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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Tactile Afterlife

Originally published in Heron Clan VI

I was at the age to guard the way the creek flowed like
it was some penmanship of larger men into the brown Carolina
and since waited on the country road and backwoods bridge

to become the compassionate elder viewing young catastrophes
and stepping panic stricken out into the power line clearing
as into the incisions of the black bear through hickory bark.

Then the dogwood blossoms fell before you knew it,
and with a vomit of flora the pessimism echo was muffled
as only I now recall how one or the other will first die.

Though in that green fury I am elated that it may be me.
The revolutionist’s preference is to explode like spring spores.
To collapse like the winter buck is the blackest rot.

Such interest in the produce of minds, you know, but
Carolina grows and grows again out of the cavities of
unevacuated chests – it may only be so.

Good News Crackles

Originally published in Heron Clan VI

Driving through the Carolina forests late
at night and the radio moves from music with
advice to music with recipes. Then come the
Jesus stations – all 20 or so. One, then
another. Eventually one reaches out to you,
between the trees and through your headlights,
out of the products and pop songs, splitting
apart the comfortable and the beautiful and
the meaningful people like storm clouds overhead,
and it grabs you by the lapels. It’s been

looking for You, has a message for You. It
has a job. For You. An audio exit opens in
the highway and you’re on it. Exit 81.7 FM,
downtown Jerusalem, Edge of Empire, USA. When
it’s all over you keep it like a psalm in the
glove box, unfolding it for a second in the
parking lot before work, or you read it out
loud in the break room. Because Carolina has
some comfortable, beautiful, meaningful, dark
clouds hovering over it. Good news crackles

on the airwaves, and somewhere sometime it’s
got to rip. Prosperity will rain down on the
forests and the forest people will become
woodland titans. Pulled teeth will resprout.
Lost jobs will be found. We might even buy
back the farm. So think the dry bones
on the Carolina highways at night.

Hillbilly of Monterey Bay

Originally published in Heron Clan VI

Hillbilly Larry and I looked back on all
those America places that weren’t beaches
and we probably thunk a spell on all
those beach places that weren’t America.
We poked a dead bloated seal with a stick and
pointed to a flat otter on the road and he said
“you know I don’t read,” and I said, “neither
do most, honky,” an’ that’d be why the

Steinbeck Center was back in town and
Hillbilly Larry and I are walking among the
lettuce in flip-flops an’ West Virginia Reeboks
talkin’ the cardinal directions what organize us.
Lar never saw the ocean before and I
hadn’t seen a tent city for a few days but
I looked at Larry and I pointed out to sea
“I ain’t ‘splainin nothin’ to you, Larry. Go

get knocked around by a coupla waves,
then we’ll get drunk and I’ll talk about all the
beach towns I know back East.” Lar knew
better ‘an that… “‘slong as I don’t wind up
suppin’ on a young girl’s breast or lookin’
out there thinkin’ a rabbits,” “I’m tired of
your hillbilly crap, Larry,” I said, “go swim!
I want you to text me from China by noon.”