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POETRY I BY BENJAMIN ALIRE SAENZ THE NINTH DREAM: All my lifelet me say this so you understandall my life I have heard stories of the river and how people were willing To die to cross it. To die just to get to other side. The other Side was the side I lived on: “And people die to get here?” My mother nodded at my question in that way that told me She was too busy to discuss the matter and went back To her ritual of rolling out tortillas for her seven children, some Of whom asked questions she had no answers for. We were Poor as a summer without rain; we had an outhouse and a pipe Bringing in cold water from a well that was unreliable As the white man’s treaties with the Indians, unreliable As my drunk uncles, unreliable as my father’s Studebaker Truck. I was six. It was impossible for me to fathom Why anyone would risk death for the chance to live like us. I have heard people laugh when They see the Rio Grande for the first time. That is the river? But that river has claimed a thousand lives, Mexicans caught In its currents mistaking the river as something tame, and in One second the river devoured them whole. The survivors Have handed down this lesson: Nothing in the desert is Tame. Not the people, not the sand, not the winds, not The sun, not even the river that resembles a large ditch, That’s laughed at by visitors and locals alike. Nothing In the desert has ever had anything resembling mercy On Mexicans attempting to leave their land, to become Something they weren’t meant to be. People are still crossing. People are still dying. Some have Died suffocating in boxcars. Some have drowned. Some Have been killed by vigilantes who protect us in the name Of all that is white. Some have died in a desert larger than Their dreams. Some were found, no hint of their names On their remains. In the city that is my home, Border Control Vans are as ubiquitous as taxicabs in New York. Green vans Are a part of my landscape, a part of my imagination, no less Than the sky or the river or the ocotillos blooming in spring. The West is made of things that make you bleed. I no longer Hang images of summer clouds or Indians carrying pots on their Talented heads or Mexican peasants working the land with magic Hands. On my walls, I no longer hang paintings of the Holy Poor. 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 11, 2006