The Works of David Chorlton

David Chorlton was born in Austria, grew up in England, and spent several years in Vienna before moving to Phoenix in1978. His newest published books reflect this concern for the natural world. They are Waiting for the Quetzal, from March Street Press, and The Porous Desert, from Future Cycle Press. He recently had a poem included in the anthology, BIRDS, from the British Museum, won the Ronald Wardall Poetry Prize for his chapbook The Lost River, from Rain Mountain Press, and the Slipstream Chapbook Contest with From the Age of Miracles.

All Poems © David Chorlton

A Place in the Dark


A gecko is a heartbeat, hardly more

 than silence; a breath with skin; a drop of light

 emerging from the secret place

 where it spends the day

 before appearing

 like a fingerprint that crawls

 across the beams and ceiling panels on the porch


while night lamps glow across

 the city, and the man whose only home

 is the bus stop on Seventh Avenue

 rolls onto his side

 so as better to fit on the metallic bench

 where nobody is waiting

 to ride on route eight

 at this late hour

when each life settles

into its accorded place

and pulses slow to the speed of night.

for John and Ruth Waddell

Left leg extended, right arm raised, the heel
on the standing foot is sprung
two inches from the ground
and a current flows straight up
through the body’s axis
while sunlight runs its blue-bronze course
from fingertip to shoulder,
down along the hip and out
on the thigh, on the shin, to the toe
where it glints a moment before
the shadow from a tree
begins its climb toward evening
when the figure retains its stance
the way a dancer filled with moonlight
does. She is one of many in the garden,

caught mid-step or balancing
as only the practiced can
with arms held in a vertical line and the face
looking back through the pose
to a leg held firmly while the muscles flow
through it; or with hands raised
while the head is turned toward the sky
in a gesture of release
from a world spinning too fast
through a universe too large to care

but here are stillness and motion
cast in a single mold.



It’s the season television screens

glow with the orange that displays fires

whose smoke drifts over the city

enabling us to smell the world

ending, one forest

at a time. It begins with a campfire


spark that catches in the grass

and spreads fast as gossip

from a crackle to a roar

that says this is just the start,

this is the kindling. The images

suggest a war is being waged

without combatants. The damage


is all collateral. We’re surrounded.

Is this a siege? Will there be

enough retardant to snuff out

our nightmares

when the wind changes direction


and our fears are no more

than ten per cent contained?

But everyday life goes on

with its small beginnings,

tragic endings, and in between them

the billowing, spectacular, flames.

Lost in the Chiricahuas

Our first few steps ran easy
on the stones and fallen leaves
beneath the creek where sycamore
were changing and oaks leaned
over water. We followed

the suggestion of a trail, the two of us
and our dog for whom
the earth was a library of scents,
along the shallow inclines
with their views of the current
framed in juniper bark
until the woodland grew around us

and we turned
to forage back with only guesswork
for a compass. Through a tangle
of grasses we clambered, trying to uncover

the way back to the beam
of light that first
pointed us on our way, but it had gone
underground while we
strained to read directions by sun
and the distant mountain with a streak
of yellow aspens

brushed against the pines. We became
confused as to how
a creek could flow away
in half an hour
and leave us scrambling to find it
on slopes of soil

too loose for our shoes. Canine
intuition only led to bear scat
and lost
became loster

while the scenery smiled
at our every wrong turn.
The Chiricahua earth glowed
beneath our aimless feet
and the clear October sky was bluer
where the foliage began to turn
but we couldn’t tell

the way out from the lifelines
on our hands. Just as we thought
of thirst swooping
to take us in its talons

the unpaved road appeared between the evergreens
so I set out walking on my own
to find where we had parked.
On these roads

you walk in hope of finding a friendly driver
passing, flag her down, say
It’s okay, I’m not armed,
and she replies,
I am. Get in.


The jaguar is missing from the wind

that sweeps the grasses low

and turns cottonwood leaves

along the river where it came to drink beneath

a full moon on nights

overflowing silver with scented trails

leading off into brush.

                                        Its tracks

are missing from the mud

where after the rains they were printed

with authority and left to harden

for a season until the next

storm washed them out.

                                        The pelt is missing

from the skeleton from which

the bones are falling away and the stealth

is missing from its walk.

                                         In the wake

of the jaguar’s disappearance even

the tooth by which the sky

bit into the Earth

is missing.

Night in the Wet Season

The roads leading into a storm
dip and wind
between a theater of cloud and the grass
where sparrows wait for rain.
There’s a brilliant light

in the sky
and a shadow moving in
as the mountains
rise to meet it. Heat has built all day

to the first lightning flash
that turns a deer’s eye white
when she stops
to look back from her run
through the oak trees
whose leaves are silver

for a second. Rain gallops
uphill and down. Then the sun

returns as quickly
as it disappeared, and peak after peak
returns to its place
in time for the glow
that precedes the descent

into the time the owl
calls softly from its branch
and the Black Witch moth
arrives with a hiss

like a nail
driven through layers of dark.

Postcards from the Age of Miracles


Whenever you are reading this

remember us

as the ones who tried to live backwards

and teach creation

while scientists built a tunnel in which

to look back at the beginning of time.


Which millennium are we in?

Is this Milky Way the road

to a medieval shrine

or a constellation

in the sky?


We’re looking for water on Mars

instead of in Arizona

where only a few miles of river

remain, but nobody launches a mission

to find them. There’s no future

in the past.


Religion just becomes more popular

the more we spend

on war. It’s comforting

to have faith in the ethereal

when weapons are so chilling

to the touch.


Talking about the virgin birth

or resurrection keeps

a sense of wonder in our lives

even though we can’t explain

how they were possible. Neither

do we understand digital technology,

although we came to love it once

we were told it’s only ones and zeros.

Rowing Solo


            for Mary Rose,
on her plan to row for the future of birds


There’s a solitude in being on water

as the weeks pass

until an albatross flies by

or a whale pushes underneath

the boat. With nobody to speak to


words disappear from your vocabulary

at the rate of birds

becoming extinct. An adjective disappears over the horizon;

a rare Marbled Murrelet

lands on the prow; a noun

sinks to the ocean bed; a Hawaiian Petrel

crosses the sun. It becomes harder


to know how to ask

who would care should a certain

flycatcher no longer

catch flies, or an eagle be replaced


by its image on a flag. There’s a solitude

in returning to society

still with the swell

heaving at your every move

as you explain where you’ve been

and why


to people who have never seen

a raindrop in a forest

turn into a Green Thorntail.


The Trails Beneath


The vegetation shifts from green to darker

green along the stony rise

that crests between prickly pear and juniper

where the view tumbles down

between dry grass and yucca stalks

to a valley that leads to the country’s end.

Whoever climbs slowly


and travels with no set destination

will find each trail runs from here

along its secret way, disappearing for a while,

and coming back where it is least

expected to. One slips through the forest;

one goes only as far as the eye

can see; one is the loop

adventurers took when they

were brimming faith, but found

that it returns every lost soul

to the source of his discontent. Whoever

scrapes away a little earth

as they go may discover

something left behind: a broken piece

of a whiskey glass or the needle

from a compass that pointed

only back to where its owner

started out from.