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  • Janis Ian playing bass for Rev. Marie Knight on 'Old Woodsongs Hour' - photo by Larry Streun
  • Janis Ian with Pat Snyder & Bette Midler
  • Janis Ian with author J. A. (Judy) Jance - photo by Denise Tschida
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  • Janis Ian with Steve Earle,  Johnny Cash, Clint Black & Connie Bradley
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Society's Child

His Sweat Like Stars On The Rio Grande

by Janis Ian (From Welcome To Dystopia ed. Gordon van Gelder)


My heart was broken long before we met, so when love came sneaking up, it was completely unexpected. I'd grown up in the shadow of The Wall, but never given it much thought. It had always been there. It would always be there. I was grateful to be living on this side, where the Rio Grande provided water for the agricultural station my father ran, and kayaking provided some small relief from the late April humidity. I loved seeing the huisache bloom, their feathery yellow flowers mirrored in the river's edge. My favorite time of day was early morning, before the worst of the heat. I would sit in my secret place and watch the sunlight glisten on the river, pretending the sparkles were stars that had fallen to earth the night before.

When I was young, I'd sometimes "borrow" my mother's binoculars and focus on the migrant families working the fields to the north. They fascinated me, the way their children seemed to run everywhere without any sign of supervision. The way the women carried naked infants in slings across their breasts. The way they'd stop occasionally to nurse, or hold the infant aloft as it did its business in the grass. I'd never seen an adult woman's breasts before, and as mine began to bud, the thought of what they'd become fascinated me.

And I must admit, I loved to look at the men as they worked bare-chested in the sun. Loved the way a drop of sweat would make its way from the nape of a neck to the top of the shoulder blades, then along the alley between, down and down and down, until it finally disappeared into parts unknown. Loved their wiry muscles, bunching and flexing as they grabbed at the plants, making my own still-forming parts throb and pulse. I had no name for it, this feeling of desire, but I gloried in it nonetheless.

I fell in love with Roger when he asked me to the 10th grade dance. I'd been hopeful, but still, it came as a surprise. I was nothing to look at, although my lineage was good. Father a supervisor, mother a tracker – both respectable jobs, requiring intelligence, stamina, and leadership qualities. And, as Roger pointed out one starry night, a certain ruthlessness. Laughing, he said I'd managed to inherit them all, and some lucky fellow's children would benefit from it one day.

That actually made me blush.

To read the entire story purchase the book at one of the online outlets below.

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