Saturday, January 1, 2022

January Issue Released! Cholla Needles 61!

The fabulous writers who start off year six of our magazine are:

Susan Abbott
Roger G. Singer
Kate H. Koch
David Chorlton
Mark T. Evans
George Howell
Kent Wilson
David Groulx
Zaqary Fekete
S J Perry
and Timothy Robbins

This issue is a perfect example of why the position of editor is so exciting. I have the unique opportunity to watch creativity in action daily, and it’s really special when it sparks to life between friends. Susan Abbott’s beautiful cover started life at her friend’s house in Joshua Tree. Susan made a sketch entitled Saguaro in Joshua Tree and that later became both a plein air work of art and a poem titled “Lesson, The Curve”.  She shared the art and poem with her friend, Susan Rukeyser, who wrote the following piece:

Listen, I Heard

in response to Lesson, the Curve
by Susan Rukeyser

Before she embarked on her grand adventure, in the pause between chapters, a page held mid-air, the poet sketched the lone, tall saguaro cactus that stands before my little house in Joshua Tree. Saguaros are native to the Sonoran Desert, but this one was well established here in the Mojave, long before I blew in from the East Coast.

The poet took her sketchbook with her, the drawing a memento of her view from this house, its walls humming with progressive feminist and lesbian poetry and prose and art and our conversations about all that and much more. This house where I—like her, a sister of sisters—waited for her safe return to my house of curves, where it is understood: Straight lines are impossible.

The poet drove away alone, following curves that lead east and south and north and west. Along the way, she was reminded, again: the world is womanly. Curves and mystery, strength and surprise—how beautiful the world is, everywhere.

Saguaros do not belong here, in the Mojave, but somehow this one thrives. Someone believed it could grow to belong here. The saguaro did the hard work, sending roots down, arms up and out. Every season, growing boils that stretch into phalluses that burst into showy white flowers. The saguaro is just trying to survive, like the rest of us. It doesn’t mind a little attention, once in a while.

The poet returned as the virus approached. More distance, they said. Flatten the curve. The poet sat alone with her memory, imagination, and inks. Through her, the saguaro became fantastic and playful, infused with ecstatic colors, texture, and personality. It is green and robust, with spines that gleam like a halo. And there is something holy about it—joyous—in its appeal to the sky. Each mark is applied with a painstaking point. The background evokes swirling desert winds and sunsets and starry nights. And the virus. I see stars that could be our homes, our selves. I see how we are held in terrible, necessary isolation. But we are held. A heart appears in the sky, tipped toward the saguaro. Love can weather some distance. How much longer until we can embrace, speak close, stand near? We cannot bear it, but we do.

What lesson will we take, when the curve holds our page from turning? What future will the road curve towards? What will flatten; what will grow instead? What mementos will we keep?

This holy saguaro reminds me of something not of this, or any, desert: the minaret of a mosque at the center of old town Sarajevo. It rises high above the bazaar in a still-healing city that is deliberately tolerant, desperate for peace, its people coexisting within walls pockmarked by bullet holes. Five times a day, it calls out its reminder: We are here. We wait together. Wash your hands. We all hear that.

I tell the poet: let the saguaro-minaret call you through uncertainty, grief, pandemic dread. Let it call you from the endless curves of road or loneliness. Let it remind you of the friend who listens to art, as she listens to you. Let it call you back where you are heard.

Watch Susan Rukeyser reading Listen, I Heard

Follow Susan Rukeyser at

Follow Susan Abbott at
Susan Abbott Watercolors (Facebook) 
and/or @smtabbott (Instagram)

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