Recorded for Poem-a-Day, March 20, 2017.
About this Poem 

“With this poem I weave the stories I have heard on the road as U.S. Poet Laureate and the stories I have heard travelling as a poet since 1970, as well as those of my own family. It is important to awaken to the realities of human beings that undergo heroic and tragic journeys from Mexico and the Américas en route to El Norte as migrant workers in the face of deportation. They follow family trails established even before the ‘border’ was installed in the early 20th Century.”
—Juan Felipe Herrera

María de la Luz Knows How to Walk

she ambles toward El Norte she remembers as she steps
wasps & spiders webbed in between the corn in Fowler
her mamá Concha’s story the fire she fanned to clear
the path through the thick burned stalks all this
she almost-touches the blueberries in Skagit Washington
& the line of men wrapped as cocoons and dark as amber
flecked honey at the line the only store in Firebaugh where
you can cash your check shirts twisted & whispered & upright
down in Illinois in Cobden you go through the back door
of Darden's bar to buy drinks for the foreman El Cuadrado
María’s coming home after returning to Atizapán de Zaragoza
where she works at la Tortillería next to la Señora Muñóz
it is an abyss smoked & metal flat and deep with nixtamal
“Good pay in South Georgia” she says “I’ll work the
cucumbers” feet in water skin see-through peels & peels
off & off then on Saturday bussed to Walmart bussed back
to camp season after season the crossing higher alone
or with groups of three the coyote says “I am leaving you
here at the bottom of this mountain you Indians know how
to climb” she remembers Guadalupe Ríos say from the edge
of Santa María Corte in Nayarít “Nosotros los Peyoteros
sabemos caminar We know how to walk” María de la Luz
with an address in her net-bag her son who was taken many
years ago 1346 D St. San Diego will she recognize Juan
is the street still there who is he now who am I now who
will he remember you this ancient trail of grandmothers &
deportadas “I know how to walk” María de la Luz prays
as she ascends the black mountain as she moves her body
tiny as she listens to the sudden rush of things fall among
thorns & hisses María de la Luz notices a band of light

Copyright © 2017 Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

 

Copyright © 2017 Juan Felipe Herrera. Used with permission of the author. Published in Poem-a-Day on March 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

 
Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera is the Poet Laureate of the United States. He served on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets from 2011 to 2016.

by this poet

poem
There are baby thoughts 

in the shape of seaweed & pirate knives

they float over strips of shores &

curl into a rainy parasol where

a laboring red papaya truck awaits

& there are the thoughts of Staff Sergeant

Melanie Lippman—she's back

from Afghanistan & cheers as a 

rhomboid ball burns
poem
For Albert Goldbarth & Margarita Robles


Are you going to steal lines collect
manual typewriters 8 miles high the serotonin Albert
Goldbarth mentions the sugary night the howling
speeding most of all are you going to hobble here—
poem

Jackrabbits, green onions & witches stew

Three dollars & upside down lemons & you

Dinky planet on a skateboard of dynamite

Oh, what to do, chile peppers, Mrs. Oops

Dr. What, Mr. Space Station unscrewed

The Redbook of Ants says you better run

No sireee, LOL,