To Abuelita Neli
This is my 14th time pressing roses in fake passports
for each year I haven’t climbed marañón trees. I’m sorry
I’ve lied about where I was born. Today, this country
chose its first black president. Maybe he changes things.
I’ve told Mom I don’t want to have to choose to get married.
You understand. Abuelita, I can’t go back and return.
There’s no path to papers. I’ve got nothing left but dreams
Where I’m: the parakeet nest on the flor de fuego,
the paper boats we made when streets flooded,
or toys I buried by the foxtail ferns. ¿Do you know
the ferns I mean? The ones we planted the first birthday
without my parents. I’ll never be a citizen. I’ll never
scrub clothes with pumice stones over the big cement tub
under the almond trees. Last time you called, you said
my old friends think that now I’m from some town
between this bay and our estero. And that I’m a coconut:
brown on the outside, white inside. Abuelita, please
forgive me, but tell them they don’t know shit.
from The Book I Made with a Counselor
My First Week of School
His grandma made the best pupusas, the counselor wrote next to
(I’d colored her puffy hair black with a pen).
Earlier, Dad in his truck: “always look gringos in the eyes.”
Mom: “never tell them everything, but smile, always smile.”
A handful of times I’ve opened the book to see running past cacti
from helicopters, running inside detention cells.
Next to what might be yucca plants or a dried creek:
Javier saw a dead coyote animal, which stank and had flies over it.
I keep this book in an old shoebox underneath the bed. She asked in Spanish,
I just smiled, didn’t tell her, no animal, I knew that man.
Second Attempt Crossing
In the middle of that desert that didn’t look like sand
and sand only,
in the middle of those acacias, whiptails, and coyotes, someone yelled
“¡La Migra!” and everyone ran.
In that dried creek where forty of us slept, we turned to each other,
And you flew from my side in the dirt.
Black-throated sparrows and dawn
Hitting the tops of mesquites.
Against the herd of legs,
You sprinted back towards me,
I jumped on your shoulders,
And we ran from the white trucks, then their guns.
I said, “freeze Chino, ¡pará por favor!”
So I wouldn’t touch their legs that kicked you,
you pushed me under your chest,
and I’ve never thanked you
the only name I know to call you by—
farewell your tattooed chest: the M,
the S, the 13. Farewell
the phone number you gave me
when you went east to Virginia,
and I went west to San Francisco.
You called twice a month,
then your cousin said the gang you ran from
in San Salvador
found you in Alexandria. Farewell
your brown arms that shielded me then,
that shield me now, from La Migra.
About the Author
Javier Zamora was born in La Herradura, El Salvador in 1990. His father fled El Salvador when he was a year old; and his mother when he was about to turn five. Both parents’ migrations were caused by the US-funded Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992).
In 1999, Javier migrated through Guatemala, Mexico, and eventually the Sonoran Desert. After a coyote abandoned his group in Oaxaca, Javier managed to make it to Arizona with the aid of other migrants. His first full-length collection, Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, September 2017), explores how immigration and the civil war have impacted his family.
Zamora was a 2018-2019 Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University and holds fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University (Olive B. O’Connor), MacDowell, Macondo, the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation (Ruth Lilly), Stanford University (Stegner), and Yaddo. The recipient of a 2017 Lannan Literary Fellowship, the 2017 Narrative Prize, and the 2016 Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award for his work in the Undocupoets Campaign.
Javier lives in Harlem, NY, where he’s working on a memoir and his second collection of poems, which address the current “immigration crisis.”