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excerpt from “Cajas/Boxes of Zero Tolerance”

By Emmy Pérez

“They are the ones who broke the law, they are the ones who endangered their own children on their trek. The United States on the other hand, goes to extraordinary lengths to protect them while the parents go through a short detention period.”
             – Jeff Sessions


They are the ones who were told their children
were taken to bathe—and not returned. They

are the ones whose nursing babies and toddlers
were forced to wean and left in wet diapers.

And their other young ones also cried
for mami, for papá, for tía, for ____

and were told they were an orchestra without
a conductor. And enough in this country

elected the conductor with his fist
in the air, without music, without ocean,

without moon, without the very earth. He
was the one and she another and he yet

another who said they’d be taking her child
the next day and said “Happy Mother’s Day.”




​​Listen as Emmy Pérez​ reads
"excerpt from 'Cajas/Boxes with Zero Tolerance'."

Added: Wednesday, March 13, 2019  /  Used with permission. Photo by Texas A&M Corpus Christi. This Split This Rock poem is presented as part of "What Is It, Then, Between Us?: Poetry & Democracy," the third annual programming initiative of the Poetry Coalition. This national initiative is made possible in part by a grant from the Ford Foundation secured by the Academy of American Poets.
Emmy Pérez
Photo by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Emmy Pérez, Texas Poet Laureate, is the author of the poetry collections With the River on Our Face and Solstice. Her work also appears in anthologies such as Ghost Fishing: An Eco-Justice Poetry Anthology, Other Musics: New Latina Poetry, and What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Tr--- (45). She is a former recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, CantoMundo, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. She grew up in Santa Ana, California, where she received LibroMobile's inaugural Modesta Avila Award in 2019. She has lived in the Texas borderlands for over twenty years and co-founded Poets Against Walls collective in 2017. Currently, she holds a Poets Laureate Fellowship with the Academy of American Poets and is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She also serves as Associate Director for the Center for Mexican American Studies at UTRGV. 

Emmy Pérez was a Featured Poet for Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness (March 26-28, 2020) in Washington, DC which was cancelled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Other poems by this author