Walking North


by Lance Newman

They built the fence in Campo from rusty
metal plates stacked on edge fifteen feet high.
Army surplus airstrip repair patches.
Someone’s sprayed in red El Otro Lado.

You can grab a handful of Mexican dust
where la migra burrowed a sucker hole.
On both sides there’s a thirty-foot strip
bladed to bare sand so footprints will show.

High wires hauling power north buzz louder
than wind. Ravens chuckle from tower to tower.
My pack slumps on half a sheet of plywood
scarred with overlapping shotgun scatters.

Tender spring growth covers the blue sage
between the border and the northbound trail.
Inch-long cholla spines still give to the touch.
A tire chained to a pipe marks the trailhead.

North on the valley floor a noon breeze drifts
voices — a rancher and his hand jawing
about gaskets outside a rusty shed
cut from a forty-foot steel cargo box.

Their problem thunders up from town — a Ford
stake bed coughing with a manifold leak,
dusting desert lilacs that rise like clouds
between humps of salt and pepper granite.

Government compounds keep Campo going —
the sheriff’s boys’ ranch with its basketball
courts and barracks, and la migra’s fleet lot
where two hundred Jeeps wait for the night shift.

House finches glean midges in a lush patch
of peach monkeyflower just north of town.
A Chevy half-ton rots in dirt with twelve
warehouses on an abandoned egg ranch.

Backlit by white sun on the ridge, a fat
cactus wren chatters on creosote bush
where an activist cached two grocery store
jugs of water for people walking north.

At Hacienda del Florasol, tractors
groom movie-set pastures under big oaks
for some horsey La Jolla millionaire
who polices the grounds on odd weekends.

A diamondback fires up beside the trail.
Even with a fresh molt, he takes some time
to find under blooming sumac. His buzz
carries around the quiet trail’s next bend.

Small bells like smoke hide the manzanita
and lipstick peas strangle telephone poles.
A tarantula lazes down the trail
like cruising to the corner for a beer.

A chopper rises from the next ridge east.
La migra spends millions on quiet blades.
There must be a buzz-cut punk glassing me
from that cockpit, thinking White. Move along.

They’ve hung signs with cartoon sketches of snakes
and hot sun. No exponga su vida
a los elementos in a phony
script font, all caps. No vale la pena.

It’s flat enough to sleep by a live oak
on Hauser Creek — dry even in April.
After chicken soup and a few chapters,
my fat paperback makes a good pillow.

A dry canteen spurs me five foggy miles
up Morena Butte to morning water.
Vines shroud the mahogany and velvet
ants scuttle like starlets in Oscar gowns.

The lifers in the campground don’t look up
when my kettle boils for oatmeal and tea.
A sign outside a frame house promises
Paradise Discovered for half a million.

Where the trail crosses Cottonwood Creek,
bridge abutments shine with balloony tags:
Lobos and Vatos Locos. Some moron
exed them out with coal from a migrant fire.

Hay farms stretch north. Jerusalem crickets
slip through their fences — prey for threatened
Arroyo Toads. Forest Service signs warn
Don’t crush them when they cross the road at night.

A pair of waffle-soled prints leads me up
steep switchbacks from the hot valley’s greasewood
into cold clouds on the mountain’s south flank.
The poplars are leafing at Kitchen Creek.

Someone scribbled Free — Good on half a fifth
of whiskey and left it on a boulder
at Cibbett’s Flat. There’s room under the live
oaks to pitch the tent crosswise to the wind.

A dumpster gives up beer boxes for a fire
that dries my pants while rain soaks my head.
A pot of noodles and three cups of mint
tea put me down hard for the long wet night.

All morning a doe pushes north, her tracks
veering off trail for shortcuts or fresh browse.
Low clouds roll off the desert through the pines
like they’re still smoking after last year’s fires.

International orange orioles
perch and chatter in a stunted pine
where a pair of Tommy Lee jeans molders,
their red, white, and blue logo bright as a badge.

They slowed someone down tracking the North Star
to freedom. The Forest’s hacked the brush back
on either side to help the choppers see
the bright shards of calcite that pave the trail.

Burnt chaparral branches reach from the ash
like ragged claws, but fresh growth is starting
at the roots. Meadowlarks call like soft flutes.
Hummingbirds cruise by — missiles in the mist.

Every third yucca hoists a crowd of blooms
into the morning fog — bell shaped, colored
prom-dress cream with burgundy trim, coated
with raindrops that glint like costume diamonds.

At Rodriguez Spur, a choir sings at dusk —
coyotes hitting low notes in the fog.
Down in the desert two rivers of light
merge where my truck’s parked at Scissor Crossing.


About the Author:

“Walking North” is a major poem in Lance Newman’s latest manuscript, The Acid Craft. The poem was first published in Fringe. He is professor of English and Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah.