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ISSUE:  Summer 2003

Miles of barbed wire strung to the horizon
fencing cattle and their graze of greasewood
puckered with yellow blossoms, scattered
with dry grasses, cat’s claw, thistle, spurge,
fan-strands of spiny ocotillo, mescal, mesquite,
fishhook and prickly pear cactus, acacia, yucca
and sotol spikes spraying white blossoms.

On fence posts: a passel of turkey vultures
perch, wings spread, taking the sun into
their black capes, these mask-of-red-death
horrors, their faces wattled in bluish warts, waiting
for the dead-pronghorn or jackrabbit, luck
run out, or maybe a boy from across the border.

Yet on this early morning yellow warblers
trill the desert willows along the arroyo.
Even the cottonwoods are taking off in song,
trembling great leafy tambourines in the cool air
while down by the Rio, a Border Patrol SUV
is dragging a sledge of old tires through a dry wash,
sweeping footprints for a day of tracking aliens.

Mexicans make a drink from sotol
something like tequila or pulque from maguey,
an elixir of agave, a tincture of spike and thorn,
distilled from sun and wheeling shadows,
with a pinch of cactus bloom, a scent of sage.
A strong, perplexing drink: Birdsong
at the first sip. Thorn in the tongue, at the last.
And yet we drink. And drink again.


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