Yellow-oatmeal flowers of the windmill palms
like brains lashed to fans-
even they think of cool paradise,
Not this sterile air-conditioned chill
or the Arizona hell in which they sway becomingly.
Every time I return to Phoenix I see these palms
as a child’s height marks on a kitchen wall,
taller now than the yuccas they were planted with,
taller than the Texas sage trimmed
to a perfect gray-green globe with pointillist
lavender blooms, taller than I,
who stopped growing years ago and commenced instead
my slow, almost imperceptible slouch
to my parents’ old age:
Father’s painful bend- really a bending of a bend-
to pick up the paper at the end of the sidewalk;
Mother, just released from Good Samaritan,
curled sideways on a sofa watching the soaps,
an unwanted tear inching down
at the plight of some hapless Hilary or Tiffany.
How she’d rail against television as a waste of time!
Now, with one arthritis-mangled hand,
she aims the remote control at the set
and flicks it off in triumph, turning to me
as I turn to the trees framed in the Arcadia door.
Her smile of affection melts into the back of my head,
a throb that presses me forward,
hand pressed to glass. I feel the desert heat
and see the beautiful shudders of the palms in the yard
and wonder why I despised this place so,
why I moved from city to temperate city, anywhere
without palms and cactus trees.
I found no paradise, as my parents know,
but neither did they, with their eager sprinklers
and scrawny desert plants pumped up to artificial splendor,
and their lives sighing away, exhaling slowly,
the man and woman
who teach me now as they could not before
to prefer real hell to any imaginary paradise.