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Imagining Bisbee

Few people live in Bisbee; the town’s history makes it so. When miners decided to strike in 1917, the sheriff’s deputies, with their big guns and small teeth, rounded them up like cattle, packed them into train cars, and shipped them to New Mexico—dumped the strikers, with their soot-covered faces, smack in the middle of desert. A few of the miners walked back to Bisbee, each step, each raising and dropping of the foot taken amidst a jumble of hallucinations. These are the forefathers.

And so, their progeny.

Bisbee Bob, drug dealer, father of two suspected arsonists.

Walking Bob, Francophile, tours the Côte d’Azur each summer, raves about the country’s footpaths.

Bible Bob, eighty years old, thin as a pencil, eats only carrots, skin hangs in folds, scribbles in notebooks, recognizable by red rubber raincoat.

Crazy Nancy, bright lipstick, black hair, junkie. Reportedly a brutal suicide.

Library Girl, reads, looks for forest fires with perro callejero.

Built into the mountains, Bisbee is a town of steps. Natives decorate their steps in many ways. Some string colored electric lights along the treads. The more creative choose novelty bulbs in the shape of bumblebees or cactus trees or cowboy boots. Others paint the risers with bright colors; some imitate the designs of the surrounding Indian tribes. Still others paste tiny pieces of broken glass onto the stairs. The paths to their homes glisten and blind in the Arizona sun.

Bisbee’s inhabitants want to disappear. They use PO boxes and first names. They hide under straw hats and melt into the horizon. They don’t see movies and they only sleep with foreigners. They never get biblical with one another. It is a town that exists only in relation to other realities: south of Tombstone; east of Nogales; north of Mexico; west of the Arizona/New Mexico border. Bisbee often does not appear on maps. It is not there.