desert EP

by peter j hochstedler



Desert EP was written and recorded alongside--as a journal and appendix to--The Saltpeter Wars over the course of half a year that I spent in Tucson, Arizona. I was WWOOFing there at a small biodynamic farm called River Road Gardens on the campus of the Tucson Waldorf School.

"Peter is a lyricist above all else, doing more here with one song than many other folk artists pull off in an album . . . If Peter’s tongue were a brush, his paintings would be priceless."
- Angelica Music


released June 18, 2012

Cover art by the astonishing Kelsey Garrity-Riley and Erik Riley.

Excerpted interviews with the beautiful farmers Emily Mabry and Jon McNamara of River Road Gardens.




peter j hochstedler South Bend, Indiana

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Track Name: amelia
out here the desert is quiet as the snow
that fell in the night by the door of our home
our home in wisconsin, walls made of skin
here icicles hang in my mind from saguaro limbs

what ax did I lay at the foot of this cactus?
what curtain I hung twixt your room and mine?

o, amelia

mesquite in the evening, sap pulsing out
and the aloe’s aflame, a ghostly orange blossoming now
I hear the music of my chest alone
I see the ghostly colors of deserted, dusty homes

ain’t no sky like the desert sky after a storm
but water here ain’t what it once was, I’m told--
there once was a river, now just a wash
with a road that runs by by the name of River Rd

o, amelia

geographies shift but our names stay the same
we are rillito, sonora, catherine and jake
my name is a curtain to cover my bones
your name is a desert for to wander within

out here I’ve no one grand to be
I dig in the dirt; I piss on a tree
I sleep with a cat with a delicate name
before waking in darkness to do it again

o, amelia

I steeped you this song of salvia and sage
I’ve changed all the names but the people remain
I pour my libation upon the parched ground
it’s my only ablution before the desert my god

out here I’ve nowhere tall to hide
all the trees are hostile, they pierce my side
we hid behind each other, oh happiest of flaws
until we fumbled at a curtain that didn’t exist until it was drawn

o, amelia
my art was a crutch I wielded in a war
your art was a poodle you coddled in a storm
I would not be your subject; you pined to be mine
and the war became loud and the storm flashed its veins

out here the heat has drawn my face
I did not come to the desert for this
but the desert was waiting here for me
with a garden of garlic and borage leaf

there is a table laid beneath our feet
it’s a water table we tread underneath
and you can draw water from a well against the heat
and I pulse here with sap like mesquite

o, amelia
you’ve felt it too, I know--
amelia, you’ve felt it too
Track Name: rocco
you were only four weeks old
when they broke the story
a man beaten down at the border
he died, he was not resisting

where will you lay your head?

and your mother--my sister--
she held you close in an apartment in pilsen
and your father was gentle--he kissed you--
I never knew what gentleness was until then

where will you lay your head?

I was out in the desert, newly divorced
I was happy and lonely
I was watching democracy now! and
heard the cries of departed Anastasio

how do we lay our heads?
blood on a border bed
who will raise a fist
for on who does not resist?

and hernando--
there are some worlds we can’t save
people lie down on the earth before your eyes
and it’s all you can do to set it down
on your video tape
for the pearly gates

raise your fist, the one you clasped around my finger when I met you a couple weeks ago
your father was gentle and your mother was good
I wrote it down: there are sounds
that no one should ever hear!
I wrote it down: there is a sounding in the chest of
your parents holding your head to their breast

where will you lay your head?
Track Name: mary
mother, I’ve been thinking about growing up inside
my room all lego-strewn, alone for hours
and the kids were playing soccer while I was playing god
there in my corner of space and time

and how I’ve been a million places on an aeroplane
I’ve looked down over the atlantic ocean
and sometimes I feel I’m floating through the rooms that I’m in
and it’s a long way, a long way down

blessed are the landlocked, the mountained and the planed
and blessed, those who grow old in their hometown
I’ve ranged a million rooms—their memories intertwine
I got no country, just space and time

mother, there are places I don’t ever want to go
like boston, tampa, or Toledo
I’ve been a million people and I fear I’m running low
I could be no one on a long way down

well blessed are you mary and blessed is your vine
and blessed did I fall from your uterine wall
and blessed is your ocean, your sorrow, your child
we got no country, just space and time

and they can keep their hometown;
we’ll take our long way down
Track Name: phaethon
long way down, it was a long way down
flow my horse, my chariot, my ruin
ash my feet, my face, my rickety bones
long way down, it was, o father it was

“your fire is safe with me,”
I addended casually, so casually

clomb your arc, your arc, your east to west
long way down, this desert, o father it was
ash my food, my family, my family tree
long way down, the dust, it is cradling me

your fire has come undone
laid to waste this wasted land
it was a flame came boiling my blood
just to know I am your son—

that I am your son!

Track Name: sonora (afterthought)
in the deserts of sonora
at the turning of my mind
I was bound in a bed of crooked-necks
I was rotting on the vine

dusk on the mountains
blood from a thorny tree
and the deserts of sonora—
they listen silently

oh, you fools at your helm of history
and you fools with your books and guns
and you fools with your sweet nostalgia--
you think you can undo what’s already been done?

gourds, they are blossoming!
gods, they are bloated and bleed!
in the deserts of sonora
they return their love to me

and the deserts of sonora--
they listen unspeakingly