Poem of the Week | October 08, 2018

This week we are delighted to present “Advice to a Migrant Collecting Dead Things Ever Since He Learned the Length of Walking,” a new poem by William Archila.

William Archila earned his MFA in poetry from the University of Oregon. His first collection of poetry, The Art of Exile (Bilingual Review Press, 2009) won an International Latino Book Award in 2010. His second book, The Gravedigger’s Archaeology (Red Hen Press), won the 2013 Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize. He is a PEN Center USA West Emerging Voices fellow and received the Alan Collins Scholarship at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He has been published in American Poetry Review, AGNl, The Georgia Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Prairie Schooner and the anthologies Theatre Under My Skin: Contemporary Salvadoran Poetry, and The Wandering Song: Central American Writing in the United States. He also has poems forthcoming in Tin House.

Advice to a Migrant Collecting Dead Things Ever Since He Learned the Length of Walking

Leave them. Only
heavy clothing
         in a knapsack.
Don’t talk
     nor make a sound. We
         don’t want anyone
to hear our lips utter
     God be wicked or God be askew
           with you. From now on
all roots & runners
      will contain a silence
           you’ve never known,
a life grown all of its
       own. Don’t look back
             to the slightest point
of light. Not much
         can be done until
               we get out. Leave it.
The smallest
      possibility to pull
          your country.
Leave it. It’s pitch
      December, it’s abridged
          tremor, saying
here’s your country
      broken by rain, here’s
          how puddles
carve a pothole
      out of your head, how
          night dented
buckles over
      the highway, abandoned
          by some wrecked
lanterns, dim single-bulb houses
        gone completely quiet
saying enough,
enough of you.


Author’s Note:

Sometimes when I’m trying to write a poem, it’s me trying to figure out how to say a thing that I don’t have any other language to say it in. For example, I often find myself not being able to understand the dangers Central American migrants face as they cross Mexico by train, on foot, through desert, and pursue to steer clear of bandits and narcos. It’s hard for me to get my head around the idea that an unaccompanied minor, as young as 9, can leave his homeland and trek a treacherous path. I teach English to some of these kids and the stories they carry always lead back to poverty, gang violence and the lack of economic opportunities. They result in psychological and emotional pain. Their stories are as old as the Bible. In writing this poem I had Dante and Homer in the back of my mind. I was thinking the heroic endeavors of Homer and the journey in Dante’s Inferno, guided by the ancient Roman poet Virgil. I was thinking of the coyote’s last attempt before sending the boy off. In a way I am that coyote. All that I’m able to do is to try to trace their steps and see where they take me. I’m interested in exploring their experience through the written word, and although I’ll never know their experience, this poem, besides being an act of expression, is also an act of exploration that most of the time arrives at not knowing anything—except that they are heroes who are changing the story for their families, between the US and Mexico, between the US and Central America, heroes who are later branded criminals.