It has been pouring for days and in a country such as this
it is hard to imagine the driest place on earth,
but at Atacama’s centre the loose lying sediment
proclaims a lack of that which might wash it all away –
millions of years without a single drop of rain.
Here nothing rots, the dead remain preserved forever dead
between the barren hills and freezing desert nights.
Yet further south, algae and lichen make the most
of marine fog and perennials, and woody scrub
suck on clouds entrapped by faulted mountains.
And though the arid plains are littered with abandoned
nitrate mining towns, the Peruvian song-sparrows sing
and lemons still grow on the shores of the salt marshes
while the villagers in Chungungo catch fog in mesh nets
that moisture may condense and trickle into copper troughs.
Their collective noun is ‘drove’
though they mostly live alone,
content with a solitary life,
or become one of a pair,
growing brave in the spring;
chests puffed out, as if
fluid has filled the cavities
and dropsy has caused a long-forgotten
frenzy, that gives rise
to a meadow dash in daylight
or a moonlit boxing match
below the moon hare’s dark patches;
that ancient celestial ancestor,
as a distant cousin is driven south
by the hunter and his dogs.
Stephanie Conn is a primary school teacher from County Antrim. Her poetry has been published in a wide range of magazines and journals. Recently, she was shortlisted for the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Prize and her short collection Talking to Tsvetayeva was highly commended in the Mslexia Pamplet Competition. She is in the final stages of her MA in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre, QUB.