Juan Felipe Herrera, Mexican-American, born 1948, 2015 Poet Laureate of the United States
and I heard an unending scream piercing nature.
—from the diary of Edvard Munch, 1892
At the greyhound bus stations, at airports, at silent wharfs
the bodies exit the crafts. Women, men, children; cast out
from the new paradise.
They are not there in the homeland, in Argentina, not there
in Santiago, Chile; never there in Montevideo, Uruguay,
and they are not here
They are in exile: a slow scream across a yellow bridge
the jaws stretched, widening, the eyes multiplied into blood
orbits, torn, whirling, spilling between two slopes; the sea, black,
swallowing all prayers, shadeless. Only tall faceless figures
of pain flutter across the bridge. They pace in charred suits,
the hands lift, point and ache and fly at sunset as cold dark
birds. They will hover over the dead ones: a family shattered
by military, buried by hunger, asleep now with the eyes burning
echoes calling Joaquín, María, Andrea, Joaquín, Joaquín, Andrea
From here we see them, we the ones from here, not there or across,
only here, without the bridge, without the arms as blue liquid
quenching the secret thirst of unmarked graves, without
our flesh journeying refuge or pilgrimage; not passengers
on imaginary ships sailing between reef and sky, we that die
here awake on Harrison Street, on Excelsior Avenue clutching
the tenderness of chrome radios, whispering to the saints
in supermarkets, motionless in the chasm of playgrounds,
searching at 9 a.m. from our third floor cells, bowing mute,
shoving the curtains with trembling speckled brown hands. Alone,
we look out to the wires, the summer, to the newspaper wound
in knots as matches for tenements. We that look out from
our miniature vestibules, peering out from our old clothes,
the father’s well-sewn plaid shirt pocket, an old woman’s
oversized wool sweater peering out from the makeshift kitchen.
We peer out to the streets, to the parades, we the ones from here
not there or across, from here, only here. Where is our exile?
Who has taken it?
Walls of Identity, Walls of Pride, Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, 2007, 2nd and Thompson Streets. Creative director: Shari Hersh;
a second mural with added incised and painted ceramic at 3rd and Girard, Philadelphia Mural Arts Program