River of Dreams 1

 

This is the year that those

who swim the border’s undertow

and shiver in boxcars

are greeted with trumpets and drums

at the first railroad crossing

on the other side ... 

~Martín Espada, “Imagine the Angels of Bread”

 

Oh, say, were you ever in the Rio Grande?

Way, you Rio! 2

 

In the 16th Century,

Spanish conquistadors,

magnetized by dreams of glory,

march towards the Rio Palmas.

 

Sing fare you well,

My pretty young girls,

For we’re bound to the Rio Grande!

 

In the 19th Century,

Texans,

seduced by dreams of conquest,

march towards the Rio Grande.

 

It’s there that the river runs down golden sand.

For we’re bound to the Rio Grande!

 

In 1946, the Mexican campesino

facing the Rio Bravo

sees in the mirror of yearning

his brasero’s loneliness.

 

Oh, were you ever on that strand?

For we’re bound to the Rio Grande!

In 1956, the wetback from Guatemala,

his face in the Rio del Norte,

sees in the mirror of mud

the desolation of his pregnant wife.

 

Oh, say were you ever in the Rio Grande?

Way, you Rio!

 

In 1986, the Salvadoran peasant,

his face in the Rio Colorado,

sees in the mirror of blood

the hunger of his orphaned child.

 

It’s there that the river runs down golden sand.

For we’re bound to the Rio Grande!

 

In 1996, the young woman 

who assembles electronics in Juárez,

facing the Rio Colorado,

sees in the mirror of mercury

her angel of corn, delivered without a brain.

 

Sing fare you well,

My pretty young girls,

For we’re bound to the Rio Grande!

 

This year, when the angels of corn 

are born with shriveled wings,

missing a brain,

they’re welcomed with trumpets and drums

at the last railroad crossing on this side.

 

Oh, were you ever on that strand?

For we’re bound to the Rio Grande!

 

This year, when the angels of corn

are born in prison

in Texas, in Alabama, in Arizona,

they are welcomed with trumpets and drums

at all the railroad crossings

where predator hearts 

wither the angels of corn.

 

Sing fare you well,

My pretty corn angels,

For we’re bound to the Rio Grande!

 

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1 At different moments the river that marks the border between Mexico and the United States has been called Río Palmas, Río Grande, Río Bravo, Río del Norte, Río Colorado.

2 A Capstan song American soldiers sang as they marched from north and east towards the Rio Grande in the 19th Century.

 

of guns and roses

 

Con flores aquí / se entreteje la nobleza, / la amistad. / Gocemos con ellas, casa universal suya es la tierra.

- Nezahualcóyotl, Los cantos son nuestro atavío 

 

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,

and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love,

I am nothing.

- 1 Corinthians 13

 

I want to bring one to the wall.

There’s earth behind my house, earth and pebbles.

I’ll borrow straw, draw water from the well, 

bake it in the sun. I will learn to make one adobe for

the wall. 

I will call my children, I will call my friends we will all bake one adobe for the wall that will help our neighbors feel secure. We will bring our offerings, make a wall that’s high and strong, build it inside our border, add a few feet to the stolen land. We can paint it, let our artists draw a mural, sing a song of peace, celebrate. 

We can bring our niños to the wall, each with a flower, 

an innocent margarita, a bluebell, a camellia white, a hyacinth blue, an heliotrope, a fleur-de-lis, a jonquil, and a jasmine, a lady’s slipper and a lilac, lilies, we will bring lilies, white, yellow, calla, tiger, of the valley.

We will bring lavender, magnolias, zinnias, tulips, and verbena, ivy, mistletoe, and myrtle, orchids and blue periwinkles, peach and apple blossoms. We will give them, we will give them yellow poppies and pineapples.

 

Each of our angels will offer a fresh blossom and the flower of his smile to an officer of the Border Patrol, the Minutemen too. We will teach them to ignore the harshness of the looks, the ugly names, the threats. 

They will learn to levitate above the hatred and the fear

of the strong men who point the guns.

They think they’re rich, that we want what’s theirs.

Their leaders have not told them 

how they got the land they’re dying to protect. 

They’ve not learned their history of theft, slavery, genocide. The Border Patrol, the Minutemen, the soldiers overseas, they’re all just boys offering their lives to defend what’s theirs. They don’t know their leaders use them to ransack the world, then complain it’s expensive to maintain them.

Like our migrants, they have grown at the bottom of the pile, picking up the crumbs their leaders scatter on the ground and see no other option for their lives. 

 

Give them flowers, heal their need of guns. 

Let us love our children, make them strong so they won’t want to cross to a land filled with fear, deprived

of love. 

Let us build the wall, keep our children here.

We don’t want them to forget, live with fear and hate,

starve for love.

Let us give their leaders roses.

They abuse their people, exploit and bomb the world.

Their hearts are filled with greed.

Let us give them roses, for they have not love.

Photo: Bryan Denton

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1 With flowers here / is woven nobility, / friendship. / Let us enjoy them, / earth is their universal home.   -Nezahualcóyotl, "Songs Are Our Attire," "Ms. Romances de los señores de la Nueva España," f 41-42r, tr. Ángel María Garibay, Poesiá náhuatl, V. I, núm. 58, pp. 98-9. My translation from the Spanish. Nezahualcóyotl (1402-1472) was a Prince of Acolhuacan, a Nahua kingdom situated to the northeast of the Valley of Mexico.

 

Jacqui Casale, "And the Walls Come Tumbling Down, 2011

White

We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody,but it would simply be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it.  ​We do that with livestock all the time.

--Steve King, Representative from Iowa 

It’s today’s face of immigration – the Mexican face – that explains why there isso much emphasis on walling off Mexico rather than Canada.

-Katie Ryder, “A better border is possible” 

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres,which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness.

- Matthew 23:27 (KJV)

 

Visualize it —

the longest of the Christian Era —

two thousand miles of protection

will cover the entire southern border

from the oil-streaked gulf to the cesium-spilled Pacific. 

Some want cement,

others, barbed wire.

King suggests electricity. 

Will they feel secure with double layers

of discouragement against the dark-skins of the world?

Will a crocodile-infested moat cure their insomnia? 

Though not the original red-skins,

God has told them they are the only real Americans.

And though their Homeland was built by colored hands,

they swear it must remain 

forever white. 

Yellow hands built the railroads,

black hands, the plantations,

cinnamon-colored hands harvest the crops,

fight the wars, and die 

building the white wall. 

Defying thirst, fear, and death, 

they cross the graveyard desert

to build the white man’s house, 

trim his magnolias and azaleas,

harvest his pears, his almonds, 

champignons, and Chardonnay grapes,

to wash his snowy linens,

coddle his petite chou à la crème,

diaper his delicate babies, and

hand sew the satin white interior

of his pearly box. 

Yes, Americans, Real Americans,

you should build your wall,

long, triple layered,

not of granite, glass, or wood,

not of cement, concertina, 

or discouragement current,

not virtual. 

Make it original,

for posterity,

better and bigger than Maya Lin’s,

a Coatlicue memorial--

no need for names--

only the skulls and the bones

of the sun-baked fathers, 

the brothers and sisters,

the mothers and babies,

the fetuses-- 

their smaller, softer, skulls good for filling in-- 

who die each day 

building your whited sepulchre.

 

Ciudadanía

 

Como suele tejer

Bárbara aldea

Soga de perros

Contra forastero

      —Luis de Góngora

 

 

Construyen nuestras casas y piscinas,

plantan nuestros jardines, 

limpian nuestras escuelas.

 

Recogen el algodón para nuestra ropa, 

cosechan la lechuga para nuestras mesas,

preparan nuestras comidas 

y limpian la cocina.

 

El trabajo es duro y la paga baja.

Nosotros no queremos hacerlo 

pero tampoco los queremos aquí.

 

Cuidan a nuestros niños, 

nuestros enfermos, 

nuestros ancianos.

Alivian nuestras conciencias, 

nos permiten presumir de diversidad.

 

El trabajo es duro y la paga baja.

Nosotros no queremos hacerlo, 

pero tampoco los queremos aquí.

 

No les abriremos la puerta.

Ellos tienen que abrirse camino, 

probarse.

 

Construiremos muros, 

colgaremos alambre de púa,

los cazaremos con nuestros perros, 

con nuestras pandillas vigilantes.

 

Los regresaremos a su tierra.

Una y otra vez 

los regresaremos a su tierra,

pues no los queremos aquí.

 

Pero ellos tienen hambre y regresan.

Una y otra vez regresan.

 

Llegan por millones.

 

Cruzan por aguas estancadas, 

saltan sobre muros,

se arrastran entre el alambre de púa, 

cavan túneles bajo tierra.

 

Les pagan a los coyotes, 

se esconden en furgones de carga,

se meten a cajuelas, 

se sofocan.

 

Caminan por medio 

de los ciento veinte grados de Yuma,

a través de noches de escarcha.

 

Nuestro desierto está regado 

con sus chaquetas,

sus zapatos y sus bolsas,

y las botellas vacías que abandonan

apenas se evapora la última gota  

con el primer espejismo.

 

Su basura está esparcida por nuestro desierto.

Sus cuerpos (ciento sesenta en lo que va del año) lo tapizan.

 

Y culpamos a los coyotes, 

el calor, el desierto,

su terquedad, 

su falta de previsión.

 

En las noticias escuchamos de cada cadáver,

u oímos de diez y ocho cuerpos a la vez.

 

Oímos y olvidamos, 

pues lo oímos cada día.

 

Lo lamentamos, por un segundo,

no tenemos tiempo para la tristeza.

 

Son forasteros y se lo buscan ellos mismos.

 

Son sin número y persistentes 

y llegan cada día.

 

Si sobreviven a la migra, 

el alambrado,

los alacranes y los perros, 

los jabalíes, 

y las víboras de cascabel,

si son fuertes y sobreviven 

el frío que congela, 

el calor que sofoca,

el hambre y la sed, 

si son más tercos que nosotros 

y el desierto de Sonora,

los mandaremos a un desierto lejano 

a pelear otra guerra.

Citizenship

 

As a barbarous village

Tends to weave

A rope of dogs

Against the stranger

      —Luis de Góngora

 

 

They build our houses and our pools,

beautify our gardens, 

clean our schools.

 

They pick cotton for our clothes, 

harvest lettuce for our tables,  

cook our meals 

and wash the dishes.

 

The work is hard, the pay is low.

We don't want to do it, 

but we don't want them here.

 

They care for our young, 

our sick, and our old.

They ease our conscience, 

permit us to boast of diversity.

 

The work is hard, the pay is low.

We don't want to do it, 

but we don't want them here.

 

We will not open the door.

They have to earn their way, 

prove themselves.

 

We will build walls, 

put up barbed wire,

hunt them down with our dogs, 

with our vigilante gangs.

 

We will send them back.

Time after time after time, 

we will send them back,

for we don't want them here.

 

But they are hungry and keep coming back.

 

Time after time after time, 

they keep coming.

Millions strong, 

they keep coming.

 

They walk through stagnant waters, 

jump over fences, 

crawl through barbed wire, 

tunnel under earth.

 

They pay the coyotes, 

hide in freight trains, 

crawl in trunks, 

suffocate.

 

They walk through one hundred and twenty Yuma degrees,

through freezing winter nights.

 

Our desert is strewn with their jackets, 

their sneakers and their bags,

and the empty bottles they abandon 

when the last drop evaporates with the first mirage.

 

Our desert is strewn with their trash. 

It is littered with their bodies 

(one hundred and sixty so far this year).

 

And we blame the coyotes, 

the heat, the desert,

their stubbornness, 

their lack of prevision.

 

On the news, we hear of each cadaver,

or we hear of eighteen bodies at a time.

 

We hear, and we forget, 

for we hear it every day.

We feel sadness, for a second.

We are busy, 

have no time for sorrow.

 

And they are aliens,

they bring it on upon themselves.

 

They are countless and persistent, 

and they keep coming every day.

 

If they live through the migra, 

the barbed wire, 

the scorpions and the dogs, 

the jabalinas and the rattlesnakes,

if they're strong and survive 

the freezing cold, 

the suffocating heat,

the hunger and the thirst, 

if they outsmart us and the Sonora desert,

we will fly them to a distant desert 

to fight another war.

 

Immigrant Eyes

 

For Fernando Suárez del Solar 

 

In peace the sons bury their fathers, 

but in war the fathers bury their sons. 

- Croesus 

 

 

The first week I turn on the news, see 

thick bushy brows, 

dark long lashes, 

soulful Giancarlo Giannini eyes, 

hear a soft Spanish voice say 

he did not want his son to go to Iraq, 

but the boy insisted. 

They're recent immigrants from Tijuana, 

the boy wanted to prove his patriotism. 

 

Three days later, I turn on the news, see 

thick bushy brows, 

dark long lashes, 

bottomless immigrant eyes, 

hear an old Spanish voice say, 

 

Oh, yes, they will send me a medal,

give me a flag, 

but my life is ruined, 

and my grandson will not know his father.

 

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1  Aunque pasará a la historia como un elemento importante de la reacción ante el primer presidente negro de Estados Unidos, este término no existe todavía en ningún diccionario. Lo crearon los racistas decididos a probar que Barack Obama no nació en Estados Unidos y que es, por lo tanto, un presidente ilegítimo. El movimiento birtherista (Birtherism) se ha extendido entre los Republicanos de extrema derecha y los miembros del Tea Party que acusan al presidente de ser socialista y extranjerizante, de no entender las costumbres de los norteamericanos, de no ser “a Real American,” un verdadero americano.

Declaración de extranjería

 

El extranjero no sólo es el otro, nosotros mismos lo fuimos o lo seremos, ayer o mañana, al albur de un destino incierto: 

cada uno de nosotros es un extranjero en potencia.

–Tzvetan Todorov

 

“His course is extraordinarily foreign.”

- Mitt Romney sobre Barack Obama / Discurso de campaña, julio 2012.

 

El tener gustos y tendencias,

no sólo extranjerizantes, sino

extraordinariamente extranjerizantes,

debe ser para Mitt Romney 

y los otros birthers,

prueba irrefutable de que Obama es

un presidente ilegítimo.

 

Barack Hussein Obama sí nació en el Imperio,

aunque Hawaii podría, quizá,

considerarse la periferia, 

ya que lo separa el Océano Pacífico 

del continente.

 

Yo también nací en la periferia,

en el proverbial Sur del desprecio.

Cuando les va mal,

los “verdaderos” Americanos dicen,

it went south,

o sea, desapareció, me lo robaron,

se echó a perder.

 

Aunque yo sólo aspiro a ser poeta,

me adelanto a las insinuaciones

de los birthers

para afirmar que sí nací, pero no aquí,

que no creo en himnos ni banderas,

que mi estilo, mi destino, mi corazón,

son extraordinariamente extranjeros.

 

Sostengo que sí nací, pero no aquí,

que soy hermana de los de piel de medianoche,

de los de espíritu de aurora,

de los de sabor a canela,

de los blancos como la chirimoya,

y los dulces como el maracuyá,

de los que creen en Jesús,

en Allah, Yahweh, Buda, Tláloc,

o en abrazar al triste

y alimentar al hambriento,

de los de sexualidad polimorfa,

y de los castos como un unicornio,

de los que nacieron aquí, o ahí, 

de los que piensan nacer

en altamar, 

o en una nave espacial,

este año, o el próximo.

 

Ratifico que sí nací, pero no aquí,

que cuando quiero conversar 

con el Espíritu Creador,

le ruego, Bendice 

a los varones, a las hembras, 

a los adolescentes, a los niños,

bendice a las tortugas, a los coyotes, 

a los perros de la pradera,

a las abejas, las lombrices, los caracoles,

bendice los jitomates, los tejocotes, 

el epazote, la flor de calabaza,

los azahares, las buganvilias,

el viento, la lluvia, el granizo,

bendícenos a los lunáticos,

y no olvides a los extraterrestres.

 

Juro que sí nací, pero no aquí,

que aquí, y allá,

soy dolorosa, extraordinaria,

irremediablemente, 

extranjera.

© 2019 by Lilvia Soto