Photo Essay: Sonoran Desert Musings

A collaboration between word and image.

September 5, 2015

Issue 14: September/October 2015Photo Essay

Golden Pomegranate

By Alison Hawthorne Deming

Say yes to the pomegranate because
the pomegranate said yes to the desert
yes to Afghanistan and Sonora
yes to Pima and O’odham
yes to Father Kino’s gunnysack
packed with quince, peach and pear
crossing perilous ocean east
following learned rivers north.

A river learns the land while carving
its way as fruit learns its sweetness
from enduring seclusion crammed
in dense and lightness ground.
The pomegranate made no complaint
of its hardship above ground or below
yes to aridity yes to monsoon
yes to backyard yes to industrial orchard.

Persephone and Eve knew pomegranates.
What color were the arils that they
pulled from the mottled leathery skin?
Blood red if history were to tell
the truth. But in the Mission Garden
and in a thousand backyards lost
among weeds stands the tree growing
Father Kino’s golden pomegranate.

Wait for it to ripen then slice off
the top and bottom. Open the cask
of the fruit and find black seeds and flesh
so bright and wet they look like
frogs’ eggs in a pond. But no
each seed is portioned in its leathery room
each cluster nested in protected space
this golden fruit that is the yes defying history.


Here, eat this

By Emma Perez

Here, eat this, I say. You eye suspiciously the desert yield, a candied barrel cactus fruit sounlike an apple or a peach but you eat devouring the meat, the seeds, the juicy flesh, and wonder what else I will offer as you sit, watch, judge, and build more borders with elusive boundaries that will mean nothing to us, the ones who traverse spatial temporal fences across deserts while nourished with a fruit you never saw until we pointed to the desert floor. Lurking in a corner, I offer more. Only through the offering will I discover all that you are and not what you claim to be. You are a stranger, still the foreigner after centuries, after life- times never having seen or sensed or believed that an eagle, a snake, and a cactus could create a myth so fervent that your antecedents, who condemned us, could not have predicted our thick-skinned per- sistence. We cannot be expunged. Or forgotten. We flourish. Even in the desert heat the saguaros bloom, the prickly pear ripens, birds sing, and we thrive. We wait. We thrive. From this corner, hidden but not unseen, I see you laugh. I watch your greedy laughter as you pat your dogs lapping at your legs costumed in army green, a putrid green, not a life-giving green. And so you hunger for the fruit’s palpable flesh as you mock me sitting patiently in the shadows studying others who try to inhabit you as I have tried so many years. It’s a gamble. This waiting. This impetuous patience. Last night my companion in the desert asked, will our journey ever end? Will we escape?

Of course, I lie. Can’t you see? In the dis- tance? We’re close. So close to the end. I lie believing my convictions. I peep from corners where you won’t suspect I might be. I take sustenance from the desert, a space in which borders and boundaries and fronteras are merely metaphoric linchpins no longer geographic margins we are forced to abide but instead freedom of space overtakes, overwhelms. Newness is born. Yet we know that really nothing is wholly new. Maybe we seek an old way of being with holy forms of consciousness—una frontera nueva in which identities are supple and sacred to the touch. Like ancient seeds newly planted, reviving what lay dormant, these kernels will expand into re-imagined landscapes of belonging.

What if you surrendered? Gave up and gave in to that which you’ve always known. An ancient knowledge gestures toward surrender. A spirit summons you to pause and look and see what you’ve refused to see. No one is asking you to sacrifice whatever. No one has said, there’s only one way to love. You’ve narrowed your vision, you see. Look beyond the cracks and fissures to interstitial dreams and desiring bodies. Truth is not truth, freedom is imagined, the soul is transient, migratory, eager to go, ready to move across space, nontemporal, nonlinear. In these dreams, time is unset- tled, undone. Time is not time, space is not space, a heart is not a heart but an organ to play, to fine-tune and play like a magnificent instrument that screams and groans from being squeezed relentlessly through the evening’s blue, blue night.

Here, eat this, you say. My tongue grazes tender pulp. I take sustenance from an- cient seeds—these kernels will expand into re-imagined landscapes. Of belonging.



My Grandfather’s Basket

By Manuel Muñoz

When there was little to gather, there was always yucca to work, the fibers sticky inside the leaves. Or bark to thin down from hard to soft, the skin of the ash tree in layers all around. To discover something in nothing, Abuelo said, all it took was to turn a thing this way and that. Consider how to use it. Cup a yucca leaf and it held water. Weave bark strip tight enough and it held weight.

An old saying about the sun: la cobija de los pobres. A blanket for the poor. Abuelo owned nothing but the sky and practiced patience under the shade of a tree, weaving a basket to gather what was going to come. Our hunger waited for the wind to clatter walnuts to the ground, a heat to spring the berries onto the vines.

We waited for Abuelo to finish his basket, the edges of it gaping open like a new mouth to feed. But our hunger couldn’t wait and we struck out to bring back whatever our tiny hands could carry. The small, hard citrus out of season. The blackberries staining our mouths. Our impatience made our hands useless.

A basket is meant to gather for everyone, Abuelo reminded us. He told the story of the loaves and fishes, reminded us that what fit in one basket spilled into 12. Some of us remembered the Sunday story and some of us did not. But by then we knew. If the basket stayed empty, it meant hunger again.

And so came the walnuts, the winter citrus, the wild dandelion. The pine nuts for roasting, the prickly pears, and the spiny cactus leaves. Nopal, said my grandfather, as if some things needed better names for what they yielded.

Blanquillos, I said, when I handed him the basket of gathered eggs. He held one up. Huevos, he corrected, because they weren’t white at all. To turn a thing this way and that, to remember where it came from. The bits of mud and flecks of blood dotting the shells. Not just food but nourishment. A hen feather matted in the hay, still cradling the eggs. ✜


Adela C. Licona is an associate professor of English at the University of Arizona, and an affiliated faculty member in Gender and Women’s Studies, Institute of the Environment, Mexican American Studies, and the Institute for LGBT Studies. To follow Adela’s photography, visit


Alison Hawthorne Deming’s most recent book is Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit (Milkweed 2014). Her new book of poems, Stairway to Heaven, will be out from Penguin in 2016. She is Agnese Nelms Haury Chair of Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona.

Manuel Muñoz is the author of Zigzagger, The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, and What You See in the Dark. He lives in Tucson.

Emma Pérez has published a history book, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History, and three novels: Gulf Dreams; Forgetting the Alamo, or, Blood Memory; and Electra’s Complex. She is a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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