Saguaro By Brenda Hillman

Often visitors there, saddened   
by lack of trees, go out   
to a promontory.

Then, backed by the banded   
sunset, the trail   
of the Conquistadores,

the father puts on the camera,   
the leather albatross,   
and has the children

imitate saguaros. One
at a time they stand there smiling,   
fingers up like the tines of a fork

while the stately saguaro   
goes on being entered
by wrens, diseases, and sunlight.

The mother sits on a rock,   
arms folded
across her breasts. To her

the cactus looks scared,   
its needles
like hair in cartoons.

With its arms in preacher   
or waltz position,   
it gives the impression

of great effort
in every direction,   
like the mother.

Thousands of these gray-green   
cacti cross the valley:   
nature repeating itself,

children repeating nature,   
father repeating children   
and mother watching.

Later, the children think   
the cactus was moral,
had something to teach them,

some survival technique   
or just regular beauty.
But what else could it do?

The only protection   
against death
was to love solitude.


Brenda Hillman, “Saguaro” from Fortress. Copyright © 1989 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Fortress (Wesleyan University Press, 1989)

Poet Bio