Published on Academy of American Poets (

Pledge Allegiance

I tap-tap-tap the window, while my mother smiles and mouths,
Tranquila. I tap-tap the glass, my mother a fish I’m trying to summon.

I tap until a border agent says: Stop. Until a border agent
shows me the gun on her belt. My childhood was caught

on video border agents deleted every three months.
I thought myself a movie star blowing kisses at the children

selling chiclets on the bridge. My cruelty from the backseat window
caught on video—proof I am an American. The drug sniffing

dogs snap their teeth at my mother detained for her thick accent,
a warp in her green card. My mother who mouths, Tranquila.

My mother’s fingers dark towers on a screen for the Bioten scan.
Isn’t it fun? says the border agent. The state takes a picture

of my mother’s left ear. Isn’t it fun? I tap-tap-tap the glass
and imagine it shatters into shiny marbles. A marble like the one

I have in my pocket, the one I squeeze so hard I hope to reach
its blue swirls. Blue swirls I wish were water I could bring to my mother

in a glass to be near her. Friends, Americans, countrymen lend me your ears!
But only the border agent replies, Do you know the pledge of allegiance?

She points to a flag pinned on a wall. I do, so I stand and pledge to the country
that says it loves me so much, it loves me so much it wants to take

my mother far away from me. Far away, to the place they keep
all the other mothers to sleep on rubber mats and drink from rubber hoses.

Don’t worry, says the border agent, we will take good care of your mommy.
My mother mouths, Tranquila. Her teeth, two rows of gold I could pawn

for something shiny, something shiny like the border agent’s gun.
Friends, Americans, countrymen lend me your ears, so I can hear

my mother through bulletproof glass, so I can hear her over the roar
of American cars crossing this dead river by the wave of an agent’s pale hand.


Copyright © 2020 by Natalie Scenters-Zapico. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 1, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“I grew up in El Paso-Cd. Juárez post 9/11 when the U.S.-Mexico border became a place of heightened security and scrutiny. Suddenly, we needed passports to cross into what was essentially just another part of our city. The violence of border security became completely normalized over-night under the guise of ‘protection from foreign terrorists.’ My mother was and is regularly stopped by border patrol, though she has the luxury of an American green card she obtained through marriage. I grew up waiting for her in the car and in lobbies, always afraid that despite her legal status, something would go wrong and they would take her from me. In Texas they say, ‘El Paso ain't Texas, it's Mexico’ and that's why the state had permission to treat our mothers this way. Now all of the United States has become El Paso, and they are taking more than just our mothers away from us.”
Natalie Scenters-Zapico


Natalie Scenters-Zapico

Natalie Scenters-Zapico is the author of Lima::Limón (Copper Canyon Press, 2019), and The Verging Cities (Center for Literary Publishing, 2015).

Date Published: 2020-10-01

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