Digital Project

When You Look at a Fence

do you see the fence
when the slats are cut in the shape of a spear
or the shape of a new shoot in spring
can you tell the difference

your mother puts you in that red & white dress
and there are photos of it
are you inside the fence

when she sees her cousin
brought to the town square among the dead
“stacked in the bed of a wagon” she said

when the frantic hummingbird darts
in the field of tinsel in the grapevines shimmering
what is it you see

the surface of the water appears undisturbed
when more video evidence is released
a little surveillance device on the seat
mouthing off silently

a fraction of you still believed this could change the outcome

that the outcome can seem other than your life

a single night of back-to-back reality TV

you feel your atoms go by on the logging truck
carrying the strapped-down trunks of massive redwoods
throttling north

you see a woman bowing over a trashcan repeatedly and
she looks like she prays to –
Oh help her
           –! who made you think that

if no amount of “moving through the world with love”

when even armies think themselves beautiful
or so you are told

if all the daily errands drown it out
does it have a name

when border agents empty gallons onto the desert floor
on camera while smiling

when weighing whether or not to repeat this what do you consult

watching red berries on a bush shake, and a red robin shit,
and the red brake lights of a Prius on a turn

when a low plane combs the birds from their treetops
your thoughts scatter
to their familiar positions

if numbed now by emphasis
are you inside it

when fisherfolk “agree” to saw their boats in half
for a one-time payment (cash)

green opalescent feathers are green opalescent feathers
artists who design border wall prototypes are artists
who say they “leave politics out of it”

you trace the shape of those words in your mouth

red tips of matches
red tips of drought-tolerant succulents

a garden hose coiled on a wooden post
continents away

you try to separate pain from its subject
you try to separate yourself from its cause

while a man in cowboy pants declares
the greatness of George Bush

you stack electronic gems one atop the next

and of course he is a donor

by remaining in the building
you become what the building contains

the joint in a polished oak bench
the exhausted cloth applying the polish

when by fucking so hard
you try to make your body reappear

are you inside the fence

you saw your neighbor keeping her head down
and wondered if you should keep your head down

you heard your neighbor screaming in the street
and knew you should also scream

“When You Look at a Fence” was excerpted from Ari Banias’s A Symmetry (Norton, 2021), which can be purchased here.