Excerpt from "Defacing the Monument"

The words “economic,” “family,” and “asylum” remain unspoken as I sit in the back of the courtroom scribbling on a legal pad, trying to structure a context and trace my relation to the seven men who stand before the judge shackled at the wrists, waists, and ankles.

Reader, can you improvise your relation to the phrase “illegal entry,” to the large seal of US District Court, District of Arizona, that hangs above the judge, eagle suspended with talons and arrows pointing?

Perhaps your relation stretches like a wall, bends like footprints towards a road, perhaps your relation spindles and barbs, chollas or ocotillos, twists like a razor wire on top of a fence.

Perhaps you do not improvise, perhaps you shackle, you type, you translate, you prosecute, you daily wage, your mouth goes dry when you speak—paper, palimpsests of silence, palimpsests of complicity and connection never made evident on the page.

Write down everything you need. How long is the list?
Sleep with it beneath your head, eat it, wear it.
Can you use it to make a little shade from an unrelenting gaze?

Speak into the court record the amount of profit extracted from such men as those before the judge shackled at the wrists, waists, and ankles not limited to the amount of profit that will be extracted from such bodies through the payments that will be made per prisoner per day to the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, but also inclusive of all the profits generated by trade agreements that makes labor in the so-called developing countries so cheap.

Best of luck to you, the judge says.

Que le vaya bien, the lawyers say as the men begin their slow procession out of the courtroom in chains.

And in that moment, from the back of the courtroom, we can decide to accept or forget what we have seen, to bear it, or to change it

because we love it, we want it, we don’t care enough to stop it, we hate it,

we can’t imagine how to stop it, we can’t imagine it, we can’t imagine.

October 14—The Dow Closes Up 10015

I bleed a little, peyote tea waits in the refrigerator,
a Ferris Wheel rolls and rolls over the highway
after the miscarriage, we search 
for rings with missing stones, unmatched earrings
sell our gold, ride the Ferris Wheel bigger than Paris,
my parents pray for us, I play Dylan's "Spanish Boots"
over and over, the sunroof fills with stars 
like watching a film of strangers I recognize
but don't really know
Schuyler says you can't get at sunset naming colors
between the liars trees and shopping carts
we buy a house, cry in bed, leave 
the child unnamed
pink lemon pearly blue white

Off Lows, Weakness Remains: Meditation #3

In the PartyStore/PierOne/Target/Kohls parking lot
find a desert willow among the shopping carts,

walk around it sunwise repeating:

        I am the avant-garde, I am the avant-garde, I am the avant-garde

repeating:

        DIY, DIY, DIY

Imagine a chart of median family incomes as big as the parking lot—
use it to determine where to abandon your car.

        I default, I default, I default

Your mind is a blood blister rising on your thumb, a ladybug.
Among these shopping carts, you fortress. Among plastic bags you affirm:

Lo! the light from desert trees does not speak in numbers, costs us nothing.
Here, as in a butterfly garden, everyone crawls before flight.

13 Questions for the Next Economy

On the side of the road, white cardboard in the shape of a man,
     	     illegible script. A signpost with scrawl: Will pay cash for 
              diabetes strips.
 
A system under the system with its black box.                    	Disability hearing?
a billboard reads. Trouble with Social Security? Where does the riot begin?
 
Spark of dry grass, Russian thistle in flames, or butterflies bobbing
as if pulled by unseen strings            	  through the alleyway.
        	
My mother’s riot would have been peace. A bicycle wheel
              chained to a concrete planter. What metaphor
 
              can I use to describe the children sleeping in cages in 
                  detention
centers? Birds pushed fenceward by a breeze? A train of brake lights
 
extending? Mesquite pods mill under our feet
on a rainless sidewalk. What revolution            will my daughter feed?
 
A break-the-state twig-quick snap or a long divining       	    as if
for water? A cotton silence? A death?          	      Who will read this
 
in the next economy, the one that comes after the one that kills us?
What lessons will we take from the side of the road? A wooden crucifix,
 
a white bicycle, a pinwheel, a poem
waiting to be redacted:                         Which would you cross out?

Related Poems

Immigrant Blues

People have been trying to kill me since I was born,
a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue.

It's the same old story from the previous century
about my father and me.

The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son.

It's called "Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation."

It's called "Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons,"

called "The Child Who'd Rather Play than Study."

Practice until you feel
the language inside you, says the man.

But what does he know about inside and outside,
my father who was spared nothing
in spite of the languages he used?

And me, confused about the flesh and soul,
who asked once into a telephone,
Am I inside you?

You're always inside me, a woman answered,
at peace with the body's finitude,
at peace with the soul's disregard
of space and time.

Am I inside you? I asked once
lying between her legs, confused
about the body and the heart.

If you don't believe you're inside me, you're not,
she answered, at peace with the body's greed,
at peace with the heart's bewilderment.

It's an ancient story from yesterday evening

called "Patterns of Love in Peoples of Diaspora,"

called "Loss of the Homeplace
and the Defilement of the Beloved,"

called "I Want to Sing but I Don’t Know Any Songs."

mami's days

She sews to sew sleeves all day,
adding arms to shirts,
& leaves in the morning
before the first chocolate melts, returns
with stretched arms that hang
as if they’ve been pulled by their joints,
& even when it seems that the rest
of her body will not catch up to her will,
she still sews to sew so that
in the end we can join papi in the u.s.
& be whole again.

Along the Border

after Idra Novey

On a dirt road

On a drive to el campo

You found a batey

I cut the cane 

We sucked on a stalk

You gave me your arms 

I swam in the river

We locked the door 

Then the lights went out 

And the radio played 

You fingered the pesos 

I walked to the beach

We fried the fish 

You ate the mango  

I jumped in the water

We bought the flowers

Then the migrants came

And you bartered for more 

Then the sirens blared

And they were carried away

But we didn’t stop them 

Then the ocean swept

And the palm trees sagged

They were foreigners

We were foreigners  

And we lived there