by Logan Phillips



The land that is today called the US-Mexico borderlands has always been rich: in human cultures, in routes, in trades, in minerals. There are stories told of Spanish conquistadores finding silver ingots the size of two fists lying on the open ground in the hills outside of present-day Nogales, Sonora. Those two fists were probably carried all the way back to Spain, and from there to a bank vault in Belgium or wherever the finances lead. Navigating by the stars and following watersheds, these men travelled and struck rich, buoyed by empire and the genocide of indigenous peoples.

Patagonia, Arizona began in 1896 as a depot on the New Mexico & Arizona Railroad. Built in 1882, the Railroad connected to other lines, running all the way to New Orleans on one side and Guaymas, Sonora on the other. The line is now defunct like so much rail in the US, but the place is still about routes and familiar exports: cattle, copper, silver.

After dropping off in the 1960’s, mining has returned to the Patagonia area, except now it’s not fashionable corporation-speak to use the word mine.  “South32 is the new owner of Hermosa Project, a high-grade zinc, lead and silver development option located here in the Patagonia Mountains,” the company’s local newspaper ad says. “South32 is a globally diversified minerals and mining company,” they say, and their Visitor Center on Patagonia’s main street looks and feels like a hip coffee shop, complete with free WiFi.

That’s where I’m standing, soaking in their A/C and reading the company’s glossy “literature,” when I’m again struck by the route. The plan is to ship the ore out on trucks through Patagonia, over highways and across the border to Guaymas, where it will be exported to China. South32’s website features greyscale maps of their global holdings, displayed right below their stock price which updates in real time. Routes and riches.

“What we do, places we work.” Mining company South32’s “globally diversified operations.

Growing up in the borderlands, I’ve always been surrounded by abandoned mines: Bisbee, Ajo and Patagonia are just the famous ones. Above my parents’ house, the Huachuca Mountains are full of the scars of another century’s development options. But now new mines are being opened into the old veins of the area, like at Hermosa.

During my time in Patagonia I’ve been interested in what 21st century mining operations in the US look like. Turns out they look like what I’m already used to in the modern borderlands: giant pickup trucks, clean chainlink topped with razor wire, surveillance, private security.

There are other familiarities here: namely that my thinking on the mine is laced with hypocrisy. As I type these words on a keyboard filled with copper, I have that habitual Unitedstatesian sensation of a latent culpability. In a globally diversified empire, how to raise my two fists in protest and not just fall into a hole of Not-In-My-Backyard NIMBYism? Where do my finances lead? How far can I see, how deeply can I notice, how do I navigate?



Last fall I remembered to watch the night sky                                                                                                                                while walking through my desert garden.                                                                                                                                            I  learned north for the first time                                                                                                                                                          and I felt small and irresponsible                                                                                                                                                        for not seeing sooner.

Mars spun up there for months, we passed                                                                                                                                        so close that he would follow me inside                                                                                                                                              & right into my poems. I was lost, then fierce                                                                                                                                  cleaning zinc out from under my fingernails,                                                                                                                                  shaking out the keyboard, a soft rain of silver.

The weather turned, I paid less attention                                                                                                                                          did my job, lost in lead                                                                                                                                                                      gravity of the calendar.                                                                                                                                                                    Orion set.

Sometime in spring hundreds of silver satellites                                                                                                                            were thrown up into low orbit, astronomers said sky                                                                                                                        would never dark the same but worldwide internet                                                                                                                    coverage would be blazing.

When I looked again to check, Mars had spun out, gone
into southern horizon, somewhere distant & invisible                                                                                                                    from the city, from the state of my birth.

It was later, in summer, in a tilt of earth
I shot across the land in a dirty comet                                                                                                                                              traveled & happened on Mars again, he had thrown                                                                                                                        his body into the Patagonias & the whole range                                                                                                                            blazed red when

men had already gone after him                                                                                                                                                            at war with the mountains again                                                                                                                                                          in the name of the same old gods

in the name of new jobs. Up around the scars                                                                                                                                  they were blasting out star shine in the chainlinked mine,                                                                                                            orbited by a concertina of private security trucks
all tires & faces soaked in red planet dust                                                                                                                                      tunneling along the veins, zinc lead silver.

Down in Patagonia I stumbled dry river                                                                                                                                          walked orderly streets between                                                                                                                                                    mining trucks & tiny libraries.

I complained of dim internet & drank.                                                                                                                                                  I  wrote poems shot through with planets                                                                                                                                            & police states, self doubts & mine shafts

This town had been fighting over the mine                                                                                                                                        so long the bumper stickers faded                                                                                                                                                    almost illegible by the time the mine                                                                                                                                            bought & sold again, opened finally                                                                                                                                                  tilting the earth and shaking it out, a haze.

In the cowboy bar after midnight                                                                                                                                                      with only Saturn watching                                                                                                                                                                    I danced lonely with the jukebox

shaking & northless                                                                                                                                                                            star-eyed red                                                                                                                                                                                  illegible body beaded                                                                                                                                                                            with droplets of silver                                                                                                                                                                dripping puddles of zinc

guilty as lead.





, , , ,

Comments are closed.