Ms. Muse Independence Day Special: Three Feminist Poets Take on the Border Crisis

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As a mother, I don’t need to see and hear children weep after being separated from their parents to fathom their suffering. But their small, squeezed faces and inconsolable cries leave me asking: what can I do?

July’s special installment of Ms. Muse features the voices of three feminist poets who’ve written new works about America’s Southern border and how the U.S. treats immigrants seeking to live and work in America—people risking their lives to save their lives. One, a “Southern Baptist girl,” challenges the conservative politician who quoted the Bible to defend separating immigrant families. Haunted by history, another—a mother—studies a photograph of confiscated children’s rosaries. The third poet, a former Neighborhood Services Manager for the city of Mesa, Arizona, portrays the lived experience of immigrants trying to work as day laborers in conservative white communities to escape drug cartels or death.

May we continue to elevate these voices, and to listen closely to them. May we keep asking ourselves, every day: what can I do?

Simone-Marie Feigenbaum

Simone-Marie Feigenbaum

Simone-Marie Feigenbaum is a teacher and writer from Brooklyn, New York. They are an American University MFA recipient and have been published by the Shakespeare Theatre Company as part of its Poets in Residence series and Button Poetry as part of a short-form poetry series on Instagram. More of their work can be found on Instagram.

“This poem was written after reading an article about Jeff Sessions, the current Attorney General, who said that taking children away from their parents at the border had Biblical precedent, and cited Romans 13:1 as his reasoning,” Feigenbaum told Ms. “One of the (many) issues with this statement from him is that he is only using the first half of Romans 13 to justify his cruelty, while ignoring the second half that commands him to ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ It made me think about how this has been a constant among some ‘Christians’—using the Bible to justify hate while ignoring all of the passages that command them to love.”

Jesus Ain’t Die For This

“Obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” Romans 13:1 (NIV)

I could say
this is America and the Bible
is not our Constitution and something
about separation of church and state
that every third grader knows
but our President and his cronies don’t.

I could say
then why do we topple leaders
with whom we don’t agree?
If authority is ordained by God,
isn’t invading another nation sin?
Or does God wear a robe
bedecked in stars and stripes?

I could say
Mexico had a republic,
and we stole their land and called it Texas,
Arizona, New Mexico.

I could say
that’s what the Nazis said too,
and that quote out of context ignores facts:
the Old Testament is 90% Jews running from authorities
who want to kill them. Authorities
murdered Jesus.

But I was raised in the church, Southern Baptist girl,
so I say
“Love does no harm to a neighbor.
Therefore love
is the fulfillment of the law.”

I say
“Whatever you did
for one of the least
of these brothers and sisters
of mine, you did for me.”

I say
“Do not mistreat
or oppress
a foreigner, for you
were foreigners in Egypt.”

And I also say
Jesus was a brown-skinned,
nappy-headed, Middle Eastern Jew.
Before you quote the Bible,
make sure you’ve read the whole book.

Jess Burnquist

photo by Elisabeth Burnquist

Jess Burnquist is the Director of Rock Your World, a human rights-based educational program of Creative Visions. She is also the co-founder and co-author of Kindred Spirits, an education blog sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, NPR, Time, Redbook, Salon and Natural Bridge. She is the author of a poetry chapbook, You May Feel Your Way Past Me, available from Dancing Girl Press.

“I woke up before dawn on the day after the news broke about families being separated and children, in effect, being imprisoned,” she told Ms. about her poem below. “I checked on my daughter in her bedroom and noticed in the dim light several teenage laundry piles. When I finally settled at my desk to check the news, the first photograph I noticed was that of refugee children’s rosaries, freshly removed, in organized lines. My family is Jewish. The parallels between what’s happening now and the events leading up to the Holocaust are ever-present lately.”

June 2018, America

On my daughter’s bedroom floor, muddled
Piles grow as in another time—

Clothes and shoes, gold rings and bones
Counted and cataloged
And the people claimed they never
Saw it coming.

In the paper today, there’s a photograph
Of small mounds of children’s rosaries in neat rows—

Worn beads and crosses
Counted, cataloged
Primary reds and blues and school bus yellow
As if still in the clutch of tiny hands.

Lisha Adela García

photo by Melissa Evans

Lisha Adela García holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and currently resides in Texas with her beloved four-legged children. She is the author of A Rope of Luna and Blood Rivers (Blue Light Press) and a chapbook titled This Stone Will Speak (Pudding House Press). Her work has appeared widely in journals including Boston Review, Crab Orchard Review, Border Senses and Mom Egg Review. Recently, Lisha received the San Antonio Tri-Centennial Poetry Prize. She also holds a master’s degree in International Business from Thunderbird School of Global Management.

“This poem is based on true stories,” García told Ms. “Hawker made this comment directly to me when I was Neighborhood Services Manager for Mesa, Arizona and we were discussing funding for the Alston House, named after the first African American doctor in Mesa. The goal was to acquire the home to be the headquarters for the Martin Luther King Commission and the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens. The day laborer and City Council sections reflect the immigrant experience and how local government responded to the immigrant influx. ‘Dorothy Jones’ is a composite character portraying what happened when Hispanic families integrated Mormon neighborhoods. It’s also important to remember that Mexicans and Native Americans have always been here. The border crossed us. There are families here that can trace their roots over 300 years—longer than the U.S. has been a country.”

Praying to the Saint of Impossible Situations

“I can’t think of any less worthy people than Martin Luther King or César Chávez.”
(Keno Hawker, Mayor of Mesa, Arizona from 2000-2008)

1

4:30 a.m. and I smell monsoon in the darkness.
El jefe[1] said he would pick up workers for sure this week.
Virgen Madre de Guadalupe le ruego por trabajo.[2]
No more food this week, no more food.
I have talentos,[3] use them
to feed my family in Chihuahua.
Eight of us share a one-bedroom apartment
to save money to send home.
The check-cashing place asks only
$25 for every hundred. I can’t go back
to see my family starve
or survive five years running cocaine for drug lords.

2

A tile roof’s shadow teeth frame Pablo
against a white wall at the corner
where he stands waiting on the sidewalk,
careful not to step on lawn.
7:30 a.m. and no el jefe.
By noon, it will be 100 degrees.
Pablo removes a top-layer plaid shirt
and the sun warms his cinnamon skin.

A plastic bag nests the bean burrito
he wants to eat but if he walks
four blocks to a bathroom,
he could miss the pick-up.
At Walmart, he bought $40 hard toe shoes
el jefe required. His feet soak
Chinese cotton socks.

3

Keno Hawker, Mayor of the City of Mesa, Arizona,
opens a City Council meeting to discuss those people.
Agenda item: Day Labor Ordinance.
Snakes in the room coil. Rattles dance.
Dorothy Jones walks slowly to the podium
wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with an American flag
and the words: Preserve our way of life.
Her hands shake as she carries a petition
with 42 signatures and hands it to the City Clerk.

“We want you to do something about those people.
Last week, one peed on Alice’s prize roses.
My daughter shares a classroom with Ana Lopez.
Because of her Spanish, the whole class is falling behind.
This is America, why don’t they speak English?
Property values are down, they play Spanish music
and drink beer with Virgin Mary statues on their lawns.”

The Mayor turns to face the crowd.
“Ma’am, the sidewalk is a public right of way.
Beer and Spanish music aren’t illegal.
Maybe a sidewalk anti-loitering law
and a neighborhood anti-fiesta ordinance?
City Council, what do you think?”

4

Pablo lights a green Saint Jude candle
inside the sink and prays for Ernestina, his wife,
Pablito and Gloria, his children:
“Oh, Saint of impossible situations, help us!
No work today but between us
we brought in $100, enough to make rent
and a taco. Quizás[4] tomorrow.
Tengo tanta sed.[5]
Oh, I am so thirsty.”

[1] the boss
[2] Virgin Mother of Guadalupe, I beg you for work.
[3] talents
[4] perhaps
[5] I am so thirsty.

Chivas Sandage is a digital columnist at Ms. and the author of Hidden Drive, a finalist for the 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Awards in poetry. Her poems and essays are forthcoming or have appeared in Ms., The Rumpus, Salmagundi, Southern Humanities Review and Texas Observer, among others. She is at work on a nonfiction book about the double shooting of a lesbian teenage couple in Texas. Tweet her @ChivasSandage.

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