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.