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Saturday, April 21, 2018


by David Chorlton

While scouring the Sonoran Desert for objects left behind by migrants crossing into the United States, anthropologist Jason De León happened upon something he didn't expect to get left behind: a human arm, stripped of flesh. This macabre discovery sent him reeling, needing to know what exactly happened to the body, and how many migrants die that way in the wilderness.  In researching border-crosser deaths in the Arizona desert, he noticed something surprising. Sometime in the late-1990s, the number of migrant deaths shot up dramatically and have stayed high since. Jason traced this increase to a Border Patrol policy still in effect, called “Prevention Through Deterrence.” Over three episodes, Radiolab investigates this policy, its surprising origins, and the people whose lives were changed forever because of it. Photo: Backpacks left by migrants crossing the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. (State of Exception/Estado de Excepción, Parsons School of Design at The New School. Created by photographer Richard Barnes and curator Amanda Krugliak with Jason De León. Photo: Marc Tatti via Radiolab.) 

The ravens don’t much care
about the border, bouncing
as they do
between one country’s light
and another’s. And a hawk can cast
its shadow on both
sides at once
with a wingspan as wide
as a bobcat’s leap
and an eye as focused as a border guard’s.
It’s mostly quiet
here, except for the trucks
that move in their sleep
while the desert shifts beneath them
faster in Spanish
than this gravel road allows
as it dips and crackles
underfoot. The vegetation
greens into sunlight
and dries back to desperation
depending on terrain
while mountain after mountain
cuts into a sky that burns
at its edges come June.
Right now, a hammer taps
in a mechanic’s tinny workshop
where his radio is tuned
to salt and teardrops.
There’s a heaven
for the poor who look across
at where they’ve heard
a land of plenty
is at hand, but all they see from here
are saguaro
and the buckled ground
where a mule is a man with no face
and coyotes
dispense promises
of work in one language,
pay in another,
with a long walk through the night
and slow death in the sun
for those whose mariachi prayers
go unanswered. Supply
and demand are the laws: the land
demands rain
while the sky won’t supply it.
The doves call
out to springtime, and a breeze
responds. Who’s there; who wants
to enter? Who is it
wants to build a wall
to keep the heat away?

David Chorlton is a transplanted European, who has lived in Phoenix since 1978. His poems have appeared in many publications online and in print, and reflect his affection for the natural world, as well as occasional bewilderment at aspects of human behavior. His newest collection of poems is Bird on a Wire from Presa Press, and The Bitter Oleander Press published Shatter the Bell in my Ear, his translations of poems by Austrian poet Christine Lavant.