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The Place Where You Live

"A sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and spatial perception together.” —Rebecca Solnit

Offended Turf

Posted by Margaret Randall | June 23, 2010


Offended Turf

—for Glenn Weyant

I press my face against dark steel tubes

14 feet high

filled with poured concrete

solid as fear

undulating over these rises and hollows

of desecrated land

like the Great Wall of China

without its invitation to walk.


We are making music here,

you with your ‘cello bow,

percussion implements

and contact mike.

Me with words I coax

from walls and fences everywhere.

We are taking a chance our vibrations

will change these molecules of hate.


Along this fictitious border

dark tubes snake

throwing their shadow in foreshortened stripes

across offended turf

until they stop, suddenly,

beyond washes threatening our vehicle.

Two Border Patrol SUVs race to the far end

intent on beating us to the unprotected crossing.


Government calls this a fence

though it’s clearly a wall,

its solid dimension

meant to keep humans, small animals

and cultures apart.

Between uprights I glimpse the old mattress springs

and sad ocotillo laced with barbed wire

irrelevant in sand.


Closer to Nogales (Charlie Mingus town

where neither statue nor street name

honor his passionate bass)

the wall is makeshift patches

of battered war materiel,

weathered and graffitied

with little doors

not for human passage but the same patrol of men


in dark green uniforms and white SUVs

with green stripes

as if bringing green

to this improbable equation

will give an illusion of life.

The officers warn us against stones

thrown from the other side.

Some sport cages on their moving arsenals.


Standing by a Wakenhut bus

waiting to fill with the unsuccessful 

it will deliver to the other side,

guards wear gunmetal gray

with red and black insignias:

fascism, empty power

aimed at the most vulnerable.

Aimed at us all.


Along the lonely desert roads

with clusters of Minutemen

in unmarked cars,

a parade of jeeps

their license plates from far-flung states,

abandoned plastic gallon jugs,

some filled with the urine of desperation,

crack beneath mid-March sun.


This month’s heat is no match for July

or August, yet brittle earth

cradles the dead

on a landscape of mesquite and ironwood

cacti and rabbit brush

where one nameless cross

wails INRI and “adios”

to all who pass.


At Arivaca we stop at a small café

for coffee and pie,

a group of bikers talk

beneath the shade of improbable trees.

On the walls: flyers for “No More Deaths”

recognize locals

who organize a first line of defense

for those who only want to live.


Surrounded by virtual fence towers

—billions spent on failure—

dry ocotillo, barbed wire

rusted mattress springs

patched metal from every war

and imposing cement-filled tubes,

we have full measure

of might bereft of right.


In the blue haze of distance

Mt. Baboquivari holds

a permanent stance

of knowledge and warning.

Born long before the wall

and destined to remain a landmark

after desert reclaims its hideous scar.   


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