April 30, 2018

Not one more refugee death, by Emmy Pérez

And just like that, my #NPM2018 celebrations end with a poem today by Emmy Pérez.

Not one more refugee death

by Emmy Pérez

A river killed a man I loved,
And I love that river still
—María Meléndez
Thousands of fish killed after Pemex
spill in el Río Salado and everyone
runs out to buy more bottled water.
Here, our river kills more crossers
than the sun, than the singular
heat of Arizona, than the ranchlands
near the Falfurrias checkpoint.
It's hard to imagine an endangered
river with that much water, especially
in summer and with the Falcon Reservoir
in drought, though it only takes inches
to drown. Sometimes, further
west, there's too little river
to paddle in Boquillas Canyon
where there are no steel-column walls
except the limestone canyon's drop
and where a puma might push-wade across,
or in El Paso, where double-fenced muros
sparkle and blind with bullfight ring lights,
the ring the concrete river mold, and above
a Juárez mountain urges
La Biblia es La VerdadLeela.

Today at the vigil, the native singer
said we are all connected
by water, la sangre de vida.
Today, our vigil signs proclaimed
McAllen is not Murrieta.
#iamborderless. Derechos
Humanos. Bienvenidos niños.
We stand with refugee children.
We are all human. Bienvenidos
a los Estados Unidos.
And the songs we sang
the copal that burned
and the rose petals spread
en los cuatro puntos were
for the children and women
and men. Songs
for the Guatemalan
boy with an Elvis belt buckle
and Angry Birds jeans with zippers
on back pockets who was found
shirtless in La Joya, one mile
from the river. The worn jeans
that helped identify his body
in the news more times
than a photo of him while alive.
(I never knew why the birds
are angry. My mother said
someone stole their eggs.)
The Tejas sun took a boy
I do not know, a young man
who wanted to reach Chicago,
his brother's number etched in
his belt, his mother's pleas not
to leave in white rosary beads
he carried. The sun in Tejas
stopped a boy the river held.
Detention centers filled, churches
offer showers and fresh clothes.
Water and a covered porch may
have waited at a stranger's house
or in a patrol truck had his body
not collapsed. Half of our bodies
are made of water, and we can't
sponge rivers through skin
and release them again
like rain clouds. Today
at the vigil the native singer
sang we are all connected
by water, la sangre de vida.

From With the River on Our Face. © 2016 by Emmy Pérez  | University of Arizona Press.
About the poet: Emmy Pérez is a Chicana poet and writer originally from Santa Ana, California. She has lived on the Texas-Mexico border, from El Paso to the Rio Grande Valley (where she currently lives), since the year 2000. A graduate of Columbia University (MFA) and the University of Southern California (BA), she is the author of the poetry collections With the River on Our Face (University of Arizona Press) and Solstice (Swan Scythe Press).  

Pérez is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in poetry. In previous years, she was a recipient of poetry fellowships from CantoMundo, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. She has also received the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation Award for her poetry and the James D. Phelan Award for her prose writing. Since 2008, she has been a member of the Macondo Writers' Workshop founded by Sandra Cisneros for socially engaged writers.

Over the years, she has served as a writing mentor and workshop facilitator at detention centers in New Mexico, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. She has also taught writing at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and El Paso Community College. In 2004-2005, she was a visiting assistant professor of creative writing at UTEP, and served as visiting director of the West Texas Writing Project 2005. In 2006, she began a tenure-track position in creative writing at the University of Texas-Pan American, a legacy institution for present-day University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), where she currently is an associate professor in the MFA and undergraduate creative writing programs. She is also an affiliate faculty member in Mexican American Studies. In 2008, she founded an annual event on campus “El Retorno: El Valle Celebra Nuestra Gloria" that she coordinates in honor of the late writer and scholar from the Valley, Gloria E. Anzaldúa. Over the years, she and her students, through service learning projects, have taught creative writing to youth and adults in Edinburg detention center facilities/programs and in community-based programs and schools. In 2012, she received a University of Texas Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, and in 2016, a University Faculty Excellence Award for Student Mentoring. In 2016-2017, she served as interim director for the Center for Mexican American Studies at UTRGV. She has been awarded faculty development leave for the 2017-2018 academic school year with the support of the NEA poetry fellowship she received to work on her next book project. 

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Not one more refugee death, by Emmy Pérez

And just like that, my #NPM2018 celebrations end with  a poem  today by Emmy Pérez. Not one more refugee death by Emmy Pérez A r...