckons. On the trail, I carry poetry with me and I feed it to the landscape. We shall be divided as by water. I feed words to the saltbush and they sweep my cheeks to thank me. The saltbush clears its genetic makeup and prepares to flaunt its arms, withering the dust with a luscious wave. The rest of the desert follows along, tracing its path the way I do. The gray map lays itself out in tendrils along the crust of rock and dust I have loved with every fiber of breath. I follow this map into the pocket of wild I can never fully know. I don’t doubt the permanence of the saltbush here where the wild meets the path. On the trail, I carry poetry with me and I feed it to the landscape. Have you left us nothing but blindness? No, saltbush shows me the way in and the way out and the way through. Its constancy my good friend, my walking partner, my faithful navigator, my priest in the temple of wilderness. This rambling shrub my dearest friend. When the desert burned I thought of the poems I laid there, curving with the trails, nestling in the plants that turned to ash. Can vegetation bolstered with poetry survive a blaze? Do the words filter into the gravel with the ash and, heated and sifting, merge into the ground and nourish the next life? On the trail, I carry poetry with me and I feed it to the landscape. It was a night like this that the ashes were made. I know the saltbush will uncurl out of the ash, out of the heated rock and dirt. The water will come, the seeds will stick, the twigs will poke up and out and out and out until the spread of bush and wiggle of blooming branches greets the trail again. The fire splits open the landscape to heal itself again. The saltbush will rise too.


Flower-winged, cradle my

wandering heart. Grow wide; coat

my path with new words.




Erin Renee Wahl's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Timber, The MacGuffin, molecule, and others. She spends her days living life as an awesome librarian at New Mexico State University.