Phoenix Sorted Me Out

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“Eastern people can’t believe they still do those things out West.”

I got burned by Phoenix, but it sorted me out. With my undisclosed doctorate, slouching about, talking in dark college halls of Godard and Brecht to laid-off truckers, starry-eyed freshmen, the rest. Friends, I won’t have to spend three months on your couch; I got burned by Phoenix, but it sorted me out. All the kids in their scenes, well, they talked a good game, all cured of disorders to endure them by name. And the sun it was hot, but I’m from a hot place. Burned through my plans for the summer all in the space of the time it would take to improve on your watch, nose in detritus of couch-dwelling sunspots. And I don’t think I’ll be here when blisters arise. Once burned by Phoenix, and it won’t happen twice.

“out West, drinking SoBe and Surge like ’90s pop suicide was murdered by a lover”

The bus Ok, so this is the desert
to you I’m required to cross
who I the risk
had not prepared for
yet met

it left Ok, so this is the climate
Phoenix I’m obliged to adapt to
at 10 extend the
and takes falling in basins
me south

it leaves Ok, so this is the Continental Divde
the last on a knife’s edge
truck stop in order and disorder
and I laughing and falling
am yours

“Eastern people can’t believe they still do those things out West.”

Bottle Tree, Taqueria

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San Antonio.

Some people know what tacos are, others know what bottle trees are. Some people go to Texas, others go to Hell.

Charlie Pride sings by the taqueria with the bottle tree: Is anybody goin’ to San Antone? You may all go to Hell.

The woman with the Spanish accent intones the words of Davy Crockett printed on a shirt: “You may all go to Hell, I’ll go to Texas.”

Upstairs in the antique mall there’s an original pressing of Riley Puckett, “Dear Old Dixieland”.

The Indian man wants to sell a hat. Resistol or Stetson. He wants to sell a boot or two. Justin or Ariat or something made in Mexico.

Then outside of the taqueria there is a bottle tree, although some folks wouldn’t know tacos and the rest wouldn’t know bottle trees.

So far from Africa, so close to Tenochtitlan. So many folks on their way to Hell. Is anybody goin’ to San Antone?

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We are the Skin-Walkers

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New Mexico.

“Ay, mis hijos! Pueblo fantasma!”

“No. It is not a ghost town. The population has been shrinking since the 1950s. The trains don’t seem to matter so much. Half of the gas stations have been closed with shelves stocked with products for a few years, and we can’t get any coolant, but it’s not a ghost town. People live here. About four hundred of them,

That dude pro’ly in the narco biz lingerin’ ’round the hotel door — I ain’t namin’ names! If it ain’t the one open hotel then it’s the other. Maybe it’s one of the ghost hotels. Maybe it’s the ghost saloon. Maybe he’s a bandido fantasma!”

“Ay, mis hijos! Narcobandido fantasma!”

Good. We needed some laughs. And the rain’s comin’. Desert rain. Gone cool us off a bit. On the way to Roswell. But still no damn coolant. “Is it the green or the red kind? Can you tell from lookin’ at the bottle?” And here comes the desert rain. “It don’t matter. The mechanic’s on the way.”

“Ay, mis lluvias! Arena fantasma!”

“Do you wanna walk?” No, siree. It is not a ghost town. Or if it is then we must be dead. Lightening. The crows are frightened, the jackrabbits and the pronghorns and the chupacabras and the skin-walkers flutter through the sage. “Do you wanna get out and walk?”

“It was just a joke.”

We are the skin-walkers today.

What Happened in El Paso

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The Texas-Mexico Border.

He said, “Mejor que haya un loco y no dos. Better only one crazy. That’s why I don’t argue.”

There is a longer version of Marty Robbins’ 1959 “El Paso”. In 1966 he wrote and recorded “Feleena (From El Paso)”, which tells the back story of the Mexican woman from the earlier song. It also tells us what happens after the narrator of “El Paso” fell dead with a kiss, shot through by the avengers of the rival whom he gunned down. It says this:

“Quickly she grabbed for, the six-gun that he wore
And screamin’ in anger and placin’ the gun to her breast
Bury us both deep and maybe we’ll find peace
And pullin’ the trigger, she fell ‘cross the dead cowboy’s chest.”

The man said, “Mejor que haya un loco y no dos.” I tapped my lips with my finger. I asked, “How do you… learn?”

I overheard a broad-shouldered man from a Nuevo Laredo maquiladora border factory speaking to a red-haired logistics coordinator in Laredo. “We work and we work and we work,” he said, leaning forward to her, “and when do we live?” She took his hand. “Now. Mejor que haya dos locos y no uno. Let’s live.”

Trabajamos y trabajamos. Until, like the cars lined up behind the international bridge, we go to shop and shop. But you wouldn’t know that, not from the New York Post: “Texas oasis of wealth and luxury thrives on trafficking near border”. Too conservative? Try the Texas Standard: “Corruption From Drug Money Is A ‘Subtle, Almost Invisible Thing’ In The Rio Grande Valley”.

The logistics coordinator asked the maquiladorista, “How much of this commercial paradise is dirty money? The Maseratis? The Rolexes?” There is no way to know. When the cartel boss can become a saint like Jesús Malverde, then how can you know? What are the maquiladoristas? Malinchistas? What of it when the narcotics feed more mouths than anything else? When the cartel protects more than the police? When the anti-cartel becomes the new cartel? And then you tell me where the line in the sand is supposed to be found.

The man said, “Mejor que haya un loco y no dos.” And I felt in that moment that he had me at gunpoint.

The worker from Nuevo Laredo shared an image on Facebook. It had photos of indigenous people from across the Americas, and below that it said:
Así son los americanos los demás son inmigrantes.
Thus are Americans, the others are immigrants.

“And where are you?” He couldn’t answer. “How does that help?” asked the logistics coordinator, “You think the white supremacist is unaware of the history? You think they haven’t been told a million times that they’re too white to be American? Not the calculated white supremacists in the boardrooms, I mean their proxies doing the labor for them, the proxies doing the labor and the racism for them.”

The man said, “Mejor que haya un loco y no dos.”

The worker from Nuevo Laredo quoted Benito Juárez:
“el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz”
“respect for the rights of others is peace”
But that did not apply to the situation.

There are laws of the hacienda
There are laws of the plantation

“AMLO? A Mexican Trump. Attacking journalists…”
“Maybe that’s what we need!”
“Every country on earth is acquiring one. Exaggerated national caricatures making a mockery of elected offices while pushing through the bitter pills that will keep the neo-liberal system alive.”

The man said, “Mejor que haya un loco y no dos. It was something my mother used to say. She said it when the men argued politics which never resulted in anything but an execution.” I asked, “But then how do you learn?” He promptly unfollowed and blocked me.

A hollow wind blows through me tonight. The Mexican Foreign Minister says he will sue my government for not protecting his fellow citizens. I ask you, though, who is accountable for not protecting you and I? Are we our government? Are we our government anymore?

And on I-35 from Dallas the assassin drove past the billboard advertising a Texas relocation agency for conservatives which reads: “California Too Late, Texas Still Great”. It reads: “”Mejor que haya un loco y no dos.”

“One little kiss and Feleena, goodbye.” What were you doing at Rosa’s Cantina? What were you doing out on the trail? Trabajamos y trabajamos. We work and we work. And when do we live?

Too often when it is too late.

Big Hole Where Illinois Used to Be

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Chicago Southland. I left the Toyota parked in South Holland over the Fall and the battery started leaking. So I replaced the battery, got the nodes all lubed up. Running up and down E 162nd and S Halsted. Between the auto parts, the burgers with dressings, the shopping centers, Wampum Lakes Woods. In quiet solemnity passing the Memorial Gardens en route through the big hole to either side of the errands.

It makes sense from the municipal way of thinking, to put the cemeteries over by the quarry. Over by that big hole where Illinois used to be. But it’s something very obscene when you think about it.

How big are we talkin’ about? Well, at some points it’s deep enough to bury the Merchandise Center. It’s large enough to stretch out the Loop to either long side and to split the Magnificent Mile between the two shorter ones. The numbers suggest you could even bury five Merchandise Centers. The former largest building into the former largest grave. Or you could just pack in the neighboring village of Thornton and a good chunk of South Holland, too. Pack it in and fill it up.

Pays des Illinois. Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard acquired the land from the Pottawatomi sometime before opening Chicagoland’s first stockyard. He didn’t like the rock, I guess. It’s aggregate. What’s aggregate? You know, it’s the mechanically separated beef of the geological scene. Hubbard came from Vermont along the old French fur routes. He had learned Pottawatomi, and he had married a young “squaw”. Had two children that died in infancy. He married a woman from Ohio who died nine years later. Then in the good New England tradition he married his cousin. All that is to say, Hubbard was a man of the world who in short order made the world of the man Hubbard. And at some point he had the first shovelful of Illinois removed from the area, inaugurating the Thornton Quarry. Where did all that Illinois go off to, you ask? Cement, mostly. That Illinois got smeared along the trodden paths of other parts of Illinois and the Chicago Tri-State area.

The aggregated I-80/I-294/Tri-State Tollway crosses the hole on a dry dike elevated hundreds of feet above its bottom. There are loads bound for Salt Lake, commuters coming from Valparaiso, Indiana. The traffic is thick above this hole. Like the fireworks signs, it’s all just a given. The scenery of urban interference. The absence of the earth from which the metropolis was fashioned. They don’t know about the cemeteries. You see, interring these folks six feet below beside this 400 foot crater is a bit of an obscenity. At least bury the Merchandise Center beside them. Four million square feet of afterlife retail space.

So I left the Toyota in South Holland for the Winter. When I came back the battery was dead again. I remember it was about ten below freezing outside that night and I had to curl up beneath an emergency blanket in that little hatchback. Drinking some tequila, trying to stay warm with the occasional aid of a propane heater. I watched the snow gently fall into the big hole where Illinois used to be, and I never had any doubts about the situation after that.

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