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Poem by Lydia Gates.
Photo of Hart Prairie by Abe Snider.
I flew into Flagstaff at midnight, dark sky, orange streetlights. Sight unseen I’d picked a map dot to explore the country, more like cosmos since— I’ve never seen so many stars in one place, the Milky Way stretched horizon to horizon like a rainbow of moonlight, the world shades of gray, white... shadow allows me to pick the details out:
A rock face, a bike path, a mountain—tall and sturdy—awaits. Bent knees to ski, shushing down the snow-scape. If it comes late, we wait through frozen sunlight refracting Ponderosa pine, each autumn unique but still green; we persevere through hard times, clear a path, which way to go? In spring, we grow.
The wind whips my face, pulls out impurities like charcoal caves. This was once a volcano, active and angry… but it is quiet now, peace poles and watercolor paint, stained glass refracts an image of ourselves sharing a dialogue, our bare feet on solid ground. But, we’ve torn it up for new seeds; our garden plots try to grow plants and people in equity.
Travel through town in traffic, but, reconstruction of roadways connects us, and these highways merge lanes sideways, pull over into mom and pop restaurants featured by dine and drive TV spots. I eat salsa and Szechuan, burning my tongue the color of forest fire—beat back rebirth sunrise, smothered in smoke.
to monsoon season soaking the earth, the scent of rain, the flood clearing a scheme to assuage the scar when our hearts break, but rebuild again, every year a new bird song, a louder crow caw, an undiscovered wildflower waiting to propagate.
are so gentle here, bonk their antennae against me looking for sugar in the streets of a downtown lined with sweet shops, just a few blocks, but so many places to fill your coffee cup, hear music rock, visit artists’ lofts, drink at breweries and Irish pubs, order your Thai food level five hot when the temperature drops.
The culture is shared and refracted. Like crystal magic. Like a fiery afternoon that turns cotton candy by sunset, rest well in our beds, dream until heat and pressure reform us again— we are Flagstaff, ever-changing artifact, revolving door of visitors who love us enough to come back.
The sky is just so big here, it smiles wide to welcome: when I first arrived, I felt like a friend, greeted on sidewalks, offered hands to shake and the chance to pet dogs, learned words in Spanish, Hopi, Diné, started turning my personal connections into poetry. I’ve been writing this verse about you in my heart since the first day.
So, pick out a star for me, name it something secret, go visit it through the telescope at Lowell observatory, and know, no matter how far you go, we’re still right here in Flagstaff, our home.
Lydia Gates is a queer autistic performance poet and novelist who lives Flagstaff, Arizona with her wife Lucy and their three adorable feline monster children. She is the managing organizer of FlagSlam, a poetry slam in Northern Arizona that was established in 2000. Her poetry collections, I Was an Empire (2017), She Dreams the Moon (2018), and Changeling (2021) are available on Amazon. https://lydiagates.net/