‘Self-Portrait as Mojave Phone Booth,’ a poem by Sara Borjas

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Butterfly shadows and cutouts adorn the front of a building.
(Willem Verbeeck / For The Times)

This story is part of Image issue 8, “Deserted,” a supercharged experience of becoming and spiritual renewal. Enjoy the trip! (Wink, wink.) See the full package here.

Each season, my brother does not call.
I am central to a kind of aching desert,

my abundant arms scribbling his name
in a single, severed wire. My right eye

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— a spiral of frayed copper. My left
— a reflection of a man’s silhouette

ambling into a house at night.
My brother chooses, over and over,

a nation. My brother leaves me
wandering through years, a house

with no father like rain, no mother
present like moonlight. I can’t help

if now, my parents, more faithful
than heat to absence, claim he is honorable

for his service to a whole country, as if
he were simply camping at the bottom

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of god’s mountain, leading other families
to freedom. The problem is, I am alone.

A small, white house and blue truck are seen during blue hour.
(Willem Verbeeck / For The Times)

I have become the center of a valley.
My voice is surrounded by weak metal,

glass. I wait, next to a single, patient
saguaro, under revolving sun

for my big brother to return.
At night, I drink moonlight

— two crystal hearts glinting
in a glass of water. I capture

coyotes’ howls to mark time.
I have no one to confide in

but the snakes. What I mean is,
something caring erodes in me

while I wait. I wish I could believe
that if he calls, someone will be

left to answer the corroded phone
in my face. I imagine my brother,

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a country’s polished, violent
geometry, might say: I’m sorry —

what I wanted was to be valued
for who I was taught I was:

an All-American Mexican,
valued in the rift, visible

from the balcony of white,
glaring eyes. To which, if I

am still here, I will answer:
I am afraid I am disappearing.

A view of far away mountains as the sun sets.
(Willem Verbeeck / For The Times)

Sara Borjas is a self-identified Xicanx pocha and a Fresno poet. Her debut collection, “Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff” (Noemi Press, 2019), received a 2020 American Book Award. She was featured as one of Poets & Writers’ 2019 Debut Poets. Her work can be found in Ploughshares, the Rumpus and Poem-a Day by the Academy of American Poets. She believes that all Black lives matter and will resist white supremacy until Black liberation is realized. She teaches creative writing at UC Riverside and the UCR Palm Desert Low Residency MFA Program but stays rooted in Fresno.

Willem Verbeeck is a Belgian photographer based in Los Angeles, primarily focusing his work on the everyday landscapes around him.