Two Poems by Gwendolyn Macpherson

From Syria across Turkey by land, then across water to Lesbos,
tiny outpost,
they move, incessantly, carrying
less than they could.
There is nothing behind, no compulsion to
look back.
Boat after boat arrives, spilling packed passengers
some hypothermic, some
stumbling toward shore through finally shallow water,
some crying with joy and relief and the same old hope for a better life,
no skipper around.
All get
condition-appropriate blankets, unconditional hugs;
doctors check who needs more.
Now they are given
bottled water and bananas.
Now they kiss their babies, each other.
Finally, the young children smile.
They have crossed the salty water that once,
long ago, baked to dryness, leaving thick salt beds, entombed now, buried
far below the screaming wind, deep beneath the seafloor.
What kind of journey, across a hot, dry sea bed,
would that have been?
Difficult, deadly even, as deadly without undrinkable
as with.
There might be a wide
ghost trail of luminescent bone shadows
now, on the light-starved, bone-chilling cold
sea floor,
some distance above the old, life-giving and
dross of the boats or occupants that didn’t arrive,
staccato pulses of humans
Matamoros, Brownsville, and the Rio Grande

 I. Matamoros, Tamaulipas, United Mexican States and 
    Brownsville, Cameron County, United States

Across the river from Brownsville
     (winter hue in this snow-starved place,
     named for an American Mexican-American-War soldier 
     who died three days after being wounded, three days.
     What is it about threes, we are so swallowed by threes.)
is the city of “The Moor Killer”, 
St. James, 
who let a Spanish king
60,000 Saracens, what Muslims were called in the Crusade era. 
Both cities, straddling the Rio Grande,
named for warring, for massacring, cities
now thriving if population is a measure of that.

The migrant camp on the south 
riverbank, in Matamoros,
when the river swells. Still, migrants
are grateful and think they are better off here 
than where they were and won’t move to higher ground.
Though tents and clothing 
are mostly castoffs from better-offs,
they are grateful. 
Though the gangs threaten and torment and kill them,
they are grateful for what might be a small
chance to go to America without
drowning; the past is known terror, the future is
a possibility, possibly different. 
They have no addresses, immigration lawyers struggle 
to find them
in the camp; the gangs know where they are and charge a river toll
for crossing it, a beating for getting out of line. 
Here, no one is
trustworthy, after a life of fleeing and then
living with hurricane-unworthy tents and communal
wash stations in 
a pandemic. Drinking water, free food comes
but makes them sick, being foreign.

This is America’s consequence, although arrogant to adopt
“America” as their name, when countries on the continent north and south are not

II. The river 
The mostly muddy river flows somewhat clean 
upstream from the two cities,
carrying less mud than at Del Rio 
(from the river), or Laredo 
(sandy, rocky place or beautiful pasture or gull),
or Rio Grande City, or Los Ebanos
(maybe named for a yellow-flowering tree, in Sonora,
far west of here, opposite Baja). 

The river drops much of its mud 
between Laredo and Rio Grande City, dumps it into Falcon Reservoir
which slows the water, weakening it. 
Down from Los Ebanos, a diversion dam makes no
reservoir but strait-jackets the water back onto the land for irrigation, also dropping
the mud. 
Still, water erodes and 
the river
picks up mud again.

The failed rift
The Rio Grande begins in New Mexico,
after the Jemez River, sourced in a caldera,
joins it. It follows
low land collapsed where
the continent tried and
failed to 
pull apart, rift,
only stretching enough to make a 
sag in the landscape,
an easy passage for water. 
The rift ends just south 
of the Mexico-New Mexico border
and the river turns southeast, follows
the edge of the Chihuahua Trough
(once a low point then squeezed into mountains)
until the Sierra Madre Occidental forces it
into a Big Bend
and it turns north and then south, seeking
base level at
the Gulf of Mexico.

The rift-origin of the river 
the rift-origin of the migrants 
the rift of immigration policy

III. New camps
McAllen, Anzalduas Park.
Del Rio, under the International Bridge.
On and on it goes.
They keep coming.
We keep trying to keep
them out. They don’t want much,
just a chance, a change 
from their particular
domestic terror-infected
former home

Gwendolyn Macpherson is a recently retired Professor of Geology. She has had poems published in Coal City Review. While an undergraduate, she studied with W. D. Snodgrass and Stephen Dunn. She later spent a summer at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, studying with Stephen Dobyns.

Editor-in-Chief Laura Lee Washburn is the Director of Creative Writing at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, and the author of This Good Warm Place: 10th Anniversary Expanded Edition (March Street) and Watching the Contortionists (Palanquin Chapbook Prize). Her poetry has appeared in such journals as TheNewVerse.News, Carolina Quarterly, Ninth Letter, The Sun, and Valparaiso ReviewHarbor Review’s chapbook prize is named in her honor. She expects her next collection, The Book of Stolen Images (Meadowlark) to be out in a few months.


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