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Poems from the Borderlands

Did You Know?

by Josh

25 feet tall. 16 feet underground. Dirty, rusted metal. Barbed wire, but only on the United States side.

Did you know?

Did you know that red, beaten bottle caps litter the Borderlands between the United States and Mexico?

Did you know that the soles of shoes are left behind, as well as the footsteps of those who’ve left home in search of a better life?

Did you know that battered jackets, blankets, and backpacks hang from barbed wire, artifacts of a desperate life.

Did you know that it takes the human body just one week to decompose in the Borderlands?

Did you know that the border wall cuts the town of Nogales in half? A first world country neighbors with a third world country. On the U.S. side of Nogales the population is 22,000. On the Mexico side the unofficial count is 800,000. It’s one of the poorest places in Mexico.

Did you know that it was ruled legal by the Supreme Court for Border Patrol agents to shoot through the gaps in the wall into Mexico?

Did you know the story of José Antonio Elena Rodríguez? 16 gunshots in 32 seconds, in the back and the head, while walking home from basketball practice. The agent was acquitted twice.

Did you know the story of a girl who wakes up at 5AM to cross the border, to catch the bus at McDonald’s, to go to a better school?

Did you know the school she goes to is a top three school in the country in terms of student growth? The name of the school is Mexicayotl and it was founded by a man named Balty Garcia who has lived in Nogales his whole life.

Did you know it’s illegal in Arizona for public K-12 schools to teach any language other than English?

Did you know that this young girl learns both English and Spanish because Balty’s school is a charter school?

Did you know that bullet holes paint sections of the wall in Nogales? Right next to where families live, where people raise kids.

Did you know the border wall is predicted to cause the jaguar, once native to the Borderlands region, to be extinct? Other native species and waterways suffer greatly because of the wall too.

Did you know that it wasn’t always this way? The US-Mexico border used to be porous, scattered with monuments, not walls.

Did you know the Borderlands is one of the most ecologically diverse regions in our country and many people are working hard to restore this land to a place of balance?

Did you know that you have a choice? To be complicit, to accept ideologies that seek to dehumanize, divide, and destroy? Or to aspire towards something greater. To be a citizen of this planet, of Mother Earth. To care about people you’ve never met. To practice empathy, not violence.

Now you know.


by Ella

(a spoken word poem, to be read out loud.)

And as we drive along that crusted, dusted road, I see a silver flash, once a balloon but now just trash, and maybe he will make it over that thing they call the wall.

It conquers, it divides, but why if the trees are so vividly green on both sides?

These birds don’t know a border. I see two that fly as one, strung by a tether, because they know they have to stick together.

And as they fly over I can’t help but wonder, what is this thing that the people dig under? Did we put it up to keep them all out, or does it keep something in? Does it trap us within this place whose face is always two-sided?

I spy a butterfly through the gap, black and blue and when her wings snap I see spots of sunlight caught on the edges. And I hope that she’ll please, come over to me, but she stays on her side.

The first piece of clothing we see is a hood, ripped off the hoodie, caught in razor wire, hanging higher than I’ll ever be able to reach.

Then a blue shirt, or what once was blue, tangled in the dirt and my chest starts to hurt because someone gave up warmth to go on.

And every plastic water bottle smashed into the ground is the ghost of someone’s thirst, the tea leaves that read dehydration, they might not make it.

Did you know they put up DANGER signs on our side of the wall? Danger, do not enter. Peligro, no entre. Pero, ¿dónde está el peligro real? Where does the danger truly lie, if we are the reason they flee from their homes, and we cannot own our mistakes?

But they’re not mistakes. No, we did that on purpose, we think that our purpose is profit and if something delays that, you off it.

We stop at a spot where the water flows through, passing through wall like it falls through your fingers, no matter how tight you grasp it will never last, you cannot clasp what cannot be contained.

And there is green growing in the cracks, out of soil that lies between steel, and it feels like a breath of fresh air because water is movement, and water is life. And just as the water finds its way through, the people will too, because people are life also, and we will never be held by steel as long as we can still feel.

But this metal is rusty, standing beneath it you must see how the tops look like guillotines. The lines of fence stabbing into the ground like pitchforks, a row of swords from conquests past, this wall is a weapon that does nothing but stand still. And this weapon is red white and blue, through and through, so ask yourself, which side seems more dangerous to you?

Before we leave, I see a scattering of seeds, some kind of dandelion fluff, the stuff that gets picked up by wind and dropped off anywhere the air wishes to guide it. And these bits of new life to come land on both sides of the barrier, this air is a carrier of promise, connecting by growing, born from the same single stalk, to feed the people who would walk through desert and pain just to gain their chance at a life that is livable, which is more than forgivable.



Pictures taken by Noah