On a visit to my Amá’s, she drives us to the DMV.
She must renew her license every few months.
The asylum case has not yet been approved.
Not enough evidence that home is unsafe.
The line is long. The DMV is inside a mall.
In America, everything is for sale. Migrants
pay for safety. We pay people to believe
that what we tell them is true, especially
when we have spared them the hardest
facts to hold. Immigration, DMV, school,
and medical forms ask for our stories.
We pay for our stories too. We pay in smiles,
pretend laughs, head nods, empty stomachs,
panic attacks reserved for elevators,
migraines that will last four days but go
unnamed :: unuttered. After thirty-eight, or
forty minutes, we advance seven or so people
and the Carter’s window is visible from where
Amá and I stand. Overalls. My heart raises.
Eyes begin to shake. Mall lighting hurts
my eyes. I see five Carter’s logos and know
there is only one. I slam my back against the
glass windows. People look (and pretend they
don’t). I try to find my inhaler. It’s not in my
pockets. I close my eyes. I think about a boy.
Kissing a boy. I think about him more. I open
my eyes and look for my mother. Avoid looking
at the Carter’s again. The DMV does not
renew the license. Something about an error
or a glitch :: a document and migration :: (maybe)
a mother and a child. At five, I wore a pair of
overalls. Crossed a border in them too.

Related Poems

gathering words

                            para mami


One day I will write you a letter
after I have gathered enough words
I have heard
pop! pop! pop!
like little soap bubbles escaping
the animated mouths
of the women who share
pieces of gossip like bombones
in la lavandería every Sunday

One day I will write you a letter
after I have gathered enough words
that blossom without thorns
in painted mouths, in someone else’s countries…
In my corner, I listen to how voices ring
without the sting of bofetadas
and how they undulate above
gushing water and swirling clothes
in machines that vibrate in la lavandería

One day, I will write you a letter
after I have gathered enough words
and enough courage
to let them ring in my mute dreams
until they sing to me: Write us. Así.
In your childhood tongue. Recóbranos. Recover us.
At that time, I will be able to return without fear
to la lavandería with my bags of clothes
and enough words and surrender myself to the bubbles.

recogiendo palabras

                        para mami

una carta te escribiré
después de que he recogido
bastantes palabras que he oído escapar
¡pum! ¡pum! ¡pum!
como burbujitas de jabón
que escapan de las bocas animadas
de las mujeres quienes reparten
bochinches como bombones
en la lavandería cada domingo

una carta de escribiré
después de que he recogido
bastantes palabras que florecen sin espinas
en bocas pintadas, en tierras ajenas…
en mi esquina oigo como las voces suenan
sin la quemada de bofetadas
y como ondean sobre chorros de agua
y ropa arremolinándose
en las máquinas que bailan en la lavandería

una carta te escribiré
después de que he recogido
bastantes palabras y bastante coraje
para dejarlas resonar en mis sueños mudos
hasta que me canten: escríbenos así
en la lengua de tu niñez recóbranos
y en ese momento podré regresar sin miedo
a la lavandería con mis bolsas de ropa
y palabras que bastarán y me entregaré a las burbujitas

Field Guide Ending in a Deportation

I confess to you my inadequacies. I want to tell you things I do not know about myself. I’ve made promises to people whom I will never see again. I’ve broken down in an airport bathroom stall in El Paso, TX when immigration denied my father’s application. It felt like a mathematical equation—everything on one side needed to equal everything on the other. It almost made sense to be that sad. I am not compelled to complicate this metaphor. I’m selling this for two dollars. Years ago, on my birthday, I came out to my friends. I thought about the possibility of painting their portraits. What a stupid idea. I’ve started to cover up certain words with Barbie stickers in my journal. It occurs to me, sitting in my car, at a Dollar General parking lot, in search of cheap balloons for a party which I do not care about, that I am allowed my own joy. I pick the brightest balloons, pay, drive home and dress for the party. I mouth the words happy birthday to you in a dark room lit by everyone’s phone cameras. Afterwards, I enter all of my emails from five years into a cloud engine and the most used word is ok. I confess that I have had a good life. I spend many nights obsessing over the placement of my furniture. I give you my boredom. I give you my obligation. I give you the night I danced and danced and danced at a child’s birthday party, drunk and by myself. I’ve been someone else’s shame. It’s true, at it’s core, amá was deported because she was hit by a car. For years to come, this will be the ending of a sad joke she likes to tell. I laugh each time she tells the joke to strangers. Something about how there is more metal than bone in her arm. Something about a magnet. She says I thought I had died and death meant repeating a name forever. She says el jardin encierra la boca de mis pasos. But this is a bad translation. It’s more like I felt like a star, I felt like somebody famous.

Nothing to Declare

There is no name for what rises in you 
as you enter the dim world of the taxi
and wheel through the night, escorted 
by smooth jazz and a battalion of street-
lights. At the airport, you heave the bags 
you have stuffed to the limits of carriage 
and check them in. You have no trouble 
knowing what to do with your empty 
hands. At security, the usual stripping.
You surrender your body to the scan, 
the searching sweep, as if what is dangerous 
is not what cannot be so easily detected.
You comply. At the gate, grateful to be 
early, you sit with your books, plug in 
devices that tether you to this place 
you’re meant to be leaving, that crowd 
out thoughts of arrival and its bittersweet
complications. Yuh going home or just visiting,
someone will ask, and you never know
how you will answer. You know the bones
of your mother’s brown arms will wind 
around you, her breath against your neck
will baptize you again in names you have 
no one to call you in the other place 
you belong to. You know the waiting
untended in you will surge toward her,
and you know something else will sink, 
sulk itself into a familiar, necessary sleep.
You know yourself now only as the ocean 
knows this island—always pulling away, 
always, always, returning.