O Muse, sing to me of something new, for I tire of
The endless intrigues, the scandals and the scheming
Take me, Muse, to a place untroubled by the Trump,
Where no one has heard of Hillary, nor wavy-haired Bannon,
Mousey Jared, or corpulent Chris Christie, or Ivanka
Please, oh please, O Muse, give me a damn break!
Far to the south, in the village of Santa Rosa, surrounded by forest,
Where red-and-yellow macaws screech from the trees
Where the jaguar, black as night, prowls nearby –
With all his might little Carlos kicked the fútbol to his papa
Brand new, on his fourth birthday! And a Reynaldo t-shirt too!
Good one! Shouted Papa as the ball bounced along the dusty dirt road
And as it rolled between the two sticks, (with a little help from Papa),
At the top of his lungs little Carlos bellowed “Gooooaaaal!”
And on the wooden porch, of their tiny home, a shack really,
Mama, Annamaria, so proud, laughed and clapped, for both of her men,
A sweet white orchid pinned in her long black hair.
Soon it would be time for Carlos to enter school,
The very one where Papa taught, for ten years now,
Carlos would learn to read, to write, in Spanish and Inglés,
Becoming a wise, educated man; Mama said she had had a dream about that,
She believed in these nighttime visions, sent from another world:
Dr. Carlos Quinones, outside a fancy office, she’d seen it!
Maybe even in Los Angeles, home of the stars, or Chicago!
And Carlos believed it too, but those faraway places frightened him.
But now, what was Papa looking at? Staring off, toward the edge of town?
Dust clouds heralded … someone’s arrival. But who?
Two white Toyota pickups pulled up, stopped, right in the middle
Of Santa Rosa’s only street, mean-looking men jumped out.
Little Carlos picked up his ball, watched as one approached Papa.
Carlos saw Mama, fear gripping her, put her hand to her face.
The child wandered over to his father’s side, looking up at the tall men
Caught only words here and there:
“…use that shack over there,
Pay you well …”
“You want to store drugs in my house?”
“Just merchandise …”
“No, no, it’s my house, leave now!
Carlos, go to your mother.”
“Listen, old man…you’d better do as I say!” But Papa had had enough.
“No!” he thundered. “No! No gangs in Santa Rosa! No cartels!
Take your drugs and your guns, you hoodlums and get out!”
By this time some of the neighbors had come out to see.
Mrs. Jimenez, who sold fruit from her stand, and
Mr. and Mrs. Rojas, they were farmers, grew maize.
The man from the pickup said nothing,
With icy eyes glared at Papa for a moment; Carlos thought it was over.
Then he nodded at the hombres in the pickups, slowly walked away.
Seared into Carlos’ childish memory was what came next:
The guns, automatics, the men in the pickups started firing,
So loud! Carlos held his ears! And Papa!
He stood for just a second longer, his eyes on his son, before
Thick blood from his shredded veins spewed across the road;
And his head exploded.
The men were not done. With not a care, with no remorse,
They hopped out of the pickup, walked to the porch,
Annamaria’s terror-filled screams pierced the town, the jungle,
Right in front of Carlos, they threw her down, on her belly,
Threw up her dress, hurt her, o, brave Carlos tried to fight them
But they just tossed him to the side, like a rag doll,
One after the other they hurt her, hurt her, hurt her.
Then the man who had argued with Papa spoke,
His voice calm, determined, to all who witnessed
He spoke: “Do you see? Do you see what happens?
To those who resist?” And Carlos, gallant little Carlos,
Ran to the man, under the yellow sun hit him with his little fists,
Another of the hombres took out a knife, prepared to do him in,
But the leader shook his head, pushed Carlos away;
The hombre pulled out a .45, put one into Carlos’ new ball.
Just to complete the point. Then the leader grabbed Annamaria’s hair,
Lifted her head up from the ground, the orchid falling to the dirt,
“We will return tomorrow. You and the boy had better be gone!”
And they drove away.
The men of the village came out, placed Papa’s body in a cart,
Took it to the church. Mrs. Obrador, the old midwife, she’d delivered Carlos,
Cleaned Mama up, held her as she wept, helped her change her clothes.
Then they buried Papa at the church.
“What will do you do?”
Mrs. Jimenez asked, secretly fearing that mother and child
Would choose to stay, bring more shooting to Santa Rosa.
“Al norte,” was all Mama could say, “al norte.”
“I’m coming with you,” Mrs. Obrador said. “You will not be alone.”
The two women embraced; thank you, Annamaria said
Maybe a thousand times. They packed a few clothes;
She stuffed some money – not much, all they had – in her jeans.
Into his tiny backpack Carlos stuffed the ruined ball.
He never saw his mother smile again.
Up before dawn, Annamaria and Carlos, Reynaldo’s name still on his back,
Went to Mrs. Obrador’s; the midwife still had her husband’s old Chevy, still ran,
Through the hot jungle they drove, to San Jose, then San Marcos,
Then to Malacatán, home of the sacred order, Blessed Mary of Mercy,
And for mercy they prayed in the alabaster church in the playa.
The priest, Father Hernando, he let them sleep there; the next morning,
Mrs. Obrador’s car was gone.
But it was only three miles, a short walk
To the crossing, where the wide, slow-moving Suchiate River flows,
Marking the border with Mexico, land of the mighty Maya.
No bridges cross it, only old inner tubes with decks from old shipping crates.
You have to pay, they said, the ferry-men. Take my money,
Mrs. Obrador offered. Not enough, they were eyeing pretty Annamaria
But Carlos, he’d found a knife in the car, brandished it,
Made everyone laugh. Then two of them grabbed his mama,
Searched her roughly, placed their hands on her,
Found her cash, took it all, that’s enough,
They laughed. Mama and Mrs. Obrador, they begged, they pleaded,
Can’t go to al norte penniless! But hard-hearted were the ferry-men,
Motioned to the inner tubes, and the women understood that
Their only hope lay on the river’s other bank, climbed on.
In the middle of the river, Mrs. Obrador spied Annamaria’s cash
In one of the men’s pockets. She reached for it, but the man saw her;
Pushed her off, into the river; she couldn’t swim; she sank quickly.
Crocs’ll get her, somebody said. Or the snakes.
As they set foot
In Mexico, little Carlos noticed his mother’s face: no sadness;
No anger; she had nothing left.
There were no police, no officials;
No forms to fill out; no busses. What do we do now? Annamaria asked someone.
You walk, was the reply, north, to Tapachula, pearl of the Chiapas,
There’s help there. How far, Annamaria wanted to know;
Two days, perhaps. Three, maybe. But my son is hungry. There’s help there.
So they walked, along the well-paved road, missing Papa, and Mrs. Obrador,
Seeing his mother’s grief, sensing her desperation, little Carlos
Never complained, never once. Sometimes he remembered Papa,
Wanted to cry but held back the tears. From time to time they encountered
Nuns or kind strangers handing out water, so necessary in the stifling heat!
And they told the mother and son where to go, to the shelters in the city,
Where they could rest, let sweet sleep take them away.
Had never seen such a place as the city! Cars zooming now left, now right,
Shops and stores, so many people! So much noise, horns and hawkers!
Sirens and shouts! He gripped Mama’s hand tightly, he felt so small.
In the afternoon of the third day they came upon the shelter.
They called it a Migrant Center, Carlos had never heard that word before.
“Are we migrants, Mama?” Carlos asked – “Yes, Carlos,” she said.
He looked up at her, his eyes puzzled. “Someone who is leaving a bad place,
Going to some place good.”
Her voice low, toneless, joyless.
And they ate there. Though Carlos had said nothing,
After their long trek his stomach ached for food.
Mama helped in the kitchen; swept the floors;
They slept in cots at night.
After a time they told Annamaria to go,
Only five days allowed, but by now she had a plan.
America! Just a few days away! They’d cross over, she’d get a job
Maybe cleaning rich peoples’ houses, maybe as a waitress,
Why, she’d make two or three dollars – US – an hour!
She’d save some; and when he was all grown, handsome and strong,
She’d have the money for his school … Doctor Carlos Quinones.
They gave her a few pesos for the work she’d done;
And made their way to the railway. Carlos was excited,
He’d never seen a train before!
They didn’t have enough for a ticket, as the train went by
They’d have to run, jump aboard a boxcar,
It would be loud, it would all happen very fast,
Don’t let me lose you, Carlos! her voice firm, and fearful too.
It rounded the curve, the locomotive had to take it slow,
Carlos and Annamaria and all the others, perhaps a few dozen
Stood, awaiting their chance.
They called it “the Beast,”
La Bestia, and the child could see why; it was huge; scary!
He just wanted to run away! Instead they moved closer to the tracks,
Waiting for their moment! Tears formed in Carlos’ brown eyes,
So frightened was he! So hard to be brave!
Then – they were running for it – and he fell behind! “Mama!”
He cried! “Mama!” Where was she?
Somehow, an instant later, someone
Scooped him up, and in Annamaria’s loving arms he lay again.
Luck had favored them, securing space inside of an empty boxcar,
Hadn’t had to climb up on top, as the day went on,
More and more freedom-bound travelers clambered aboard, soon the car
Was full, as was the roof, Carlos could hear them walking above.
They also called it el tren de la muerte, the train of death.
That night sleep overcame one of the exhausted men above
He fell off, was swept up by the wheels, his body cut in two.
During the days Carlos felt suffocated by the heat, by the smells
The mierda in the corner; he wanted to retch but held it in.
From time to time the northward-bound train slowed
Unbeknownst to Carlos and his mother, the kind driver took pity
On his passengers, as did the saintly women of La Patrona,
And other villages along the way, they cooked beans and rice,
Wrapped tacos, they jogged alongside La Bestia, tossed the
Life-sustaining food and bottles of water to the needy ones.
O Norma, Bernarda, Rosa, Nila, Julia, Mariela, Sofia,
Blessed will you be by God Himself when you enter the gates of heaven!
Northward, al Norte! Some of the others in the boxcar,
They knew a little English, to pass the time they taught the boy;
“How are you? My name is Carlos. I play fútbol.” And: “Someday
I will be a doctor,” Annamaria asked them to teach him that.
Once, at night, from another car, they heard shots, screams;
Gangs, they whispered, come to rob us! But they didn’t come
To Carlos’ and Annamaria’s boxcar.
On the next to last day
On the train, Carlos didn’t feel so well. Mama placed a hand on his forehead
Trying to gauge the fever. They tried to cool him down with water,
Little Carlos, brave Carlos, insisted he was fine, just wanted to sleep.
But doze he could not, for the Beast came to a stop, the end of the line¸ they said,
Ciudad Juárez, so close! Just cross the river!
The coyotes were waiting as they climbed off the train.
They’d get them across the border, guaranteed
Three tries, if la migra catches you, brings you back, a bargain
At nine thousand dollars US.
Of course Annamaria couldn’t afford it,
Carrying Carlos – so hot now, burning up, his eyes glazed over –
She walked amongst all of them, flashing her few pesos,
She’d pay, she said, any way she could, any way,
And they took her meaning, but finally an old woman
Named Hermosa, with thin gray hair, a grizzled face
Pointed to her van, said she knew a place where they could cross
In her little boat. Annamaria placed her last bit of trust in her
Paid her with her last pesos.
They drove off, for an hour or so,
Through the narrow streets of the city, Hermosa gave them food and water
She had some aspirina too, for Carlos, that helped for a time —
And as the desert sun set, the van switched off its lights
Along a dirt road they drove, in the dark, to meet old Juan, her husband.
True to her word was faithful Hermosa, Annamaria hugged her,
Thanked her for her kindness, and under a starry sky,
Old Juan rowed them, from Mexico and Guatemala,
Across the Rio Grande, from despair and sorrow,
From the gangs and the drugs and the guns,
To the land of hope, of promise, where dreams come true.
On the shore, Juan pointed upwards, showed them the North Star
Told them to follow it, in a few hours they’d reach the highway,
You’ll see the number 10, I-10, another hour or two to El Paso,
And your new life.
Annamaria embraced him too,
And then they were off, relief, anticipation in her weary heart.
But those feelings were short-lived,
For after only thirty minutes or so, there were lights
From the helicopter above and from all around, “Hands up!”
Shouted the men of La Migra, Customs and Border Patrol.
Roberto Rodriguez, El Paso born and raised, former Army Ranger,
He led the team; he and his partner Edgardo loaded them up,
Just another nights’ work —
“We’re gonna have to separate ‘em,” he was saying,
“Jeff Sessions, the man from Alabama, has decreed, no tolerance,” and
Rodriguez grimaced, “Hate doing that, hate them politicians,
And this little guy’s sick, too.” Annamaria and Carlos,
They understood none of this, just frightened, silent,
Roberto and Edgardo, they’d seen it all before.
It was a short ride to the Center
Carlos watched through hazy eyes as they asked Mama some questions
She was crying now, as they told her, they’d be sending her back
With little Carlos, in just a few days, putting them on a bus.
But nothing compared to the screams when they led Carlos away,
He called to her, “Mama! Mama!”
“No! No! Mi hijo!” she cried,
Her poor heart broke at that moment! And then
He was gone! How could they do such a thing? In America?
A big room, with fences so many kids like him, bored, listless
Carlos saw; they unlocked a gate, pushed him in, locked it behind.
There were other boys there in the pen, young ones and big ones too.
“Who are you?” one asked brusquely, and Carlos thought,
This is America, so he answered slowly, “My name is Carlos.”
Trying to remember what they’d taught him on the train,
“I like…to be…fútbol,” he added, and smiled, trying to be friendly,
Even though he was so, so scared, shivering, from both
Fear and fever.
He likes to be fútbol,
One of the big ones chortled, and they all laughed at him,
Carlos laughed too, hoping they liked him, he pointed
To his Reynaldo t-shirt, so filthy now. They grabbed his backpack,
Holding the ruined ball his father gave him, “No, no,”
Carlos protested. “Why do you carry this shit?” the biggest one asked.
“Can’t play with this!” Then another of them
Kicked him, and another, in the chest and in the head,
Like a fútbol, one after another, again and again,
Until he threw up, all over the floor. They left him alone after that.
Somebody called for a guard, or a nurse, or someone
He didn’t get up. It hurt to breathe.
He closed his eyes, he could hear them, sounded like they were fighting.
Then a bright light, so very bright, it warmed him, soothed him,
Before him stood Papa, all better now, clean, no blood, smiling,
Beckoning to his little boy, and Carlos rose,
And followed the light.