Poems by one of this year’s Pyne Prize winners tell of the experiences of immigrants

As part of her senior thesis project, Yessica Martinez ’15 has written poems inspired by her research along the U.S.-Mexico border last summer. Selected works are published below.

There are places sucked
Empty. Villages washed
Clean of people. On modern
Maps, the third dimension.
Places sunken to the rib
Cage like pierced lungs.
Trail way lines, like blood
Vessels, shooting out.
The people, black dots
Pooled into ink. Movement
A tattoo needle beating
The ridge of a waistline.
The old maps have faded
Dark black lines worked
To a thread by the ages.
But, our lines are full and
They are liquid. Already
In Texas, the sky is an
Infinite curve reaching
Below the earth, below the
End of the sea. During
Monsoon, storms fall like
Wire cages on people’s eyes.
Raindrops are metal stars
Rushing down. Where
Is the Big Dipper? Where
The North Star? A penciled
Line smeared into fog.
In Arizona, bodies stretched
And thinned to extensions of
Scattered sunrays. A red
Sun burns, but the white
Takes onto itself, cutting
Through mass like night.
Map lines translucent veins
Dripping white.
The last man stops under a
Tree. Dead white bark
Covered in black streaks
From a fire. He closes his
Eyes and fills them with
A full moon.
We do the walking
Blind. Keep him from
Where we cannot not
See him. Hold out our
Arms knowing we will
Not reach. We cook
the extra meal. Keep the
Linens crisp. From the
pillow, we save his scent
good for one whiff. We’ve
walked enough circles
for a vortex to reel us in.
Absence grows form.
The people fed the Gods
And still they feed them.
He took off a morning in
July, hungry, and left
Us the same. At the yellow
Bridge, we sing for him
And surely he sleeps.
What happened after, we
Do not know nor feel,
We only stretch and fill.
Our man, lost or
Unidentified. A desert
Plain as sky. We cannot
Picture him otherwise. He
On the steps of a canyon
Opening his own empty
Mouth to the stars.
In a desert cave, deep throated
And gaped like a bread oven,
The men found respite and slept.
A hollow boulder, older than
The sky, a rupture. A hard rock
Body. A shell for sagging flesh.
Inside, they lit candles in the image
Of Guadalupe. The wick glowed
On the glass lip like the rising
Sun over the earth’s rim. So
They prayed: Mamacita, bless
My feet, keep me from the heat.
Beyond them, a city of neon
And orange lights pulsing
Like fire dust. The sky, thinned
Wrapping paper outstretched
Burning blue. At dawn, they
Took dry fingertips to wicks
And slipped off like smoke.
On the century old couch of her mother,
My mother, like a widow in a straight
Jacket. Like a wild horse saddled. Like,
An apple swelled to aching red. Like
Woman, not mother, just woman.
On the wall, our redeemer, from Caracas,
Don Bolivar. To his side, a conveyor of
Light, la Mona Lisa. My mother’s face, just
Eyes, sketched on a white wrinkled sheet,
A pen smearing its ink. The scene thick
With mascara. She was on her way to
My father, by way of Caribbean islands.
Cucuta to San Cristobal. Hidden shacks
On virgin beaches. The people, 50 strong
Pressing seashells to their ears for a rumbling
Deeper than hunger. At the airport,
She did not pass and they sent her back
By way of Aruba, through iron bars and
Unknown, jeering tongues. Now she was
Home, all passion run to muck.
And I was happy, waiting for her to stop
Her crying so I could have her. But it
Did not end and I saw she was made of
Wanting, the same thing I felt rising
When she left again…