Sonoran Song and Other Poems

Sonoran Song

Mom didn’t know, Dad didn’t know
            even if they’d run across fences
before, they didn’t foresee my knees
            crashing into cactus needles that night
one shoe slipped off. She says Coyote
            said I’ll carry him to your front door
myself, Pati.
She didn’t know 110 degrees,
            saguaros, no compass to run
north when like Colorado River toads
            we slid under bushes—officers yelled
¡On your fucking knees! You couldn’t have
            known this could happen, Mom.
You couldn’t have. No es su culpa.
            No lo es.

To the President-Elect

There’s no fence, there’s a tunnel, there’s a hole in the wall, yes,

you think right now ¿no one’s running? Correction: the drybacks

sweat, shadow, shit their shit there for the cactus. We craved

our piss turned the brightest yellow—I am not the only nine-

that has slipped my backpack under the rancher’s fences. I’m still

in that van that picked us up from “Devil’s Highway.” The white

honked three times, honks heard by German shepherds,

Migra trucks. I still don’t know where the drybacks are that
    ran deep

with dogs chasing after them. But I do know, at night they return

and say sobreviviste bicho, sobreviviste carnal. Yes, we

Thoughts on the Anniversary of My Crossing the Sonoran Desert

  June 10, 1999

first day inside a plane I sat by the window
like when I ride the bus
correction when I rode buses
below the border I sat
by the window attention
to dogs under a mango
trash under parked cars
drunk passed out or dead
on the ground

I sat by plane window
same afternoon I crossed
desert the third time
was not nervous at white
people at terminal
all those questions this language
did not cry did not stop
looking out the window
watching for Statue
of Liberty Golden
Gate Disneyland

we were lost and didn’t know which star
was north what was east west we all
dropped out of the van too soon to remember
someone said the sun rose east we circled
so much we had no maps and the guide we paid
twisted his ankle was slowing us down

we couldn’t leave him why
asked the ones that walked ahead
whispered they’d heard coyotes fake they’re hurt
circle and circle so much they make it seem they tried
but all they did was steal money

I don’t know
his ankle was swollen he was feverish
it’s true
the sun’s heat was a reptile but I know
if we didn’t leave him
we’d still be there
run-over toads

I was happy when the van picked us up
took me to parents

I didn’t recognize Dad
different from pictures

he remembers the smell
oh the smell shit piss dust in your hair
he says now

Mom had a bag with Nikes
Levi’s Star Wars
Episode One shirt

I left my ripped clothes
inside a Ross fitting room

I’m tired of writing the desert
that van
thirst     the fence
I’m tired it’s always that

even now
outside United Airlines 18F
I see clouds first like quilt
then like cheese
melting in a plastic bag
under that creosote
next to those
empty gallons
of water

javier here you go
about same shit
when will your status change

when will you stop
rambling about not being there
this is not that June 10

let it go man
you’re not inside that Tucson fitting room
this is not Abuelita

who you couldn’t call
those eight weeks
she lit a candle every night

to light your path wherever you went
who you can’t call

every two weeks
you can’t even tell her
la quiero

la quiero mucho
it’s only here
in a language she don’t speak

I left Grandpa in Guatemala
for eight weeks no one heard my voice
for eight weeks
no one slept

twice parents packed the car said
I’m going to the border

then at 1 a.m.
someone called said
you the parent of Javier nine years old
from El Salvador

it’s gone be fifteen hundred
can you get to Tucson

near Phoenix
call this number

to write I look for words in books
little ants Abuelita calls words
right now it’s bonsai

that makes me think father
he made the one in a black pot in the living room
when I first walked into Mom and Dad’s apartment
first day in this country

first furnished living room in this country
if you count the coyote warehouse
aka an empty apartment
in some Tucson suburb
my first dawn here
I spent it dreaming about what furniture should be where
in that living room carpet used as bed

the smell of all fifty of us who waited for family
to pay so we could take different vans
to different states

in that ceiling’s white bumpy surface
I played a movie I wanted to see
Mi Vida Gringa

I was ready to be gringo
speak English
own a pool
white picket fence
Jeep truck convertible

I was ready
I was ready
I went to sleep

Abuelita won’t leave the house
hasn’t left in years
hasn’t will not
no bullshit
no metaphor

she won’t shower
won’t walk to the market
pero they’ll talk
what will they say
she says

who is they
and who cares
we say through the phone
on the table
by her door
we’ve all walked out of

her hair knots a dread
in the back of her short hair

like a microphone
cousin says

my little microphone head
won’t shower
won’t sit on a chair
watching people walk by
like she did
when we were there

I wasn’t born here
I’ve always known this country wanted me dead

do you believe me when I say more than once
a white man wanted me dead

a white man passed a bill
that wants me deported

wants my family deported
wants us dead

a white man a white man a white man
not the song I wanted to hear

driving to the airport today
the road the trees the signs the sky the cars the walls the lights

told me     we want you dead
out out out out

a few hours ago I boarded a plane
tried to cut ahead with Group A
usually I’m not caught I was stopped
the flight attendant told me wait
it’s not your turn I started sweating
I wore white the worst
color for sweat my back drenched
until she let me through I was
in the gate in the plane 18F

when I got to SFO
I took Marin Airporter to San Rafael
same bus I took when I first saw
the Golden Gate
how magical
like a mountain
I’d never dreamed then
waiting in that line
at the US embassy
when I tried and tried for a visa
like mom like dad like aunts
and we all got denied

if only there was a well
an opening in the dirt
and we had a bucket to drop
and a rope to pull
if only we could capture
clouds with nets to suck
if only cotton candy grew
on cacti and sodas
and horchata too

there must be little pine needles
stuck in my brain to not let me concentrate
on the reason behind the word bonsai

I’m writing in public again
at the corner so people can’t see line breaks
so they think I’m essayist

maybe I’m ashamed
maybe I don’t want them reading this
that was not part of Mi Vida Gringa

Mi Vida Gringa not the movie I paid to see then
on that ceiling
I’m still watching it

haven’t exited in protest
haven’t been kicked out
for not having a valid ticket

I sneaked in
bought the popcorn drank the Coke
bonsai the word I whisper

I was supposed to be lawyer
businessman soccer player
Mom and Dad said

someone of value
someone in this world must’ve said
bonsais don’t have as many needles

as the real pine they’re cut from
though in their potential beauty
they contain the ideal number of needles

if no one has said that
this is not the movie

javier can you think of that date
without thirst hunger sweat shit
without almost pissing yourself
in La Migra’s backseat
and in front of you people running
fast as we could

now I walk toward dawn
only when I’m fucked up

and if I’m blacked out
I want to shut the fuck up
those brown strangers
that didn’t listen and ran
from Migra guns
into the brush to never
be seen and heard of again

who I search for
in John Doe directories
not by name
but by days around June 10

but now in San Francisco
I’m half-drunk
stuffing shirts pants socks
into my carry-on
as if I had a flight today

I’ve carried this since that day

I’m talking about the flor de izote in our fence
the one Abuelita plucked
mixed with eggs that dawn she was crying

I didn’t know why

she’s still crying she’s filled her shadow
with so much water it’s sunk her home

come out come out the house Abuelita

I’m soft I’m soft he says
my grandpa
who to this day goes out with his bad knee

to the fields and scrapes the grass
hunching down
raking to blast the leaves on fire

what do I do

I sit here place my fingers on black keys
type it’s Monday it’s Tuesday it’s Friday
type first day inside a plane I sat by the window

everyone’s working

Mom Dad Tía Lupe Tía Mali
working under different names

I sit here writing my name

the TV is on
coffee is on

the stereo the couch is soft
my throat is dry
and sick

though we haven’t seen the light
of day
in years