Dilemmas of the Angels: Mojada by David Romtvedt

She’s reading.  Not that she hauled a book

to this spot west of Nogales where she waits

to cross the border into Arizona.  It was on the chair

where the pollero left her.  Pollero—chicken keeper.

When she was a child, they called the men who took

the poor across coyotes.  That rang of romance.

Not this—a chicken in the jaws of a coyote, a chicken

in a cage, a chicken in a stew.  She drops the book

to the floor and closes her eyes—her father paralyzed

by a stroke and her mother caring for him.


She fingers the stub of her first ticket—not valid

for passage, just a receipt, and not to Tijuana—

it’s too dangerous—nor to Juarez—that’s worse.

Maybe here where the hills roll to the north

and at the fence keep rolling, the grasses

waving in the wind—goodbye, hello.


The night and the book are equally long

and maybe that is a kind of luck.  The moon

crosses the sky without a sound, going down

midway between dusk and dawn.  The pollero

arrives with wigs, false eyelashes, stockings,

pants, and shirts.  “Soy Virgilio.”  He says.

“Stuff your wings into your coat.  ¡Apúrate!.”

He hands her a Phoenix to Nogales and return

bus ticket with the first half used as if she had

gone for a weekend to walk among the stalls—

the pint bottles of vanilla and cheap guitars,

the straw hats with Mexico Alegre on the crown.

He also gives her an Arizona driver’s license

with her picture and name—Beatriz de la Garza.

A heron flies down a river course, folding its wings

to land in the shallows and wait on stick legs for a fish.


She holds the book up and opens her mouth.

“Yes,” the pollero says, “I know, I take names

where I find them.  Last week it was Doroteo and Paco—

Dorothy and Frank en inglés—from The Wizard of Oz.

I take you across.  Once you’re in Phoenix,

you’re on your own.  Leave the book.”


At the fence under the glare of night-spotting lights,

she is surrounded by dogs, helicopters, border patrols,

saguaro cactus, hunger, thirst, and now, as she waits

to enter the traffic in undocumented souls, fear.


The dust rises and the night grows hotter.  If only

she could stay home and read to her father, kiss

her mother, and go to bed where she’d turn out

the light and, again, let the book drop to the floor,

and it would mean nothing more than that.

Categories: Issue 2 - Spring 2012, Periodicals, Poetry | Tags: | Leave a comment

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