iMonday: Literary Edition
Immigration Monday, Sep. 24, 2007.

I just completed the intro for Peter Orner and Dave Eggers’ awesome immigration book. The usual idiots will hate us and threaten us. But when the book comes out, you must read it. Ignore my part—it’s just an addendum. I hope it is a revolutionary experience—the real stories of the real people in their own words. Immigration, after all, is people.

How pervasive is this subject matter? I mentioned elsewhere on this blog that the editions of DEVIL’S HIGHWAY have somehow reversed the usual publishing trend. They are selling more copies every year, not fewer copies. I told Peter Orner I feel like a Lakota Heyoka, doing things backwards.

I would say this: when literary and poetry journals start doing immigration special issues, then you will know that it has become a national obsession. Doh! Wait! THE VIRGINIA QUARTERLY REVIEW did an immigration issue!

And you ought to get it! It’s one of the best immigration volumes I’ve seen in a long time. Not to mention the fact that my name’s on the cover! Yes, they have good taste!

VQR, Spring 2007.

Git it, bubba and mee-maw. I think it’s informative, smart, and physically beautiful. I think you’ll be happy you got it.

Well, I’m out of here. I’m going on the immigrant writer’s trail, going on the seasonal field-hand’s circuit to speak to you all on Perpetual Book Tour, Iteration #107. Last night, a man in the audience accused me of taking monetary bribes from the US Border Patrol to say positive things about them. I have to laugh, though now I’ve been suspected of treason by both Anglos and Chicanos. Oh-oh.

I am going to move to St. Thomas and groove out to soca music. I am a man without a country. I fly the flag of poetry. I fly the flag of my own family. I fly the flag of my peculiar and book-loving God. I fly my own little black flag: Jolly Roger grinning above crossed pens.

Freedom or death, the bumper sticker says.

So I’ll see you in Carbondale and Wall Walla, Dallas and Santa Fe, Austin and…uh, wherever else I’m going. I wake up and look at the itinerary and say, “Oh yeah! I’m in Idaho today!”

I leave you with a foolish thought. But, you know, you must dare to be foolish or you’ll never get your black belt. Only fools find grace or zen. It’s a fool’s wisdom I accept. So: force has not worked on the border. Violence has not worked. Fences and machines do not work. Sanctions don’t work. Laws don’t work. Politics don’t work. I hate to say it, but religion has so far failed to work. All the hate and fear have failed. So what’s left? I’ll tell you what’s left. Art is left. And love.

Love, on the border? What a crock! What self-respecting man would try to spread love on the border!

Oh yeah—that reminds me. Men don’t work, either. All the gallons of testosterone spilled all over the border have done little more than generate ammo sales and probably genetically alter female mammals until they grow testes.

It’s time for women to take over the border. That’s our only hope.

I told you I was a traitor.

Go, sisters.


I leave you for a while with my entry from the VQR. I waited to post it here so they could sell copies and I wouldn’t cut into their sales. But here ‘tis. A little art for the border. A little…love.



So, the jury says, once upon a time you fed the poor.

You couldn’t see the ground for the wreckage.
If the women had dysentery behind their sheds,
the earth turned green and red and yellow
and you couldn’t tell what was food and what
was shit and all your Jim Morrison songs
were without avail. No prayers in your head
took the smell. The only relief was the smoke.
Tijuana’s dead dogs, flat cats, starvation cows,
and highway horses split open by retired
Illinois Macks hauling a load of American chairs
into Baja were drenched in a rain of diesel, fired
up with torches: their ribs made smoking cages
to catch your vision, charred hearts
sacrificed to carrion crows.

You couldn’t see home on burning days,
the veils of flesh-fired fog cut the sky in half.
You took them clothes on their burning hills,
took them water in white jugs, took
frozen doughnuts and cans of donated corn.
You went in the name of whatever God you’d cobbled
together from your nightmares and your hopes.
Head lice fell
by the thousands.

This was the dream.

Late, from Mexico, you’d rise
to the neon lightning of America, you’d rise
stinking of dogs and filthy women’s armpits, rise
covered in the sweat of men who kill themselves
mining for garbage in coats made of plastic bags.
Bloodmud was caked on your running shoes.
Too tired to run. Undone by days
talking to people
with no teeth.

Home, your sweet rock-and-roll boys, so pretty
with their Bowie hair and their painted girlfriends
all your best friends so dangerous with their Marlboros,
doing their all-night hang at the doughnut shop
(you peeled a sheet of skin off the back
of a child boiled by overturned cooking pots
of lard)
after their gigs at the strip clubs and bowling alleys.
Coffee and bear claws.

What were you supposed to tell them?
Was Elvis Costello cooler than Joe Jackson?
That you knew where the immigrants were born?
A Gibson SG smokes a Les Paul any day, man,
but a Les Paul is ten times better
than a Strat if you’re even going to think about
“Dazed and Confused.”
(People eating run-over alley dogs.)

Ian Dury and the Blockheads buttons
(she tried to abort her rape-baby with a wire)
on leather jackets.

You didn’t even try to sleep.

It was too quiet.

2:00 a.m.

3:00 a.m.

Televisions then signed off—showed bleached film
of American flags, static, or test patterns:
that Indian chief in the middle looking lost
like you. You had meant to learn to dance.

You, Emperor of Maggots.

That night you knew,
that night it hit you
you were walking
the abandoned miles of bedtime
Clairemont Drive: duplexes smelling of pot,
your high school already small as a fossil.
John Lennon shot in the head.
You’d been holding down a screaming girl
as a doctor peeled scabs off her face
as blood lipsticked her mouth.
Before you found out.

Walking. Clocking.
Quarter mile.
Half mile.
Ahead, almost black against the greater black,
that man. Facing you,
moving away.
You squinted, sped up: he backed away.
You had to catch up to him—it was all in that
crazy son of a bitch hurrying backward into midnight:
it was all there, in him, and when you got close,
started to say it, he spat at you,
backed away running.



No moon. No stars. Maybe a Camaro
with glasspaks raced a ’68 Mustang to the stoplight.
You had a notebook in your back pocket.
It was too dark to write
what you needed to say—

I have to get away from here.

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