Friday, August 12, 2016

Poem by an Old Friend on the Migrants Who Die in the Sonoran Desert

My friend Dorothy Chao, whom I first knew in Berea, Kentucky, now lives near Tucson, Arizona with her husband Gene. She and some of her friends try to care for the migrants from Mexico, Central America, and South America who risk everything trying to cross the Sonoran Desert. Sometimes they go out into the desert to pray at the graves of the ones who didn't make it. Some of the names of the migrants who die are unknown, "Desconcocida." Here is Dorothy's poem:

                  By Dorothy Chao
In the dark
I lie on my mat in the desert—
Beautiful, savage desert.

Blowing wind, rustling mesquite—
What woke me?
Moving in the scrub near our camp
Flashes of light and a night bird cry.

Found in the desert today
Were  you a daughter, sister, mother, wife?
Did you think of your family when you died?

Did you think of your home
In Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru?
Did you see the flowers, the stars
That I did?

Or did the burning thirst,
The heat of the day
The chill of the night
Call forth the savage side of the desert only?

Did the Border Patrol come with the helicopter
Bouncing and buzzing above you like an angry bee,
And scatter your group on the rocky ground below
Like leaves before the dry desert wind?

Were you pulled along through the cactus by another
Till you could go no further
Then sacrificed—
Left behind for the survival of the group?
Did you grieve the separation from the others
Regret words spoken, unspoken,
Did you wish for the physical closeness of another human
As you died?

Did you see the town lights from your hiding place
Here in a desert wash?
Did your terror keep you still
Even as dehydration and exposure did their work?

Restless spirit,
Victim of global forces beyond your control,
Forgive my complicity!
Come sit with me thru the dark of this night.
Baptize me with your spirit,
Help me to carry your voice forward,
Speak through me
So that neither of our lives will be in vain!

Dorothy's poem and the work of "Pilgrimage of Remembrance" (click here for their blog) remind me of the song "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)," written by Woody Guthrie back in 1948. That song was written partly because the newspapers didn't name the victims--they were all anonymous, unnamed--just deportees. Here's Woody's son Arlo singing that song some 50 years after the "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos":

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