The Badlands

Monday, January 15, 2018

Say drive across the desert, and what you see

is jewel sky and white limestone crag,

the land so long you could roll and roll

into the horizon, always ahead of the same hill.

Still, this is escape. Or what Hollywood claims—

escape is an unchanging landscape in which

a man and his dependent make redemption

out of dust and car exhaust. In a Malick film

a man and child gallop like long-bodied stoats

over Montana before one is executed

and the other made safe. That is, married off.

In a western a man races a dying child

through starlight and saguaro, firing his gun

to rouse a doctor, and who is more relieved

when she is saved? A woman stands

in a crowded hall, says her daughter has evaded

coyotes, has wandered for days. She lived.

The woman does not describe rock and brush.

She does not even mention the thirst, the vomiting.

She sits, exhausted by her story. Her story

is not my story. It is the one you will hear first.

From the news, from someone you know.

It is someone you know. Once

I drove to California with my first husband,

a gray-eyed student I married not for love.

Everyone had advice about the Jucumba

Wilderness, where the light is sore and the land

burns black. Turn off the air-conditioner.

Lower the windows as the car climbs.

Overheat, and there’s no help for miles.

But the wilderness held red flashbulbs,

a tollbooth, a pistol, and Raphael

who leaned into the car and asked,

Are you an American citizen? Do you have

photo ID? Raphael, who might be handsome

in another uniform. While my good husband

passed over the hard, iridescent card,

the one that said I was a permanent resident alien,

the man peered into my twilight face, said,

You sure you’re Brazilian?

To be asked a question and have an answer.

This was my first taste of paradise.

Monday, January 15, 2018