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Baiyer River, Papua New Guinea

ISSUE:  Summer 1991
The road stops, not in a suburban cul de sac
but where the bulldozer’s sunk.
Thirty or so men mill at the wreck

in shorts and Coke or Sony T-shirts.
They all have shoes and guns. Dirt
from the “plantesin” seams their skin. The Hertz

rent-a-jeep is theirs, as far as we’re
concerned. Last year a missionary, in terror
or bravado, ran a roadblock and disappeared.

He’s who brought immortality
to the valley—penicillin—and that’s why
the road got this far, the only

reason. Soon-to-be extinct butterflies
flutter in pools of urine by
the roadside where they strategized—

for us, for anyone. The road must pay.
Two men in grass skirts try to say
our names, as the rest do not. Are they

less hostile because we’re their dinner?
To eat means to exploit, to all consumers.
Beyond the misty range before

us, gold-capped mountains alchemize
men from suburban cul-de-sacs
into Cortez, astride big machines.

because it is always meanwhile
back at the pass for someone, all

these night-of-the-living-dead men strip
the jeep, even take the contract and rip
it up for rolling paper, which is when the if

this, then hits home. Why us?
No doubt we’re culpable: our T-shirts outrageous
in their blankness. We don’t want fuss.

We take off the shirts.
If it’s not their road, whose
is it? And why so dangerous?


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