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