#86 Valley of Fires, with Snow by Shirley Balance Blackwell

From Capitan’s fog-shrouded heights, the two-lane highway drops,
descends through stone-slashed mountain passes,
then arrows west across the Tularosa Basin floor

into the Valley of Fires.  Miles of dark, volcanic outcrops
sprawl, now eerily quiescent, honeycombed by gases
that bubbled from the cauldron in the planet’s core.

The lava flow is frozen into cinder-blackened slag.
A bighorn sheep stands sentinel on a rocky crag.

Farther down the asphalt road, along the wintry plains,
lies unholy Trinity, where, with atomic torch,
man, not nature, fused White Sands in monumental flash,

melted into shields of glass pearlescent, tiny grains.
Today, a rime of frost outlines the rugged, wind-scorched
brush, as icy mist encases ashen, struggling tufts of grass.

Black or white?  No easy answers from that fateful day
that wed bright fire to silver wings of the Enola Gay.

*Along a 70-mile stretch of desolate highway that crosses the vast Tularosa Basin in central New Mexico lie two unique natural wonders:  Valley of Fires State Park is a 125-square-mile field of crumpled, fissured black rock from an ancient  lava flow.  A few miles away is White Sands National Monument, 275 square miles of dazzling gypsum dunes.  At the north end of these dunes is Trinity Site, where, on 16 July 1944, the first atomic bomb was tested.  The aircraft Enola Gay ferried the atomic bomb that exploded over Hiroshima, Japan, three weeks later.

Shirley Balance Blackwell returned to her beloved New Mexico in 1997 after a career in national security. Named the Kitchener Foundation’s 2010 NM Sr. Poet Laureate and, in May 2011, president of the NM State Poetry Society, she lives in Los Lunas with her husband and two large rescue dogs.


9 thoughts on “#86 Valley of Fires, with Snow by Shirley Balance Blackwell

    1. Dear Ellen, I’m sorry I missed you at Cafe de Mesilla when I was there on May 22. Have you been over the stretch of road mentioned in the poem? It is really breathtaking.
      The poem came from a trip back to Los Lunas from my sister’s place near Ruidoso one Thanksgiving.

    1. Thanks, Leif. Although I write free verse, I’m really a formalist at heart. Some of my poems have been used in classrooms by my teaching friends, and I’ve done some instruction on writing sonnets for our local community college poetry writing classes. It’s always nice to hear from someone who thinks rhyme should still be allowed. Shirley

      1. I like the way you put the rhyme just at the end. It can be used effectively as a sort of periodic refrain with otherwise free verse too. But it seems really good when unexpected, as you do it here. I’d love to read one of your sonnets. Sonnet is a lovely form.

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