Where we see Mama’s back

             At the border, the coyote forced Mama to run with the men,
as punishment for refusing to be raped with the other women.
             I do not know how to describe the way the sand
bit into the soles of her feet, inching further & further
             until it became her skin, her flesh. I do not
know how to describe the way each step felt like
             it was underwater when there was no
water, when sweat became dry beads of salt,
             of sand stumbling down her face
until they became her face. Mama,
             a sand woman, her throat
hissing like wind & snakes.
       Her thighs rubbed
together so hard they
       bled a dry red,
stones sharp as
cutting her
Then, came the hills.
In this poem,
        we will end
the story here, where
        Mama finally rests,
where her fallen hands are
        already buried wrist-deep
in the desert. In this poem, every
              -thing Mama carried finally
falls off her back—the eight hungry heads
             of her hermanos y hermanas roll down
the hills, the hungrier machetes of the soldiers’ stick 
            from the sand like needles of giant cacti, her torn
shirt exposing the pale brown ripple of her spine, finally uncurling.
             I want there to be a version of this story where she no longer
suffers, where for once another god performs the miracle, the atonement
            of blood & limb, where we no longer live with the guilt of her sacrifice.
In this poem, a man lifts Mama onto his shoulders & carries her the rest
             of the way. This man is the same man who stood up when
the coyote wanted to put Mama with the women & told him, no,
             she is my sister, we will not part.
When the coyote yells
for him to leave her behind to dissolve into the dust,
             this man carries her the way the sky carries the
moon, the light we see by in the dark, the only pure
            thing in the sky. This man is my father,
sitting by her hospital bed, massaging her back
             —No, in this poem, my father is in
the hospital bed, howling to the heavens
             as the doctor pulls me bloody
from his body, both our feet flailing 
      in dissent. This man is each of
her unborn children, closing her
       eyes, nursing her dry lips
with our bone & blood. This
       man is you right now,
reader, holding this page,
       carrying this unholy
burden for the shortest
       of moments so,
for once, you can
how quic-
kly you

*This poem first appeared in Revista Antagónica

Willy Palomo is the son of two immigrants from El Salvador. WAKE THE OTHERS, his debut collection of poetry, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in March 2020. In 2019, he co-founded La Piscucha Magazine, a bilingual Salvadoran literature and culture magazine published online by Editorial Kalina. In 2018, he graduated with an MA in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and an MFA in Poetry from Indiana University. In 2017, he received the City of Bloomington Latino Leadership Award, the MLK Building Bridges Graduate Student Award, and the Latino Faculty & Staff Graduate Student Award for his work serving undocumented communities in Indiana.

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