Searchlight by Ruth Nolan

Ruth Nolan shows us the layers of our lives and our loves in a roadtrip across the ocean of the desert.


It’s another
over-the rainbow weekend.
I set sail and drive an eight hour arc
through an ocean of Mojave Desert,
invited to participate in a protest
with an ex-lover who’s a friend again,
with the ex-lover’s family, who hate my guts,
with assorted acquaintances old and new,
with three truckloads of Mojave Indians.

I’m helping put a stop to the windmills
about to be built near Lake Mojave,
wanting to see new life this spring,
not life-giving land destroyed
before the flowers come along.

Hard to believe
there’s a town called Searchlight
in the middle of the desert,
hard to believe that nearby
there’s a lake big enough for whitecaps
and power boats going down
in violent summer squalls
that rise from nowhere,
but it’s late winter, the air is still.

We might be on and off again
(he asks for $80 then says
we’ll make love again, but not right now).
My instincts know the way home
(so I don’t have to think or feel too much)
through ancient Joshua Tree forests
past the ugly solar towers at Stateline
the desert so often feels like the sea
and my daughter, six months pregnant,
she’s so far away from me now.

Sometimes, the freeway
that stretches out in front of me
is all I have, a soothing
umbilical cord between me
and her, my new life and old.

Another over the rainbow
weekend in the desert,
search hard, and there’s a new baby
on the horizon, waving me in
to shore, searching for land.

* * *

Ruth Nolan, a former wildland firefighter in the Western U.S., is a writer based in the California desert. She’s the author of the poetry book Ruby Mountain (Finishing Line Press 2016). Her writing has appeared in Rattling Wall; Desert Oracle; KCET/Artbound Los Angeles; Lumen; Women’s Studies Quarterly; News from Native California; Sierra Club Desert Report, Lumen; The Desert Sun/USA Today; Desert Magazine and Inlandia Literary Journeys. Ruth holds her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California, Riverside, and is a professor of English at College of the Desert in Palm Springs. Visit her blog at