—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.
There is always a chance our vibrations
will change these molecules of hate.
Along this fictitious border
the dark tubes snake
throwing their shadow in foreshortened stripes
across offended turf
until they stop, suddenly, beyond washes
that threaten our vehicle.
Two Border Patrol SUVs race to the far end
intent on beating us to the unprotected crossing.
The 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 see the old mattress springs
and sad ocotillo laced with barbed wire
irrelevant in sand.
Closer to Nogales (town of Charlie Mingus’ birth
where neither statue nor street name
honor the strings of 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 stripe
as if bringing green
into this improbable equation
can give an illusion of life.
The officers warn us against stones
thrown from the other side.
Some have cages on their moving arsenals.
Standing by a Wakenhut bus waiting to fill
with the captured immigrants
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 still containing 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 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
its permanent pose
of knowledge and warning.
Born long before the wall
and destined to remain a landmark
after desert reclaims the hideous scar.