The Tongue of Gates Pass

3 min

Senior | Temple University  [+]

Image of Fall 2020
Image of Poetry
Gates Pass speaks something different today

My heel carves an indent into the dirt where dried out, overworked ants march in assembly

They’re squinting and shouting, but I can’t hear their tiny voices

I brush the colony back into isolation with a sweep of my soles, refurbishing their ant-made tunnels in dry, earthy debris

I continue down the winding path beside the patchy mountain

I named this mountain after my protector

He misses spots of his beard when he shaves, and it reminds me of the bushels that rest in their own personal bubbles, scattered on the rocky elevation

Careless in nature

We live in an adobe house

far from other people, me and this shadowy configuration


Last night, he went out on his own to hunt, right as the sun was setting.

I heard the tarnished front door of our fortress slam shut

Startled, I ran out of my bedroom and peered through the front window blinds

His pickup truck’s high beams shrunk my pupils to peas

his flask was gone, an heirloom from his protector. He always leaves it behind when he hunts

but it’s gone now

And there has been no sign of him since.


I decide to go looking for him this morning

It’s hot today in Tucson. It’s always hot. The sun is always hot in the West, especially along the crest of the mountains

I wonder if the sun is grilling us for supper

It would be a filling meal. There’s so much to dine on here, if dry dirty sand and little rodents, like me, suit your appetite

On the side of the winded path, the prickly pear cacti accept they always welcome wanderers in open arms

With their anchored figure and tiny little jam colored fingers in perpetual greeting

It’s as if their circulation was cut beneath the tips, and the ends of their hand gorge with life

But not today

Gates Pass speaks something different today

The once thickened, fleshy arms look frail

I approach the succulents with caution

The needles are sharp as ever, ready to draw blood at the touch of curiosity... but I can see their bones. Their swelled fingers are shriveled raisins, steaming in the eyes of the sun

I assume the protector, my dependent, drank all their juice. Prickly pear juice remedies hangovers and it soon became his morning pick-me-up


He once had forgotten his flask on my nightstand after tucking me into security.

Sometimes I think he loves his flask like a son, like me. Maybe more than me

They spend more time together, that’s for sure

Like lovers in their honeymoon phase, before the infatuation crashes into muddled apathy

Envious of his pseudo-child, I took a sip

I thought there might’ve been some leftover pear juice

Instead I tasted gasoline from his truck and spit it out onto my mattress.


As sweat beads roll into the creases of my tiring eyes, I hear a rustle in the bushels behind me

I spin around on my heels to find a road runner trotting by my sneakers


Then I remember coyotes only roam at nightfall


I watch the canines from our home sometimes.

The man I call “protector” taught me that they are close relatives with other wolves

Gray wolves, red wolves

It made me sad that the carnivore was always alone.

“Where are the gray and red wolves?” I asked.

He told me they are hunting for their young, as he took a sip from that damn flask.

“Why don’t they hunt together?”

“Because it’s a job best done alone.”


As the orange and yellow hues bend between mountains and flood the landscape before me

It is time to get back inside

My shoulders drop

I solemnly stroll home as the night sky creeps for its shift in the sky


The front door creaks open, welcoming me to its shadows

Untying my worn shoes, I stare out the disheveled window

I think of him, and his cold, bloated outline

Should I find my protector?

“It’s a job best done alone.”

Well, I disagree.

I speak something different today

I retie my shaggy laces and head towards the still moonlight


The brisk air of nightfall always surprises me

How can something once so warm and vivacious now be so cold and futile?

There is no sign of the protector or his pickup truck

No tire tracks, no trail of oil, no flask

I think I hear the ants

I kneel down and dig up the debris

No ants, but beyond my mini excavation, I notice a shimmer of pale light reflecting off of an object

I squint and give the figure shape and texture


His flask.

Hesitant, I draw nearer

My frigid fingers wrap around the metal case and it’s wet and slippery.

Twist it upside down


A cherry-colored, sticky substance oozes from fingertips to palm

Pear juice? My drenched pinky meets the white coat on my tongue


A sound creeps behind my back.

Movement that sends a shiver down my spine.

The road runners are asleep. The ants are deep in slumber.

Is it my protector? Here to swoop me up in his arms and carry my sleepy body home?

Slowly, I turn

I’m met with his gold-hued eyes

I whimper, firm in fear

Large, triangular ears raise as he indulges in my short breathes

I see the hot sun boiling around his pupils.

The sun is hungry.

Grilled by his gaze, I paradoxically freeze in the moonlight.

And I remember, I’ve been here before

He leaps, digs his nails

Like the time before

Pinned to the earth, I flatten the skeleton of the prickly pear cacti.

And I hear the road runners dashing, the ants screaming

Drool drips from the coyote’s jagged fangs, like stalactites

Splatters and rains fluidly down my freckled cheek

Down and seeping into the earth below


I spoke something different that day.

And that was the last time I ever spoke.

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