Back to Issue 11

by Heather M. Surls


The desert demands attention from my eyes trained to praise the lush wet and green, the accessible and abundant which do not require attention, so here where a woman stands on the side of the road in abaya long and dark backdropped by olive trees thirsty for harvest rain I give attention by setting my screen aside and seeing the whole palette of yellow and brown, distinguishing between a bushy star thistle needing more attention than a burgeoning globe thistle, and I submit to the desert’s demand for attention because I read this week that attention is prayer and I need so much to pray like the outrageously blossoming spires of sea squill standing attention under the sky that has not opened in months and like the shepherd in jeans and checkered shmag giving close attention to his sheep scanning hillsides for stubble, and because attention is prayer for the first time in my life I feel the need to study these crusty backbones of sediment laid bare and these fracture caves that maybe housed hermits devoting full attention to heaven and these blocks of limestone once fortress where a wheatear hopping black and white draws my attention and I approach slowly, focusing on its most basic colors rich and bold under the sky which calls attention upward to these plains of Moab where God wooed the children of Israel wandering and sitting in their tents at attention waiting for manna to coat the desert like coriander and snow sparkling like this stone, and now I walk this wilderness demanding attention, quiet, eyes, and I know why monks retreat to the desert to delete the distractions capturing their attention, to baptize themselves in the bleach of unblinking sun and let every lark and squill and wheatear and thistle arrest their attention and split their souls open to cleansing and accepting every gift gratefully in their dust-cracked hands.


Heather M. Surls’ nonfiction and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in places like Cordella, Ruminate, River Teeth, Silk Road, The Other Journal, and Nowhere. She regularly contributes articles to Anthrow Circus, a mixed media site exploring culture through the lens of place. She lives in Amman, Jordan with her husband and two sons.