How to Make Love to a Saguaro Cactus

Once you have purged yourself of self-hatred, which, dear partner, is not our job to tell you how to do, just that you must do it, you can begin.

Prose Poetry Hybrid by Spencer Nitkey
Art by Thomas Plets

How to Make Love to a Saguaro Cactus. 

  1. We get it, first off, of course. Let’s just say we’ve—ouch—been there. So the first thing is to stop judging yourself. We know the erotic green-limbed silhouette of their form against the heat-soaked sand. The sun and rock and stone and heat and desert night, and there they are — abloom with white, ring flowers, their yellow-centered eyes blinking at you from across the cracked earth, filled with water you cannot drink, coated in a thousand pinprick spines. Their stoic, frozen dance. Their insistence that yes, here too, is life. What’s not to want? What’s not to crawl on hands and knees and long for endlessly? In dreams, they crawl, uproot, and step on spindly legs, cross the moon-strung midnight chill, and embrace you. In life, you will have to crawl to them, and they will know if you hate yourself for wanting them. If you cannot accept your longing, you cannot make love. Perhaps you can fuck, in a drunken, one-night-stand kind of way, but as you do, you will feel your desire dry up and wither in your navel; and you will leave, thorned worthlessly, lesser than the person you came as. No one deserves to be your dirty, prickly secret. Want is sacrosanct. Treat it thusly. 
  2. Once you have purged yourself of self-hatred, which, dear partner, is not our job to tell you how to do, just that you must do it, you can begin. Come thirsty. Parched lips cracked, skin taut over fat and bone, eyes red and tearless kind of thirsty. Wander through the desert to earn it too. Feed the dry air your sweat and heat and panting breath. Feed the desert that feeds the saguaro, and come thirsty. The saguaro must have something to offer you. You must have offered something to its home.
  3. Strip down to your nethers. Chaps, whips, hats, linen all off. Nothing but your underdone hip bones akimbo from the saddle split. Leave your horse behind too. Leave your campfires smoldering for the lizards, hot stones against their bellies knowing a comfort and peace you can only dream of finding in the saguaro’s arms. Come empty-handed and sunburnt. 
  4. Run your thumb and index finger along one thorn. When you reach its tip, press your index finger down into its jagged point. Find the centermost swoop of your fingerprint and press deep until it punctures your skin. If your finger is too calloused from picking stringed instruments to keep the lonely night gentle, sand it down with a stone and return. Wince as it punctures the skin. Let the blood pool into the finest divots of your finger, and when you have taken as much of it into your body as you can, gasp, pull back, and smear the blood across a blank swatch of its satin green skin. Find a pleat, swollen in the springtime air, ripe with water, and run it along, like on a khaki crease. This is your blood, which is given. 
  5. If the hurt has not scared you, if the sight of your blood has not made you faint, if the pinprick pain has filled the space behind your abdominal wall with longing, proceed. 
  6. If a pygmy owl peeks its brown feathered face out from a hole in the cactus, leave immediately. The saguaro has found a love you can never compete with. For all your inchoate hope that you will lose yourself in this love, that touching the animal parts of you will make you an animal too, you are human, and you can never love as an owl loves. You have never starved as an owl has starved, spat up the bones of the lizards that steam on warm rocks, or flown through the sky as it has, not because you wanted to but because you were made in the sky’s image. You cannot love the way a wild animal does. Plus they are endangered, and you risk hurting the fragile creature that lives inside the sand’s keeper, and there are certain liability issues with the whole thing. Just don’t. 
  7. Find the arms of the cactus, spread yourself, and contort your own limbs in an approximation of their shape. Crouch if you need to. 
  8. Yes, then you must press yourself into the saguaro. Its spines will enter you all at once. You will be punctured and the animal in you may cry and press against your back and beg you to pull away. The other animal, the theriomorphic god within you will, if you truly love the cactus, wrap its teeth around that animal’s throat and remind them why you are here. Sink deep. Breathe. Yes. Relax and let a hundred spines break your skin and bleed you. Bleed upon the cactus. Drip upon the sand. Make mud as you leak from a hundred filled holes. You have not been loved like this before. Never before have you have felt so bitten, so feasted upon, so consumed.. You have known love as an interplay, as an exchange, warmth for a smile, heat for heat, company for pleasure. Here, you will give everything over to a being that wants nothing from you. There’s pain, yes, sublunary and real. It pounds in your heart like a useless tin-can drum. It plays your nerves like fiddle strings. It comes out, gargling, from your throat, like a coyote’s cry. You’ll smell burning mesquite and shake like a dog come out of water. There is a place beyond that pain.  There are stars beyond that firmament. There is a world within that pain, like the gut flora ecosystem of our stomachs. There is something else. That’s all we can tell you. You will feel it bloom like the cactus flower. It will flood your thirsting flesh. It will turn your insides acrid with want, make your lymph nodes swell, and ride your bloodstream like an unbroken horse. Saints are made holy with holes, stigmatas. You will be holy a hundred times over.
  9. When you’re done, fall back, lay wide-eyed and weep on the sand. You think you’d weep from the pain, but the pain is miles beneath you now; you weep because it’s over, because the flood of pleasure has receded, because you are someone new, someone who has known want and answered its insistent ringing with the fullness of your heart. 
  10. Thank the tree. Pick its spines from your skin and lay them in a circle around its stem. 
  11. Return to the world of women, of men, of campfires, of horses, of roofs, of roads, of water you can get in a cup. Forget or remember, the desert doesn’t care. The saguaro doesn’t care. The only one who cares is you. You, changed and bleeding. You who has finally made love to a saguaro.

About the Author

Spencer Nitkey is a writer of the weird, the horrible, the wonderful, and the (hopefully) beautiful. He lives in New Jersey, and his writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Apex Magazine, Weird Horror, body fluids, and more. You can read more about him and find more of his writing on his website.

About The Artist

Isalu Ishii is a formally trained Italian linguist turned artist. Ishlii’s rt is a whimsical cacophony of lines and colors, described unanimously as camp and queer,
Favourite anything Western, I’ve got to say, any Sergio Leone / Ennio Morricone combo and the spaghetti Western phenomenon!

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