“You came here and took the jobs our fathers built for us.”
We exploit our talents in the fertile fields, in the
shadows of portable toilets, in asparagus rows retching,
wrapping ripped rags around numb fingers for
a nightshift at the Blue Smoke Slaughterhouse.
“You came here and took the money our mothers earned for us.”
We save what we can—for the future
we promise each other, as our broken bodies
forge temporary shelters against doubt
and disappointment—and send the rest back
to the remaining.
“You came here and took the power our politicians wielded for us.”
We march for dignity, for Corky and Chavez. We stand
in solidarity, in the rain. Like those before us, like Tammany,
we learnt to organize, to assemble, to smile
through the beatings with grace.
“You came here and took the way of life our priests designed for us.”
We huddle in the kickoff din after mass with Merriam-Webster
on the kitchen table. Every Sunday a new word: Grateful. Gritty. Ravenous.
The movement always forward, upward tilting, pulled toward
our own divine crapshoot.
“Why did you come here and take the dreams our gods shaped for us?”
What else can we feed our children?
Inside the Wall
Sometimes I like to hide inside a wall
where people can’t see me
watching them walking home
to their cold-water tenement apartments
below some old street, maybe Henry,
on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Alone in the dirty afternoon light
I play with both lares and penates,
drowning in the caryatid’s stained chiton.
For a while I feel safe here.
Like sleeping on an airplane fixed in mid-flight,
nothing unplanned occurs notwithstanding
wake turbulence and emergency landings.
Or singing off-key on a tide-flattened beach
long before the sun arrives with her dog-loving
companions in tow.
Poised inside my anechoic dream chamber
the final demands are snuffed out.
Time stops and I am free.
The big idleness is no cause for concern.
No one here is waiting for me, evoking
dependencies, requesting solace.
It’s just me.
The fortune of our neighborhood soccer team,
on the east side of a Swedish harbor city,
was often connected to the latest coup d’état,
civil war or state-sponsored massacre.
Take Argentina’s Operation Condor in the late 1970s.
More than 30,000 souls vanished but the survivors
brought tango to our frigid pitch where the rules say
run first, pass second and never ever dribble.
How we marveled at figures faking cunitas—seducing
with swaying hips in sky blue Adidas—a tentative
cruce adelante before whirling away in media luna.
What speed! What control!
In support, Nicaragua’s ousted bourgeois
marshalled the midfield with footwork
honed at leisure in marbled academies.
What games! What summers!
But with assimilation comes resettlement
to more affluent areas and better paying jobs.
They packed up their feudal cockiness
and left us with new arrivals from Iran.
“We don’t play soccer. We swim.”
What? Who swims?
This is worse than the kid from Iceland
who couldn’t play ice hockey.
But at home on silk draped leather sofas
unfit for public housing their beautiful mothers
cried as violent protests shook the evening news.
“Those used to be our limousines.”
We didn’t fare much better when a third coup
chased free-thinkers and fascists from Turkey.
Bulent Eren never heard his name pronounced correctly.
Not even when they pulled him out of class
to say his dad was dead: Hanged himself from a ladder
while the police arrested his drug-trafficking associates.
He left a note, saying he was happy
to avoid the prison torture.
Soon the tragic ghost of Atlacatl turned the tide,
siccing his death squad on a young biology professor,
whose oscillating anger
scared rebels and oligarchs alike.
“Outside San Salvador,” she stares at the glass
of cheap Spanish wine her new friends bought
in clever solidarity, “the government sometimes
kills eight, nine, ten people a day.”
When the memories of El Mozote reached a crescendo,
her two sons would go running in the endless summer
night light. They run and run and run until one day
she pulls them out of a game, “We’re going home.”
There were others, for sure: Poles and Singhalese.
Peruvians and white Africans from Zimbabwe.
A Bangladeshi left-winger who kept scoring
headers with a turban.
But it’s too late. The magic’s gone.
Our boyish devotion to a simple game
now replaced with mundane dread,
disconnecting us from the world we once knew.