Gettysburg National Military Park
Motorcycles and white tour vans speed
between behemoth granite shafts, shove
my body by their force, leave me roadside
and wandering fields. Little is funny
when you’re Chicana and walking
a Civil War site not meant for walking.
Regardless, I ask park rangers and guides
for stories on Mexicans soldiers,
receive shrugs. No evidence in statues
or statistics. In the cemetery, not one
Spanish name. I’m alone in the wine shop.
It’s the same in the post office, the market,
the antique shop with KKK books on display.
In the peach orchard, I prepare a séance,
sit cross-legged in grass, and hold
a smoky quartz to the setting sun.
I invite the unseen to speak. So many dead,
it’s said Confederates were left to rot.
In war, not all bodies are returned home
nor graves marked. I Google “Mexicans
in the Civil War” and uncover layers
to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
and Cinco de Mayo. This is how I meet
ancestors for the first time, heroes
this country decorates in clownish sombreros
and fake mustaches, dishonors for fighting
European empire on shared American land
Power & Money dictate can’t be shared.
Years before this, carrying water gallons
up an Arizona mountain ridge to replenish
supplies in a pass known as “Dead Man’s,”
I wrote messages on bottles to the living,
scanned Sonoran canyons for the lost,
and knew too many would not be found.
A black Sharpie Virgen drawn on hot plastic
became a prayer: may the next officer halt
before cracking her face beneath his boot,
spilling life on to dirt. No, nothing’s funny
when you’re brown in a country you’re taught
isn’t yours, your dead don’t count.
Copyright © 2020 by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.
“A first draft of this poem was written while at Gettysburg National Military Park as the ‘Poet in the Park’ resident in partnership with National Parks Arts Foundation and the Poetry Foundation from September 15, 2017-October 7, 2017. Still early in the Trump Administration, NFL protests and the Las Vegas mass shooting were major news stories during my stay, as well as the ongoing debates over Civil War monuments, reignited by the Charlottesville protests and the murder of Heather D. Heyer on August 12, 2017 by a white supremacist. Tragically, Black, Indigenous, Brown, Immigrant, Trans, and queer bodies continue to be targeted and killed by the current administration, but this poem believes another existence is possible.”