GUEST POST BY LOGAN PHILLIPS
HOW I MINED MARS
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.
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?
HOW I MINED MARS
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.
Borderlands Earth Care Youth Institute, creative writing, Southwest, UA MFA, University of Arizona