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excerpts from “Cajas/Boxes with Zero Tolerance”

By Emmy Pérez


In 1930, my tatarabuela still spoke Rarámuri.
Detribalized now as we’ve been from Turtle Island,
south and north of the río grande, west and east
it’s no surprise that we’re still writing about
our identities, brown women regarded
as brown women, they’d say equally as if
a consolation for any. What does it mean

to be Mexican living in Tejas,
singing in English? I blend in. U.S.
citizenship privilege—check. Education—check.
Job security, check. Chingona propensity, check.

Trauma half-lives (half-līves).
I thought music touches us first
and then the words.

If they built the wall near you,
you’d think music left for rhetoric too.





If they built walls and migrant kennels near you,
you’d think music left for rhetoric too.

Jefferson Che Pop, six, stolen from his papá
Hermelindo, in El Paso, a day after crossing.

Weeks later, by phone, in Mayan Q’eqchi
Papá, I thought they killed you. You separated from me.
Where are you? You don’t love me anymore?

How can I sing a song in this English
when this country urges many to sign
this and that form in this English?

Have it all end with a form in English?

Why would any parent crossing countries
seeking asylum agree, deport me, childless?





Jefferson doesn’t ask You don’t love me
He doesn’t say anything.

Hermelindo says, My son has come back
to me sick.
Limp. Rash. Bruised.

LA Times does not report their
favorite songs from home.

I’m dreaming of a song, one I can never write,
one I have never heard. I’m dreaming
that Hermelindo will sing it to Jefferson,
that Jefferson’s mother will sing it by phone
and he will remember he is loved.


Note: Italicized quotes are from an LA Times article.



Listen as Emmy Pérez reads excerpts from “Cajas/Boxes with Zero Tolerance”.

Added: Tuesday, March 3, 2020  /  Used with permission.
Emmy Pérez
Photo by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Emmy Pérez’s poetry collections include 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 Trump. A member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop for socially engaged writers, 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. Since the year 2000, she has lived in the Texas borderlands. She is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and serves as Associate Director for the Center for Mexican American Studies. She also serves on the organizing committee for CantoMundo national literary organization and co-founded Poets Against Walls.

Emmy Pérez is a Featured Poet for Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness (March 26-28, 2020) in Washington, DC.

Other poems by this author