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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

John Macker

The Border in the Time of Quarantine

“some words die in cages.”
—Eduardo C. Corral


Seventy-five years ago on the Jornada del Muerto

who didn’t surrender to its flat surly wonders and silent

skies brightened by a flash, the grotesque salutation of

white privilege exercised by seeming chemical fanatics

addicted to the experimental drug of trial and error?

The next time it rained blackened sludge flowed through the

arroyos from the burn scar for days after and after and nothing

past after, the fallout became God’s undiscovered country

and the next time it rained the children were drawn closer

and played in the playas, it was rarified, curative, the lightning’s

jagged scars healed almost simultaneously, earth’s pulse

quickened with each feral tear.  If I’m still enough in

this world I become borderline intoxicated, its mysteries

supply enough surprise endings to keep my captive eyes

buried in the heavens, no escaping its incontinence,

its virtuosity.

The migra cowboy

stares into a partial eclipse of the sun, listens to outlaw

country, practices the dark arts of separation and

detention. The mother says, espanto! The dread of this

something is the something after. He replies speak English.

Each badge absorbs its own uncanny power, as an object it

reels in the mad language of its country, as a mirror

it deflects the rest of humanity. The most famous northern

jaguar, El Guapo, crosses back and forth at will through these

almost extinct El Paso motel rooms a rain-splotched ghost.

The stars sizzle and execute or begat other stars while a rare

zephyr after midnight gently palpates the earth to sleep.

Immigrantes used to carry their

children across the river at first light. A father’s bone crucifix,

his daughter holds her magic rock, her mother’s photo. The

journey is all dreams and shadows, a raindrop reaches its

reflection in the river and disappears, no escaping

where they come from or where they’re going.

April 23rd Poem in the Heart of New Mexico

I like it here and it doesn’t matter.

The hard mountains rise helter-skelter

suddenly out of the skillet flatness.

It’s provided a place for mariposa, desierto, alamosa,

words I never leave home without.

Places that’ve amassed in my

heart through the years spirit over me

keep me in their hard beauty,

nourish my cynic’s wonder. At

La Cieneguilla, the old pueblo has

vanished into the bosque along with its

scorpions and enduring wisdoms,

a woman is grinding corn

in the sunlit doorway.


The Rio Grande reverts back to the sky it once was.

This presence of absence prevails

I’ve watched it draw some of us into the ground

with it, this now quieted place is insatiable, like ruins.

What else is borne on the dust but dystopian spring

swarming over the heart of Navajo Nation?

Ghost towns rise among the living.

There’s no time to wax ambivalent:

the lights in our spirits don’t just shine

they deflagrate and I’m at the bottom of some stark,

sane untamed canyon where quarantine looks

like the desert, where the mariposa lilies bloom

and can sometimes coax juniper

bluebirds of words from the sky.


John Macker grew up in Colorado and studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He has published eight full-length books of poetry, two audio recordings and several broadsides and chapbooks over 30 years. His most recent are Atlas of Wolves, The Blues Drink Your Dreams Away, Selected Poems 1983–2018, (a 2019 Arizona/New Mexico Book Awards finalist), Gorge Songs (with Denver woodblock artist Leon Loughridge), Blood in the Mix (with El Paso poet Lawrence Welsh) and part three of his “Badlands” trilogy, Disassembled Badlands published by Colorado’s Turkey Buzzard Press, 2014. In 2019, his poem “Happiness” won a Fischer Poetry Prize finalist award, sponsored by the Telluride Institute. His recent prose and essays on poets and poetics have appeared in Albuquerque’s Malpais Review (where he was contributing editor), Cultural Weekly, as it ought to be magazine, Miriam’s Well, Mad Swirl, Manzano Mountain Review and Lummox Journal. For the last 24 years, he has lived in Northern New Mexico.

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