[most of us saw what we were looking for]

Materialized by Sean McCoy on Wednesday, December 21st 2022.

most of us saw what we were looking for, rather than what we found. i take my grape-nuts with instant coffee. now the river is an empty bed of sand. now you can stand in the same place and see the wind tearing the bark off the cottonwood trees. i dowsed every day for my lost lucky penny, but i only found water. i only drink whiskey. i can flick a switch and help another state burn thousands of tons of coal daily. the dead trees stand like white bones. for aridity is more than just dryness, it is guaranteed uncertainty. a planet of hunger is following the footsteps of western technology. it is marching out of poverty wearing fossil boots. the red-wing blackbirds have gone somewhere else. in the late 1800s, according to mrs. christensen, congress allocated thousands of dollars to study the correlation between rainfall and battle. a general named dyrenforth presided over a cannonade in midland texas. he detonated dynamite and rackarock and homemade mortars packed with gunpowder and ignited giant balloons of oxyhydrogen. he thought the subsequent inrush of columns of air would, perhaps by the motion of the earth on its axis, not be just end to end or point against point, but, the columns passing each other, a whirl or whorl would be created which, widening as it extended upward, would present a vortex, whereby heavy or moisture-laden air would be drawn from afar. mesquite and brush and tumbleweeds have begun to turn those pima fields back into desert. also on the plains of texas, the cereal magnate c.w. post exploded thousands of pounds of dynamite. now you can look across the valley and see the green alfalfa and cotton spreading for miles on the farms of the white people. i promise the temperature is mild. i promise the underground river is endless. charles william post invented grape-nuts. he claimed they make your blood redder. he claimed he invented cornflakes. the kellogg family claimed he stole their recipe but nonetheless he continued flying kites strapped with dynamite and fuses on timers. he promised the temperature was mild. our father kino forewent any salt. he slept on the floor. he owned two shirts. i learned it all. i learned he shared a blanket with his horse. and frequently had himself whipped. now thousands of pumps are running day and night. these experiments were said to be forty percent effective. shade trees were planted. the plow spawned horses. here at nuestra señora de los dolores we have a well-built and spacious church artistically furnished and provided with good linens and altars, and seven bells. the land is fertile and of as high a quality as the best in europe. i promise this land. i promise this island. i promise the banks of the bounteous and fertile río colorado, close to the head of the sea of california, at the 32nd degree of latitude, where a town of some 300 or 400 families should be founded. this could be done with a moderate initial outlay that would render unnecessary any exorbitant expenses. this island is called paradise lake. the lake is made of asphalt and sprangletop and side oats grama. can you hear it, smell it, the wingbeats of culture? i meant to say mallards. unless the island is a lake. unless the underground river replenishes fossils. that means it’s endless. see i told you i promised. here, at the beginning, you know you’ll keep going. i guarantee forty percent of this.

this piece borrows language from charles bowden’s killing the hidden waters; george webb’s a pima remembers; general r.g. dyrenforth’s journals; and a letter father kino sent to the viceroy in 1703.

Sean McCoy grew up in Arizona. The star in this asterism is from his novel arizona city. He edits Contra Viento, a journal for art and literature from rangelands.