Category Archives: Mountains & Deserts

Coyote Brush

From my home, looking uphill

at the shadowed green for years

I had no name

for this gray-green matte.

When I heard “coyote brush”

spoken, seen it written, low letters,

thick like this tangled-branched, oval-leaved

thing, I thought it a fitting name,

making a place for coyotes,

rough-cut dogs, matted,

low to the ground, hiding

in the mottled darkness.


Then yesterday, on San Bruno Mountain,

my student taught me the Ohlone myth

that where coyotes peed,

from that muck sprouted the first

gnarled green shoots of the eponymous plant,

smelling of coyote pee

to scare off hungry deer,

hungry enough to try to eat these lizard leaves,

dry, seedy, bitter.


Tonight I might try that trick,

see what grows when I take a leak,

give to the baked clay

around my house what moisture

I took from it, see what spawns

from my dragon’s teeth,

what hydra-headed plant,

nettles spouting hypos,

hemlock numbing seeds,

milkweed feeding caterpillars,

what beautiful death will arise

from my leavings?


by Paul Totah

Poets & Mystics

My friends who climb mountains

never sing about mountains.


My friends who sing but never climb

sing about mountains—

of their distant beauty

drawn in green and white

against the horizon.


My friends who climb

have seen friends

fall to death when

frozen ropes



They know the treachery of

handholds, black thunderheads,

thin air,

ice walls, silver-mirrored,

that illuminate hidden ascents,

or sometimes blind.


They do not sing of mountains

because no words come to them

when they climb; they just climb,


their journey beginning with the first breath,



—Paul Totah

Desert Prayer


Grant me peace

Born on grey white waves that

Spill onto brown grey sand

Linger through white washed roads

Weave sawtooth patterns

Expose white striped veins

In basalt, serpentine, chert.



Expose my veins

Wear down my rock face

Pummel me into selfless sand


Walk on water

To where I sit

On a red rock

Thinking desert thoughts

Without flower or blossom.