Thursday, January 3, 2013

Joshua Tree Crosses

You may remember that in April, I wrote this post about making crosses.  I haven't done much more with that creative practice.

On a recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I had an urge to leave a cross, which is odd, since there's not much wood around.  Still, when I found a fibrous, dried-out branch leaning against a stone, I couldn't resist.  I found a cross beam and experimented with different approaches.

I didn't lash them together or do anything permanent.  It's one stick leaning against another.

The desert southwest is a harsh, rugged landscape.  I wouldn't have been surprised to have seen John the Baptist in a loincloth out there.  More on John the Baptist tomorrow when I return to weekly writing about the Narrative Lectionary.

I also thought about my own creative work that's set in this landscape.  Here's one from Whistling Past the Graveyard, my first chapbook:

Modern Abolitionist

Two hundred years ago, we would have stitched
cloth, hung our quilts on the line to give guidance.
We would have sung songs, whispered directions,
left lamps burning in strategic windows.
Then, as now, we would have helped with the herding north.

Now we hang flags of blue plastic
above water stations in the desert. We patrol
these tanks to make sure they never run dry.
Dryness means quick death for those who make the daily
dashes towards freedom. We position
these water stations in national parks
under telephone poles that stretch high above, a sure sign
even during dehydration induced hallucinations. The flags whip
in the wind, a dry rustle above the rattlesnakes.

I keep extra food and water in the truck. When I see
parched refugees, dusty and sunburned, I offer
these meager rations. I’m not above
giving folks a ride. There’s no Fugitive
Slave Act to make me cower in fear.

Some mornings I find a few of them in the fields
or huddled against the garage, the barn.
Unlike my neighbors, I don’t threaten
them with my gun or call the law.
I’ve learned enough broken
Spanish to invite them to breakfast.
Eggs and toast translate to any language.

I wish I could fully claim my Abolitionist
heritage, instead of just dancing on the edge of lawlessness.
But I am no Harriet Tubman to safely lead
people out of slavery, no John Brown
to plot uprisings and raid munitions bunkers.
Alas, I don’t have the eloquence of Frederick Douglass.
All I can offer is a glass of water, a bite
of food, substandard shelter, and a ride north.

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