I was leaving California
so we went out to the desert in M’s truck
on the 60, then the 10, traffic, sunset,
the moon rising fat in the sky
gold then white –
so at first everything looked beautiful
and then it looked dead.

At camp M remembered a story,
a couple inside their campers’ tent,
a ghost got inside, and the usual,
only one made it out.
To get the fire lit M doused all of it –
the store firewood,
the sage in arm’s reach,
the cardboard in the back of the truck –
in WD40, and I walked off
and listened to its hiss.
The rotten smell of sage mixed with oil
and dust, so we choked our beer down
in the space the rocks had left empty
on the desert floor.

What makes a place haunted?
More than the ghost clouds
when I wanted stars,
the boulder-shadows crouched
at the edge of the fire.
That night, I heard rain, hands
beating for hours on the tent, fingering
the cold through the staked corners.
By 6am it was a thing around our ankles.
It gripped the pillows, slid under our clothes
where we used to hold each other.

Breaking down camp the damp, thick air
was watchful, and the Joshua trees
held their green and were silent.
When we retraced the roads
the clouds let in a watery light,
wavered over the soaked stones
and desert grit. On our way out
I bought a t-shirt at the park gift shop.
The cashier told us it hadn’t rained
in six months. I don’t remember
if I believed her. I was leaving.

Heather Bowlan