She imagined the Lavender Pit would be full
of flowers and purple clay, she says,
as we drive along the shoulder of the chasm
where the Phelps Dodge Company
gouged low-grade copper from the belly of the earth.
The 1,000-foot canyon’s a tourist attraction now.
An eidolon, a name wringed of its bloodshed.
They come to stare so long into what posterity
cannot tell them. As we round the pit,
we pass the uncompleted border wall
on a desert berm overlooking Naco.
One can find such monuments anywhere.
On Miller Road in Dearborn, you can walk
the overpass where union organizers
were beaten by Henry Ford’s goons,
led by Harry Bennett, in 1937;
below that bridge a field of sunflowers
cranes into the sunset. Harrison Lavender
had 1300 miners kidnapped and deported
in 1917 for daring to strike.
Some suffocated in cattle cars.
Some, splayed out like saguaros, burned
in the desert sun. Some found their way
back to town on mules and quarter horses
to face billy clubs and firebombs.
It’s late June, early monsoon season,
thunderheads on the horizon,
and a small tumbleweed blows beneath
an ocotillo. History sounds like hyperbole,
and it’s never the land or the workers
that benefit from the spectacles
they must enact. Be careful on that rural road
near the Contreras Burn Scar when the deluge comes,
she tells me. The Santa Cruz River
can roar back to life and drag a slurry
of clay and stone down on you.
Tonight in Tucson, in the lobby
of Hotel Congress with a can of High Life
on a tabletop covered in copper pennies
of various vintages (one sprawling vintage?)
I’ll read Jim Harrison’s final poems
as hot rain pisses down and think of
Harry Bennett’s pagoda house on Grosse Ile,
its scarlet roof dulled by sunlight, its pilings
crumbling into the Detroit River. There’s nothing
in the pit now, slag of byproduct turquoise
(Bisbee blue), a nothing song in arsenic
crumbling like slipshod gold.
Cal Freeman is the author of the books Fight Songs (Eyewear, 2017) and Poolside at the Dearborn Inn (R&R Press, 2022). His writing has appeared in many journals including The Oxford American, River Styx, Southword, Passages North, and Hippocampus. He currently serves as Writer-In-Residence with Inside Out Literary Arts Detroit and teaches at Oakland University.