Donna Snyder: Poetry (Western Voices 2021)

Bio: Donna Snyder founded the Tumblewords Project in 1995 and continues to organize its free weekly workshops and other events around El Paso, Texas. She has three poetry collections and her poems and book reviews appear in journals and anthologies. Donna previously practiced law representing indigenous people, people with disabilities, and immigrant workers, and she also prosecuted misdemeanor environmental crimes and fraud.


The desert never stops outside my door


Daybreak I walk back and forth in the front yard.

Pigeons flock around my feet as I walk singing,

swinging seeds across the fence to the sparrows

aflutter in the haunted mesquites outside my fence.

They eat left-over kale stems, pear cores, burnt rice,

break apart dog shit seeking desiccated delicacies.

Provide a service as well as their murmured beauty.


Today I found a fat one left at my back door,

iridescent feathers ringed its neck in shiny glory

I shook my fist at my beloved pitty, Bubba.

Don't kill my pretty birds, I scold him.

Don't look away from me with silent tail.

I make a funeral march to the garbage pail out front,


wailing to birds mourning in silence from my roof.

Then feed the boys in their respective yards.

The pug eats beside the shed in back.

The chastened pit bull in the side yard.

The boxer on her tray inside the kitchen.

I shout Birds stay outta my dog's mouth!


Shaking my finger, I remind the boys,

Don’t bite the birds! They bring joy.

My dogs are good boys. It's about turf.

The pigeons bully the dogs. Yes, really.

They mock them, bathe in their water,

steal their food. Claim the Alpha’s top step.


Nothing thrives in the desert without thorn, claw,

scale, or tooth, without shelter from the killing sky.

I will feed them again tomorrow, singing in the desert

as I do. Praying only to stone and feathers who demand

no sacrifice of blood. 


A Mexican bird of paradise stands in my backyard. 

It bites me if I get too close. It guards my dead.




after Joy Harjo’s A Map to the Next World


Someone burned my map to righteous wellness.

GPS is pointless, mere worthless plastic now.

No family left cairns by which to find my way.

The people who probably loved me long dead,

I rarely feel their spirits close now, to my shame.


The more I grieve the more I am left behind.

No place to return to, no refuge waiting for me

anywhere, with a cup of tea or joyful embrace.

I am castigated for my fear and chronic despair,

as if sorrow is a choice rather than an unwanted gift.


All my love gone toxic as the air we breathe, I curl

into an awkward knot around my beautiful monster,

the boxer bitch who is my love and only comfort.

The light long gone dark, I am scared to leave my bed.

The water long gone dry, I never bathe or wash sheets.


My mind is somewhere no one knows me, all past

defining roles no longer mine, my vision blind.

I weave a map of virtue, but no road leads home. 

Solidarity with each group I encounter is my nature, yet

I have neither tribe nor father indulgent of his prodigal. 


No one holds out a hand to welcome me some place I belong.

I will leave nothing but this soliloquy of a wandering devil.

It is okay to know this: When my lungs stop, thick and hard

with death, my dog will feed on the matter I leave behind.


This is my blood, now the color of dirt.

This is my ravaged body, remember me?



Waiting for the light of revelation

In the midnight hours

dark and lonely as an unmarked grave,

rage and weeping make a cadence.

Audible despair rises and falls,

beats like wings, ceaseless before gusts,

torrents, an unpredicted storm.


I can’t write, I think.

The music is where I come from, I think.

Bread and water, the glory of light,

a cracked and open heart.

Images flee. Here there is no Word.

Here there is no language.


Seeing no deliverance,

rage and weeping echoes in the dark.

From the distance a murmur grows loud.


  1. Desert pastorals. Don't eat the birds, they bring joy. As do your poems.

    1. Thank you, Dustin. I appreciate you reading and commenting. I respect you and your work.


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