In New Mexico | Natalie McGrath

My toes make ten marks in the ground.
The earth is soft and warm and
Powdered red, so mineral so much,
It makes eyeshadow with the lifting wind.

Cactus beer is brewed,
The Zuni priest drinks first,
Achieves visions of a strawberry order,
Magnificent flowering fruit and gentle stems,
Otherworldly genus Fragaria.

There are no strawberries here, only fermented giant cactus juice fruits to obtain 
The blessed state. “Intoxication, in their practice and in their poetry, is the synonym of Religion”
(Benedict, Ruth Fulton. Patterns of Culture. 1934).

A blessed state

beneath a cactus pear. The Anglos built a cross for the Zuni people but the effect of the
prickly fruit is still well known, levitation and color above color slapped on color of the
ultimate brilliant image.

Young boys achieve vision
Under initiation, beneath jimson weed.
Hallucination to some is death to others enlightenment, when I think of New Mexico

the harsh the dry the cross the dam that makes no sense a stone and mortar manifestation
of government forceful inhalation. A dam that takes space takes place and does not seem
to serve. A people who have fought to keep space.

I don’t think I can be separated from that cross, my body a reminder of abuse misuse distrust. 
I am the white body on crimson ground and I carry a violence.


Poetry provides an essential and sometimes uncomfortable closeness to the diversities of the human experience. After attending my anthropology courses, I often refer back to my notes as potential content for my poems; they become a resource for language and insight. My poem, “In New Mexico,” is both an acknowledgment of and a wondering on my identity as a white woman living on Native land. There are three major elements of this poem. The first is my study of the Zuni people and their practices and rituals. Closely accompanying this study was my learning of the harmful actions of colonial powers and religious groups on Zuni land. And the final and broader force that inspired this poem is the time I have spent relishing the natural colors, foliage, and fruits that grow in the Southwest. You will see that I am curious, throughout this poem, about how humans interact with the natural world. More specifically, I am interested in how the resources in one’s immediate environment take on great meaning within the broader cultural fabric.

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