SAGUARO by Brenda Hillman

Often visitors there, saddened  
by lack of trees, go out  
to a promontory.

Then, backed by the banded  
sunset, the trail  
of the Conquistadores,

the father puts on the camera,  
the leather albatross,  
and has the children

imitate saguaros. One
at a time they stand there smiling,  
fingers up like the tines of a fork

while the stately saguaro  
goes on being entered
by wrens, diseases, and sunlight.

The mother sits on a rock,  
arms folded
across her breasts. To her

the cactus looks scared,  
its needles
like hair in cartoons.

With its arms in preacher  
or waltz position,  
it gives the impression

of great effort
in every direction,  
like the mother.

Thousands of these gray-green  
cacti cross the valley:  
nature repeating itself,

children repeating nature,  
father repeating children  
and mother watching.

Later, the children think  
the cactus was moral,
had something to teach them,

some survival technique  
or just regular beauty.
But what else could it do?

The only protection  
against death
was to love solitude.

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