When there was no water to keep the fields growing, they torched them, he said—used some special tool: chamuscadora, I think, to burn down the needles. And in the fuss, you might catch mice seeking new homes, grasshoppers like wild and speckled fish, a rattler almost always. Without the fire, the cows could not eat. And if the cows could not eat, neither could we, he said. Today I bought some fat, green pads in a plastic bag at the H-E-B on Pleasanton. And for one sad moment, maybe two, maybe my whole life, I mourned the loss of whole flesh—the judicious heart of the cactus, its ability to drink without drinking, give despite the need to defend itself. It was chopped and bundled like a giveaway kind of child—neat, cleaned up, not meaning, necessarily, to be so moist. I never had to burn down the needles, pluck spikes, scrape the green to mix with carnita or onion and chile from the garden. I make do with weeping, sad pads, scraped and chopped for me—missing their history, their red voice, the blood that nourished Texas before it was Texas: nopalitos sin sangre—tied with a yellow, papered wire: here, a gift for you, they say. I was taught to be grateful, say thank you.
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