My Life as a Cactus

My Life as a Cactus

by Allie Marini Batts

I grow thornier with each touch. Keep your distance. I am all spines and spurs. Tipped in poison, like Egyptian arrowheads; I am a night bloomer, the moths and bats my friends. They feed me and take care not to light on my boughs. The moon, too, my friend, pale and blue at an arm’s distance.

A bulb rooted in sand, this is an inhospitable climate. Arid landscape buttressed in dry air. The only tenderness I can tolerate is the paper lipped kiss of the dying. Limp in the heat. Stale bodies, parched from the unrepentant sun, they seek me out. I am wet inside, and they know it, they want it. A bulb, born firm and supple but skinned in leather. I grow tough under that mean sun. My roots are shallow but spread wide, I collect and protect. Bones bleach here, my prickles divide and grow. What begins as rough pits becomes a thatch of needles.

Too many hands. They help themselves, or try to; water-seeking animals, nasty foxes that want to tear me apart. My flowers, pink, night bloomers; inside I am full of bitter sap and mucilage. My arms are filled with water that the rats want to drink. They touch my pads, firm like cartilage or thighbones; a porcupine plant, I bristle. My quills are hooked in skin so much more fragile than my own. Fish-hooked, they howl and run, there is a pop as my spine yanks away, but they’ve learned not to touch. I leave them pierced and marked. The spine, a scattering of nodes across the pads of my succulent, grows back like the tail of an anole lizard.

Keep your distance. I bite; my skin is barbed wire and piranhas. There will be no more greedy fingers plucking cactus blooms, round like a bosom of Christmas ornaments. No thirsty lips will split my skin to drink. Thick-skinned I stand, under a rough sun. I care not for your comfort: gila monsters like me well enough. My thorns, blood tipped, as he leans in to kiss me: bleached bones in the desert, a cattle skull, horned and empty.
Tumbleweeds, how I envy you. You can escape on the wind.

Keep back. I am all spines and spurs.

-Non-fiction feature

  1. Wonderful essay, Allie! Congratulations! It reminds me of the time I was climbing a rocky outcropping, slipped and landed my bottom on a cactus. I learned first hand about those spines and spurs! 🙂

  2. Reminds me of El Paso! 😉 Love the vivid details in this work. Favorite: “paper lipped kiss of the dying.”

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