Not Far from the Border: Poems

My Bilingual Journey

Not Far from the Border: Selected Poems

For audio recordings of the SONGS, click here.

For STORIES and REFLECTIONS, click here.

Along the Border

Train weaving along border memories of

  my lotería and checkerboard life;

frames of family portraits fashioned

  into a colorful quilt of sweet voices,

slight profiles, and happy, happy eyes

  shining through our thoughts of 

trepidation erected by border walls 

  setting us apart, away from each other

toward a reality that looms like a 

  head injury; a train wreck, no matter

where this train takes us the halt is 

  always erupt and deadening.

When we get off the train, when our

  feet finally tread on steady ground,

you don’t know which side of the tracks

  your heart lies.

Their Dreams

Like swooping cranes

  They came to the valley of tears;

A flying spearhead bursting through the summer sky,

  Ready to conquer the hearts and minds of humanity;

Children writing stories like pieces woven into

  A swirling tapestry of imagination and innocence,

One by one, each story brings back the dream. 

They are the dreams of those that love them;

   The voices of children imbued with hope and determination,

Opening new horizons and turning the insidious thirst for sadness

  Into a monument that was our past, 

Revealing the present and future in their hands and

In their hearts.    

Chameleon at the Border

Home

  Like a chameleon I carve my footprints from the 

Natural hue of the mud and sand pit spoils of my frontera,

  A border rich with countless of unheard stories.

I see like the border; I taste like the border;

  I feel like the border; the border is all 

Around me – but, mostly I see the border in their eyes, anchored

  On the sight of a new horizon; so desperate 

To leave that only the absence of memory lingers;

  I see the terror in their eyes each time 

They cross;

  Darkness swells inside their souls

At the thought of what lies beyond;

  There is no end:

I think like the border;

  The brown that I am deep inside and

The heart that I have;

  And the frontera that I call my home.  

For Every Bridge There’s a Wall (Our Birthright)

Pieces of earth puzzled into

mosaic revelations of gaps and stops;

the human stride hampered by

a matching duo of transnational

bridge and border wall; for every bridge

there’s a wall and still, the migration

continues like the ebb and flow

of relentless time and space, and

the rebirth and death of day and night.

Never stopping: like a lake that cradles

the spewing brew, or a river that collects

cascading water, or fresh sprouts of trees 

fusing with fossilized stumps. Humans’

undeterred spirits run their gamut like

water flowing, roots reaching, and rivers

morphing into oceans, deep, vast, and free.

Featherless flying beings we are, 

embracing the essence of our birthright.   

River Rain

The Río Bravo takes you across to safety 

  away from the clutches of jaws and jails;

The rio floats you across into the arms

  of the one that has loved you always;

The rio saves you from the monster

  that you dreamt about when you were five;

The rio haunts you in the darkest of

  moments and shatters your dreams;

The rio drives you mad

  until your spirit dies with you;

The rio turns you into a liar 

  and thief, a shell of what you used to be;

The rio baptizes you and leaves you 

   naked when you think you know its eternal secrets;

The rio pulls you under until

  your remains are deeply buried within;

Only the thick, mysterious fog can work its

  powerful magic, dragging, stirring

its ghostly spirits, and unveiling the corpses

  washed up on its shores;

The clouds, laden with sadness and anger,

  open, and let the rain burst into tears;

  Rain, rain, river rain. 

Warrior Planet

A planet for each one of us,

But a special one for you,

The warring prince, the heroic spirit,

The giver of laughter, of hope;

The one that commended presence

In the face of absence, in a vast emptiness;

A magician, for you knew no boundaries,

Where the stars meet, yours was

The brightest, the intense, the most

Enduring, and that’s how you fought. 

My brother earth has gone home, 

Fulfilling the promise of the father sun. 

Your life was my life,

A precious drop of water, of blood;

I stood on the doorway, watching your

Dancing spirit, finding refuge in the shadow

Of your stick horse, galloping to a neverland 

That found me up a tree, my castle, my dream. 

I could have watched you forever, you know. 

But that was not to be.

Our paths were different, our blood

Was destined for another place,

Yours was in a dark, mired corner, 

Where you died a thousand deaths,

And you came back on borrowed time,

For one more look, one more sigh, one more kiss. 

At last you found your monument,

A peaceful stream, a playful field

Of flowers, and in the end,

You valued giving more than giving itself,

You felt the depth of love deeper 

Than all the tears in the universe. 

And you took all of that forever,

A treasure to seek and long for,

A most precious gift you’ve ever given me,

My brother, my soul. 

Papá

Tears that emerge from my dreams

   are as deep as a well and as fiery as

The sun itself; you look at me in your coldness

   while I lay before you a story of loneliness,

One heart, one love and no one,

No one to give and to give back. 

Just an empty cradle,

And a mother and father that once held you 

Were gone, disappeared into a black hole,

Leaving you naked, in despair, drowned in the

Deepest tears, and fears, and agony of a life that 

Should have been right, not wrong. 

I can’t feel your pain, Papá,

Your falling curtains shut me off,

And I’m left with your soulful fears

   That burden you in the cloudiest nights,

That hurt you without telling you,

That silence you to a wailing, yelling mess. 

If you could talk to me from your cold and

   Bloody grave,

I would hear your anger forever gnawing at

   my heels,

I would feel all over again what I see in my dreams, 

A young girl crying to her father that 

She is the orphan and he, the ruler of her life. 

Children of El Porvenir

Bright as the color of blood,

  The clown’s frown was big and scary

The day I went to the circus with Grandpa;

  Blood streaming down my hand

I remember

   When a thorn pricked my finger –  

 Sweet – taste of life – stained my lips,

  Grandma – so quiet- watching me;

I remember 

 Blood on my foot, 

A piece of glass – between my toes –

  The pain, the pain so sharp, I want

To turn it off like a water faucet

  But I can’t.

Blood, so much blood –

  Like the pouring rain, one day — 

Gushing from an angry sky;

  Blood — on walls, doors, and windows, 

  Blood —  out of the refrigerator;

Too scared to see what’s inside –

  Like a horror movie too scary to watch;

My house is like a coffin –

  Bleeding, crying, hurting.  

Their dreams are not like yours

  Or mine –

Men killing men, knives cutting

  Into flesh, bullets flying;

Their Grandpa, their cousins, and brothers, sisters;

  All gone –  forever.

Yet their memories live on like dogged spirits – 

  Lost and cold from a nightmare that won’t go away. 

The Stick People painted 

   By the children of El Porvenir, 

Of death, guns, knives, 

   All –  So they can hang

Their drawings on chalkboards 

   For everyone to see. 

‘Cierren los ojos – no vamos a decir nada’

(‘Close your eyes – we’re not saying a word’)

My student sat unusually sullen and on edge in class;

the telltale signs told me that something was amiss.

History lessons are learned best in real-time but

hers was a virtual nightmare.

It’s how she feels after her life was spared.

It happened during a routine drive to the doctor’s,

just south of Matamoros.

Sitting in the backseat of a black SUV her mother suddenly

gasped, her heart jumped; she saw the gun shoved

through the slightly opened window on the driver’s side,

pointing at each of her family and friends:

four adults and seven children.

Her father and his compadre managed to stay calm.

After a quiet but unnerving exchange of words,

the man with the gun retracted his threat and

told them to be grateful that he had a good heart,

and let them go, but the roadblock prevented their

return to Brownsville. A thick air of fear and

panic hovered over them as they scurried in

search of a safe shelter to spend the night.

They waited for their escape after a night of sheer fright,

praying, until the gunshots finally stopped

at the break of dawn.

‘Cierren los ojos – close your eyes’ – my student’s mother

demanded as they raced passed a mile-long of debris that

she could only describe as a war zone.

She tried to obey her mother,

but her eyes wandered as images appeared –

many cars, even police cars – gutted, crashed into each other,

glass everywhere, dead bodies scattered throughout, and

two men loading up the corpses onto the bed of a

pick-up like sacks of potatoes, too many to count,

but maybe dozens, and the worst image that haunts her  –

dead policemen’s bodies hanging from trees!

At the U.S. border checkpoint, her father asked for silence,

‘No vamos a decir nada,’ ‘no one says anything’ –

out of fear, shock, even disbelief.

The Red Book

All of the photos are of  

  Very sad people, and corpses

Just lying there  – like the way they died.

  Some of the corpses are half gone,

Decomposed, leaving grotesque remnants

  Of something other than human.

I think of nothing.

Earlier in the morning I had eaten

  Pieces of fruit, watermelon, pineapple,

Grapes, sweet bread and coffee.

Later, I met some very nice people:

  Symbols of hospitality,

Expressions of gratitude,

  Conscience offerings,

Re-enactments of humanity 

  Portraying simple truths and love.

Back to nothing.

When something sharp invades your body,

  Your soul saves you from the onslaught

Of unbearable pain;

  You have to be patient; you have no choice,

It will be just a few seconds and then, 

  Your heart will finally let you go.

But, now there is something:

  I have a small box that holds just the right

Words that you said to me and the feelings

  That emerged – they seem to fit carefully

And perfectly into the box; and

  There, the 3-D photos of words, thoughts, 

Feelings; I will cherish as my very own,

  Until they disappear when I 

Think of the corpse of the young girl in the 

  Red book*, and the way she screamed

As she took her last breath.

(*The red book referenced here is Red Line by Charles Bowden. NY: Norton, 1989.)

¡Qué viva la paz!

“¡Qué viva la paz!” said the elderly street vendor

finger-stoking pieces of carbon ever so

gently for the perfect flame to warm the

huge tub of corns-on-the cob. At best a 

tentative respite on the day after 

this tourist safe-haven spot on the 

US-Mexico border was besieged by 

outlaws’ shoot-out, shutting down 

shops, sending hundreds to fend for 

themselves wherever they could find refuge.

Few remnants give clues to the 

actual facts; momentarily a white chalky

cross lies on the side of the street surrounded

by four unlit veladores next to a pool of dry blood.

A crew of city workers-like-robots 

shovel debris in the back of their pick-up; 

the broken pieces of lawn chairs, cement rocks,

and gravel left from the crash where the car chase ended; 

the cross and veladores removed like trash, everything,

except the blood that had seeped deep into the concrete;

Still resonating from the shock, the

street vendors spoke little of what they saw.

Terrified of flying bullets seeking human targets,

their thoughts controlled by sheer instinct;

the elderly corn vender quipped

in steadfast determination that upon hearing the

high powered rifles he ran home and didn’t 

return until the next day. Los rivales killing

each other, and two men dead was all anyone knew 

or thought they knew about what had happened.

The tourists left town, with them, the American dollar,

portending doom to a booming town, leaving 

a deafening silence, adding frailty to the wound. 

Crossing the bridge to Texas soil, the river underneath

wedges its powerful divide, but when 

fear strikes the heart, and death hovers, not

even the mighty Rio can pull us apart.

A Different World

Imagine a smile as big as the sky,

  Eyes dark, shimmering in the sunglow,

Just a glint of mischief in this boy,

 A tender age of 12,

Clever in his ways, full of laughter, making puns

  With friends nearby,

No other boy could match up

  To his love for life, home, and family. 

That was then. 

Today, his heart races to drown his grief,

  Churning oxygen barely clinging to every breath,

Knees almost giving out, weak, pale, deaf, blind, surreal.

  His eyes cannot believe the hell that has

Suddenly besieged his world;

  Terrified, confused, angry,

His hands holding his head as if 

  To keep it from exploding.

That can’t be.

The two people he loves so much,

  His father slouched over the steering wheel,

Covered with blood and bullet wounds,

  Clearly visible, dark holes, like the kind

He made with rocks on tin cans.

No, the body next to his father

  Can’t be brother, it can’t be,

He kind of looks like him, but he 

  Seems shriveled up,

Blood pouring out of his neck, onto his

  Favorite shirt he always wore when 

He was going out to meet a girl.

“¡Apa!” he screams.

No Picnic

Any other river like this 

one would invite the locals 

for a fun-filled picnic. 

Instead, the Rio looks muy bravo and 

desolate against the trappings of 

steel posts, wired fencing, and 

concrete military mesh. 

Pedestrians on the Mexican side of the 

bridge pour out into an open plaza, 

darting cars, waiting for city buses. 

Folk women utterly 

exhausted as they console their 

children, grab on to bundles 

of bulging plastic shopping bags, 

bearing  names of gringo 

stores from the American side of the bridge. 

When the border wall is erected

we won’t be able to see these 

retail gobblers but, who cares. 

As long as the money flows; 

globalism seeps through

impenetrable walls;

A preponderant fact for

the countless that dare to

cross into the land of promise and 

the purgatory of uncertainty; 

We hear stories that make your head spin

like the one of how pets

are treated with dignity 

unlike our brothers; and 

the earnings, no matter how long, 

how hard the work, barely enough to 

put bread on the table. 

At the Mexican side, a 

welcome-home flag awaits 

those who gambled wrong, 

big enough for the world to notice 

how it flies 

more boldly, bigger, and proudly than 

the American flag behind them.

Water (The River of Life in the Desert of Hell)

Water droplet on scorched tongue, 

  like a fragile twig almost dead, 

Too precious, too little, so wrong, 

  only a surreal existence lingers,

Fingers reaching for the empty 

  Plastic jug that feels like brittle 

bones aching feet useless appendages 

  that burden every slight stride

Now slow and heavy; 

  life pleading with merciless sunrays 

determined to kill;

  Caged in an inferno of hell, 

Let death be the victor, 

  Let death be the heaven that 

brings peace, peace, peace;

 And stops the agony.

Water for the thirsty, water for the dead.

My Mother’s House

Your house is only a glimmering reflection

Of the treasure lay buried deep in your heart. 

The photographs of loved ones scattered

   Throughout, now dusty, foggy and blurred,

Are the only thoughts worthy of opening your eyes;

But it doesn’t matter you can no longer see

Because your life, and mine with yours,

Are suspended in time, when laughter, joy and tears

were once the center of our shrine. 

I wish I could turn the hands of time and turn

this house again, to the one you knew so well,

That even when you suffered in despair,

You could still feel your blood run through our veins. 

And now, only our tears mark the time,

The clock knows so well that

With every turn you make toward your grave

So I turn with you;

Every word you can no longer speak

I speak for you; and with

Every love you leave behind 

Intensifies within me a raging fire. 

The love you have to teach me

Is worth more than this earth;

That the only thing living for is to live only once, 

But to love and love and love forever. 

Pure and Simple

Mama, your words are simple and pure

   The way the crystal spring water

Gurgles down its inevitable destination;

   I’ve heard them time and time again;

Even when they were silent. 

You were silent.

You hold the puzzle pieces in your hand,

trying desperately to place them where

they belong: the arches, the curves, the outline of

a passing bridge, towering trees and the walls:

The walls you hated that are still pressing against your bosom. 

There must be a missing piece.

I have it Mama, I have that missing piece;

it’s deep inside my heart, and

Some day, my reach will be strong

enough to give it to you.

Silent Lessons

As I sat weeping, my heart fractures as 

I looked into your dry-well eyes and 

You chided me for such nonsense;

   We all have to take life in whatever

Form or piece it finds us, like the pure

   Shape of the tortilla your soul designed;

You also found an art in dying. 

But it’s not death you give me, Mother; 

It is only life. 

A rebirth of love that eluded us since 

We were tied in that inevitable knot. 

A song of many verses that ring true of 

Sorrow, pain, despair, anger and love– 

How could I have known it was all there. 

I stare at the half circle you leave me, 

Wanting so desperately to close it. 

But it will always be half empty;

   It will never be full without your

Smiling eyes, your heavy brow and

The graceful sweep that you reigned on this earth. 

I’d be a Fool

I’d be a fool to think of myself as a flower 

  That you can hold in your hand;

But the moment is too fleeting and 

  The burn too great to endure.

Instead, with eyes closed 

  I will journey into the mysterious world

Finding comfort in feeling your presence

  Listening to your heartbeat.

You are the reason my spirit never rests

  You bring freshness to the old; 

Hope to the dying

  I want to be with you forever – 

Here, today, tomorrow.

But, now  – your arms are gone;

  No longer the assuring warmth;

I must distance myself from you 

  And feel the earth that bounds me

Even though my gift to you is an empty box;

  My spirit life is yours to keep.

You are the love that fires up my imagination

  But aches with loneliness since

I can only love you in my dreams.

Perfect Imperfections

  What will I take with me, 

In my final journey?

  Visions of larger than life moments, 

The entire beauty of this earth immediately 

  Fill my imaginative bundle.

Too much I think.

Perhaps, better the simple joys of 

  A fruitful life; nature’s true beauty:

A serene undulating ocean,

  The light, fragrant rain and the flowers that 

Bloom in the gentle sunshine;

  A world so rich with kaleidoscopes of 

Lines, shapes, color, light.

But, it all seems too perfect.

  Far from the real life that I’ve known,

Of pain, anguish, grief, and desperation.

  My perfect world is perfectly flawed.

How do I stack up the truth and make sense of 

  The chaos underneath the calm veneer;

El cruce between hell and heaven and back again; 

  Of people killing each other for 

Love, hate, vengeance, and 

  Loved ones, loved ones caught in the middle. 

I think I will take with me

  A small amount of joy; a little contentment;

And, although I’m a bit wiser, 

  I’m less the idealist, knowing that 

We are who we are because

of our perfect imperfections.  

Speak

I love the quiet of company,

  Of silent roses that spring

In my imagined room,

  Whispering ideas full of penny jars.

Colors speak to me, 

  Filled with emotional escapades;

The architects, tiny birds fluttering,

  From tree to tree, the budding 

Aerial acrobats that fly into my heart.

The ideas start like seeds that 

  Spread their roots and vines,

Flowers voice their love,

  Each one speaks with candor.

Each one proud of its colorful array.

And we marvel at their

  Brazen beauty that, like puzzle pieces

Work their way into our souls, 

  Our minds, eventually

Singing, laughing, crying.

Breathing life into our next thought

  Until our tree of life stands tall before us,

The real test of time brings us back to

  Real time:

‘Who are we, why are we here, 

  Where are we going, 

What will I leave behind?’

I Was There

In the instant that I see myself I see you – 

  At the moment you chose the road

Toward my way – I was there;

  I held your hand like a ghostly force; 

I was there when you kissed your fate

  To the wind – 

That was my sigh of relief; your vision

  Walking steadily toward me – each time 

A little closer, your eyes seemed more visible

  As the days grew less foggy and a light of 

Every new moon became brighter;

  I was there when your spirit rested 

on my chest, my face, my eyes;

  I saw your faint smile amid the torment of tears;

  Agony, love lost, emptiness, remorse –

I was there when sadness filled your heart;

  What I felt was in you – and you were in me;

I was there the mornings that you woke;

  For every strong heart beat there was hope;

And every step grew faster and bolder – 

  Toward the heart that waited and waited and waited

For you;

I was there with you whispering songs of love;

  When the horizon came to you;

You felt my yearning to be with you;

  Without you the sun would not rise;

The moon obliterated from the sky;

  Without you my words would drop

Like rocks into the depths of an abyss;

  Without you fond memories would disappear;

I was there the day you offered a rose to a heart

  As sweet as yours;

Your arms embraced idealized dreams and 

  Held them tightly, so tightly,

Because you knew that I wanted to be with you;

  From across the sky, toward the full moon and

Many stars beyond, 

  My half journey complete and my heart still

Waits for you.

My Song

Muse-ical notes from your second voice,

  Now settled and drifting

Into my empty Mondays.

Real time became the annoyance

  That I wrestled until my senses

Wore down.

  Not even, 

The thought of you could calm my

  Ill-fated memory log;

For I know,

  I have let a poem slip 

Through my fingers,

  Died too many times;

Flung my soul across songs,

  Stories that could have had life.

Instead,

  The winter’s cold,

The storms’ evil eyes,

  The restless, aimless spirit,

The daily chants of cries, whimpers, prayers

Somehow,

  Make way to the image of you

Standing before me, and 

  I, pleading with you for

A harmony that I could call

  My song.

The Only Man in My Planet Love Song

You.

You’re the only man in my planet.

You – two-legged, two-armed, one-headed

Creature amongst all warm bodies; 

You, a tail-less appearance 

Like a strong buffalo,

A giant mammoth, the tender butterfly, 

An acrobatic hummingbird. 

You have two hearts – one yours, the other mine.

You.

The shadow sleeping by the bright,

Sunlit tree;

Your face is like an angel, your hands are as warm

As a winter fire, 

Your voice gentle like a silky stream.

You.

You’re the mountain I climb and trip and fall,

And try again; where

My spirit soars like the eagle and we fly

Together – two, winged dinosaurs questing freedom  

Above the hovering clouds.

You.

You’re the devil, too, when your eyes become slits

On a triangle-shaped head; your sting is spiked with

Deadly silence;

And you slither across my face – crying, laughing, screaming.

In my planet there is only one man, I swear;

But when darkness falls, light emerges and

A new horizon appears, and below me – I feel 

The steady ground rising, forming another planet, 

A new world, a NEW.

No Valentine

He loves me, he loves me not;

  He loves me, he loves me not;

The sting in my heart lingers

  longer than I want;

But he’ll call soon, and melt

  away icicles clinging to my thoughts,

And shatter all my doubts;

  But love, like the flower without petals,

Dies an instant death and 

Like another and another and another —

  He loves me, he loves me not;

Free to choose is the right

  To have the space – your space

To breathe your persona,

  What you’ve known all your life;

But too much space allows furniture

  To move in and soon we won’t

Find each other in a crowded room.

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