Singing the Abecedarian at Friendship Park
Anyway, I am standing in Friendship Park on the American side of the
border between San Diego and TJ where, every weekend, divided families
come to pinkie kiss through iron mesh gates from 10AM-2PM ONLY. I
drove my friend, Alma, here who hasn't seen her dad for an
eternity. Stopped for speeding twelve years before, her
father was held for lack of papers, detained three months on Terminal Island, then
given a quick ride across the border to Mexico. Unable to cross and return herself, Alma
hasn't seen him since. After months of silence, she learned he was quite
ill, had several surgeries, but now, finally, was well enough to make the full day’s
journey up to Tijuana and El Parque de la Amistad,
keeping his fervent promise that they would one day meet again.
Love has no borders : El amor no tiene fronteras
My friend is sobbing as father and daughter lean forehead to forehead
nearly touching, but not quite,
only the iron mesh keeping them apart.
Papa…I think… mine dead five years now. If only I could see him, like this, for an instant.
Quickly, a flash of guilt reddens my ears, for I
remind myself of the many times we laughed, and hugged, and
sang old songs, “Blue Moon” and “You are My Sunshine”
together. Years denied Alma and her father for reasons
unfathomable. How laws that separate families are upheld in the
very country that speaks of opportunity and the American dream,
where hard work is rewarded and determination admired, laws
‘xactly the opposite of what we say we believe. Aren't we one long continent of Americas?
You are my sunshine, I sing, remembering when Papa and I sang to my dying mom. Now I
zero in on Alma’s fingers, reaching through iron to touch. Please don't take my sunshine
Grandmother of Exiles
(after the building of a second wall at San Diego's border, late 1990's)
I am the old one, no longer needed.
My ten foot high corrugated steel
was not enough to halt or hamper. Inefficient,
they said. They were on to me.
I may lack the grace and curves of Lady Liberty,
but call me Grandmother of Exiles just the same.
For years, my horizontal slats were efficient
footholds for the tired and poor scaling my heights
in search of San Diego's sunset gates.
My solid walls hid, they did not hinder.
My ample bosom, my broad back
protected, did not prevent.
But then, to augment where they thought I failed,
they built a second wall, parallel to mine, a brazen giant.
Eighteen foot high concrete columns,
spaced for surveillance, crowned by electrified coils.
No beacon of world-wide welcome is held aloft,
only the fierce glow of night vision cameras.
In the shadow of this giant, I wait
and hope. Will I be dismantled?
Originally I was built as a landing mat,
decades ago for Desert Storm, where iron birds
found safe landing on my strong, young back.
What those birds carried made me weep:
Shiny boots and gleaming guns slammed down
onto my shoulders with a terrifying fury.
Those boots, then black with blood, left imprints
on my back, as brothers were hoisted towards safety.
When it was over, and they lifted me away,
I had such hopes to be of better use:
The roof of a school, protecting children from sun and rain.
A bridge over rushing rapids or steep terrain.
When I found my fate at the San Diego border,
object of division, symbol of refusal and rejection, I howled.
I howled like only steel can groan in a deep, earth-torn roar,
and then I was silent
until those first dusty shoes slid securely
into my slats and began their ascent, and then I yawped.
I yawped with the primal joy of a mother
who welcomes her firstborn's firstborn
into her solid arms, to love and protect
with a fierceness all abuelas know.
Those years, those memories, will sustain me as I wait
in the shadows, hoping they will recycle my aging steel,
for like the men and women, whose calloused hands graced
my shoulders, who pursued and persevered, seeking
a better life, I too yearn to find a place
where I can be of use in a kinder world.
Debra Thomas earned a Master's in English at California State University, Northridge, but began her true education teaching literature and writing at a Los Angeles public high school and English as a Second Language to adults from all over the world. She is currently at work on a novel.