Pushcart 2020 XLIV: Juan Felipe Herrera, “Roll Under the Waves” (poetry) from Love’s Executive Order, 6/15/18

LEO art by  anna_croc01

LEO art by anna_croc01

we roll under the waves
not above them we body surf and somehow we lose
the momentum there are memories trailing us empty orange
and hot pink bottles of medicines left behind
buried next to a saguaro there are baby backpacks
and a thousand shoes and a thousand gone steps
leading in the four directions each one without destinations

Complete story available online at Love’s Executive Order

In my introductory post to this year’s Pushcart, I said I would include only the poetry I could find something to say about. I confess, I’m not sure what to say about this poem by a recent US Poet Laureate (but the poem itself is not why I’ve included it; more on that to come).

The grammar is uncertain; maybe the sentences connect one way, maybe another (are the medicines left behind buried next to a saguaro, or the baby backpacks? Does it matter? The implications of either are horrible). Uncertainty and tension are part of the fabric. It hits all the painful images of the current – and longstanding – immigration issue (“men laying face down forever”, “children still running with / torn faces all the way to Tucson”, “a stolen life branded and / tied and thrown into the tin patrol box”, “vigilantes with skull dust on their palms”).

But there’s hope, too, tied right into the fear and misery. The moon has “pocked hope and its blessings and its rotations into the spikes”. And:

there is a road forgotten with a tiny sweet roof of twigs
and a black griddle threaded with songs like the one
about el contrabando from El Paso

The hope has to be part of the fear, because – and here’s what’s lost in all the ranting about who is legal and who isn’t and who belongs here and who doesn’t – nobody would do this if they weren’t leaving something worse. Compassion gets tamped down, because if we faced it squarely, the argument would all be over.

But, as I said, the poem itself isn’t why I chose to include this. It’s included, first of all, because this US Poet Laureate, this graduate of the finest writing program in the country, this teacher and poet and activist, is the child of migrant workers who our current administration would keep out.

More than that, I include the poem because of where I found it. Love’s Executive Order is an online litmag run by poet Matthew Lippman; what I’ll call it’s mission statement reads as follows:

In 1980, I was 15 years old when Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th president of The United States of America. My European History AP Teacher, Donald Morrison, began to grow a beard. He vowed not to cut it off until Reagan was no longer president. It stayed on his face for eight years.
January 2017: Donald Trump has been sworn in as the 45th president of The United States of America. This site is dedicated to posting one poem a week that is directly related to the presidency of Donald Trump. A protest. A commentary. A running rumination on this part of our American story.
This site will be terminated when Donald Trump is no longer President of the United States of America.

It’s not enough, of course (I keep wondering what would be enough). But it’s something: a poet’s resistance.

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