U.S. Cargo



An iron-grey military cargo plane flew low over the rooftops as it made to land at the municipal airport on the table mesa 2 miles away.

It shook the roofs as it flew over, its monstrous size recalling wars that are fought and defended even now in Afghanistan, in Syria, and elsewhere; generic wars of large machines, enormous in scale and connected somehow to this oil and gas-rich town with its matchbox airstrip.  

Overhead only a few seconds, the plane came in from the northeast, low enough to see its bolts, grease and the pilot, then it dipped out of view and vanished, then the sounds of its engines vanished. 

They would come in when some operation was about to happen in some real war. There was a Halliburton in this town. Or they might just be ferrying off oil and gas. New Mexico's deserts are proving ground for wars it will never see. Nobody's here. White Sands Missile Range is only a few hours away.

My family had lived not far from the new international airport in Kuala Lumpur when I was small. Malaysia was a brand new country, and large jets taking off and landing meant prosperity. Families like ours moved close to the airport to watch the planes take off and land from our balconies. I remember my father's joy when he moved us into such a house with such a balcony. 

The cargo behemoth flew close and low. I thought of a giant circle with its center somewhere in the desert, diminishing in size as it moved slowly across the mineral-rich Indian lands, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, that surrounded this town.

The BLM lands were ideal walking and dog-walking lands. From the peaks of the bare, low hills you would see steep jagged "knobs" of igneous rock that rose from the flat plain. That one was TsÚ BitʼaʼÝ, the big bird. Those who came from the ocean called it the Shiprock. What was it doing here? Just passing time. What were we doing here? Waiting to hear or touch.

I read a Chinese book once in translation by a poet scholar, Shen Fu, about his marriage and his struggle to live a cultivated life with no money. He imagined a world not too different from this desert. He made up warriors, battles, and mountains using ants and rocks, peering at them through holes in a decaying garden wall so that they seemed to him giants, then he would talk about it to his beloved wife.

So I'm peering at those knobs on the flat plain through a hole and they are small as thimbles, small enough to collect and present before sitting to a meal with a beloved wife. 

My wife would be a gentle beloved wife slaving in a red clay kitchen, her eyes would look out from a red kitchen wall as I drove all over the reservation bringing home the bacon.

Military cargo planes come and go and nothing changes in this town. 

By now Richard and I had been sitting for awhile, basking in the warm November sun, Richard sitting with his leg extended to rest his bad knee, doing crosswords on his iphone and browsing on his 4G, me staring straight up at the sky. Now he passed me his phone to show me a recipe of pigs feet, and said no way could we get pigs feet in this town. Then he stood up.

As Richard strolled to the house, our dog Molly got up to follow, her slender old body seeming to crush her very thin, bandy legs. After a few steps she collapsed to the ground, her back legs splayed to the side. 

Richard went over to Molly, picked her up and, trying not to strain his knee, carried her into the house.