Transborder Immigrant Tool Series: In Life-or-Death Matters, Taste Is Relative, Testing Is Crucial

The sixth poem in "The Desert Survival Series" recommends testing cactuses to make sure they're edible. ( AHLN / CC BY 2.0)

The Transborder Immigrant Tool is a GPS cellphone safety-net tool for crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. It was developed by Electronic Disturbance Theater/b.a.n.g. lab in 2007 by artists Micha Cárdenas, Amy Sara Carroll, Ricardo Dominguez, Elle Mehrmand and Brett Stalbaum, in conjunction with CALIT2/Visual Arts Department/University of California, San Diego/Program in American Culture, Latina/o Studies/English Department/University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Poet Amy Sara Carroll wrote a series of 24 poems, titled “The Desert Survival Series / La serie de sobrevivencia del desierto,” which were uploaded onto cellphones equipped with simple compasses and interfaces. Each poem is a form of lyrical advice that provides readers and listeners with tools for every hour of a day spent in the pernicious borderlands between the U.S. and Mexico. Truthdig is publishing each of these poems in both Spanish and English in our Poetry section, accompanied with bilingual audio recordings by various contributors to the project. To read the first, second, third, fourth and fifth poems in the series, click on the hyperlinks. For more information on the project, watch the video presentation below.

The sixth poem in “The Desert Survival Series/La serie de sobrevivencia del desierto,” read in English and Spanish by Larry La Fountain-Stokes.


In matters of life or death, most would contend, “Taste is relative.”
(Such is the fate of poetry as artifice, art or sustenance—a
non-issue if one cannot drink, eat or breathe, even if “poetry is
not a luxury.”) Still, the taste of cacti presents a particularly
thorny conundrum. Not yet mezcal or tequila, many cacti hold
moisture, but also harbor toxins. Again, the baseline rule: Only take
the risk of eating or drinking cacti if the alternative is dying of
thirst. Test, test, test. The fishhook barrel is perhaps your best
bet, but make sure you can identify it positively before ingesting
its contents. If you’re not sure you’ve found the right plant, put a
small portion of its pulp in your mouth; taste it before you swallow
its sap. Expect the flavor of super-saturated vegetables. Spit out
anything that is acrid, bitter or so unsavory that it makes you feel
as if you will choke uncontrollably or vomit. Wait approximately
30 minutes to gauge your body’s tolerance of this
experiment—better to stay thirsty within arm’s reach of noxious
saguaro than poison yourself or speed up your stages of dehydration.
¡Animo! A landscape that sustains the saguaro is equally amenable to
the fishhook barrel.

En cuestiones de vida o muerte, podrían casi todos afirmar, “el gusto
es relativo.” (Tal es el destino de la poesia como artificio, arte o
sustento–una no-cuestión si no se puede beber, comer o respirar, aun
si “la poesia no es un lujo”.) Sin embargo, el sabor de los cactus
presenta un dilema particularmente espinoso. Aun no mezcal o tequila,
muchos cactus retienen humedad, pero también toxinas. De nuevo, la
norma basica: solo tome el riesgo de comer o beber cactus si la
alternativa es morir de sed. Pruebe, pruebe, pruebe. El barril de
anzuelo es quizás su mejor opción, pero asegúrese de que pueda
identificarlo antes de ingerir su contenido. Si no esta segur@ de que
ha encontrado la planta correcta, ponga una pequeña porción de la
pulpa en su boca, pruébelo antes de tragar su savia. El sabor debe
parecerse al de vegetales super-saturados. Escupa todo lo que sea
acre, amargo o tan desagradable que provoque ahogo sin control o
vomito. Espere aproximadamente treinta minutos para medir la
tolerancia de su cuerpo a este experimento–es mejor quedarse
sedient@ cerca del nocivo saguaro que envenenarse o acelerar las
etapas de la deshidratación. !Ãnimo! Un paisaje que sustenta al
saguaro es igualmente favorable para el barril de anzuelo.

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