Wupatki: Houses of the Enemies

by Quintan Ana Wikswo

First published in High Desert Journal



The man walked by and wanted to buy us. He used his language, where cadaver

rhymes with woman. We replied to him in our language, where battle rhymes

with birth – the kind that snaps bone.


Here is where the rocks of us lay on the lava field, dreaming of beach. Your

breasts an inverted crater, and these your thousand ocotillo ribs. Above your

nipples a guarantee: we will reach the sea.


There is no such thing as skin, here – we are all cinders, ash and sand and the dry

white sediment of minerals seared from your body by this wind. Your hairs raised

in sweat and steam, static against my tongue: this heat a kind of cooking. We are

rendered, braised, blackened and then consumed. Love, a flammable cache of

cholla in grass baskets. A fire startling in its need to burn.


You say the sky is an illusion. So hot it bends and buckles, and I want you here in

the black ash. A hundred paces away and the light has warped into a murmuring

pale muscle: this is where we climb up the rocks, and then leap off into the azure

crater of sky.

Invert it, and we’re swimming again.


The gnarled arms of the juniper tree. To be here and long for what we have and

what we have not. Fallen stones and sinkholes. The wind and gravity, each with

their own riptides: two forces tied to our waists, and one tethers us to the sky

and the other pinions us to the deep below. Each day we pull on them and on

each other to remind ourselves of larger forces: this tension keeps us placed.



Here, there is no such thing as sea – only a wet white seam that rips along the skin

of the desert.


Bird bones in the silt, half buried, and an open beak.

Between your legs are feathers, wings and claws. Your egg lies in shards at my

feet. Only half-emerged, we are already consumed by ants. We are new and

hungry and half-tangled in mucus and each moment we do not fly, we die.


The approach to this place is an infertile road of grit and Moenkopi. We are

bounded by lizards – tight and hardened creatures that have worn down from

who they were in the long ago. One day, that is who you will be to me, too. What

is taken from us, and the silt its shadow leaves behind.


In the high light of near night, we and the yucca cast shadows against the pale ash

– this mountain the corpse once called volcano. We burrow and tunnel through

the soft of it, and in the thick cool comes a hand, subterranean, knowing that here

the dark is kinder than the light.


Without a moon, we watch the meteors. We lie naked in the rocks and dream of

scorpions. A stab of pain and then surrender. There is no thought of kissing, of

communion. You tell me to crawl inside your skin, to inhabit you. I think of

clinging to your bones from within your flesh. It seems sweet, and safe. The

desert distills in this way, erodes us to our elements. To be inside. To seek


Out here, death is no big deal.


To sleep in the sun without shelter – yesterday I slipped into dreams, thinking of

the taste of your breath. A vulnerability not far from sacrifice. Unconsciousness at

the wrong time brings the immortality of catastrophe.

The thundering slumber of this sun is something not to wake from. Impossible to

imagine: a height of heat that bends our sand to glass. A liquid that is not water.

Snakes constrict their prey in less tight an embrace than what I seek from you.


Petroglyphs in the cenote and craters and your body is my underworld. That

which is below ground is greater than that above. We come to being, seeds in a

thick red magma cave, and we leave through a system of passages. We all try to

climb back through, and it is because of this that I know you there now, with my

hands and lips and mouth.


In the dawn, the lava blocks are still heated from the day before. Underneath them

is a kind of evaporated clay – caliche. Sentimental. Damp. I reach inside your shirt

and find spines. Solitude. I open your lips with my fingers and feel fangs, and

venom, and silence. You are reptilian, and I am your hibernation.


Sandstone, seedpods, and the soft rise of viscera amidst hips. Pumice and

chaparral: what I piled on top of us, still breathing. Caldera. An immolation of

collarbones buckled and pinned within the spine. This place knows what it is to

wear down, to split, ignite, and then erupt.

Published in High Desert Journal