it was clear they were hungry
with their carts empty the clothes inside their empty hands

they were hungry because their hands
were empty their hands in trashcans

the trashcans on the street
the asphalt street on the red dirt the dirt taxpayers pay for

up to that invisible line visible thick white paint
visible booths visible with the fence starting from the booths

booth road booth road booth road office building then the fence
fence fence fence

it started from a corner with an iron pole
always an iron pole at the beginning

those men those women could walk between booths
say hi to white or brown officers no problem

the problem I think were carts belts jackets
we didn’t have any

or maybe not the problem
our skin sunburned all of us spoke Spanish

we didn’t know how they had ended up that way
on that side

we didn’t know how we had ended up here
we didn’t know but we understood why they walk

the opposite direction to buy food on this side
this side we all know is hunger


From Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Javier Zamora. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem
“In this poem, I tried to convey a personal image that I've yet to fully understand: watching homeless U.S. citizens cross into Mexico to buy cheaper food. The setting is the Nogales, Arizona, port of entry. The year is 1999. The speaker is a nine year old looking over to the United States from the Mexican side of the ‘line.’ I hope to convey the limits of the nation-state, how the idea of citizenship is as blurred as the physical border itself.”
—Javier Zamora