by Lisa Stice
Lately, I’ve been crying when I wake up, when I go to bed, and random times in between. I’m not sure how someone couldn’t be moved to emotion and moved to try to do something to help children and families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border.
It takes the ability to empathize, though. On June 18, Eric Chandler, author of Hugging This Rock (Middle West Press), tweeted, “I feel like we’re losing our imagination. I’ve heard empathy is an act of imagination. Imagine if someone tried to take away your child,” and so it makes sense that an administration who takes children from parents would first take funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Military spouses are supposed to stay quiet on political issues, but this is far beyond a political issue; this is a human rights issue. As Seamus Heaney said, there is “[n]o such thing / as innocent / bystanding.”
Ocean Vuong: Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
Ocean Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam. Vuong’s poems vary in subject: family in Vietnam, war, immigrating, love, depression. One poem explains how his mother renamed him Ocean – the body of water connecting Vietnam and the United States – after their boat voyage.
In “Aubade with Burning City,” Vuong writes of the evacuations of refugees and Americans during the fall of Saigon, complete with Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” threading through the horrific images:
The song, moving through the city like a widow.
A white…A white…I’m dreaming of a curtain of snow
falling from her shoulders.
Snow scraping against the window. Snow shredded
with gunfire. Red Sky.
Snow on the tanks rolling over the city walls.
A helicopter lifting the living just
out of reach.
Javier Zamora: Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, 2017)
Javier Zamora was born in La Herradura, El Salvador. Zamora’s poems are his journey (thousands of miles alone at the age of nine) to escape violence in the hopes of finding an idealized new home.
Home becomes reimagined in these poems when confronted with the realities of racism, border politics and economic inequality. In these lines, Zamora addresses families separation and the lasting trauma of memory. From “The Pier of La Herradura”:
When I sleep I see a child
hidden between the legs of a scarred man:
their sunburned backs sweat cold air,
the child faces me
and the pier’s thatched roof swallows the moon
cut by the clouds behind them.
Sometimes, they’re on the same roof
and uniformed men surround them.
I mistake bullet casings
for cormorant beaks diving
till water churns the color of sunsets,
stained barnacles line the pier
and I can’t see who’s facedown
on the boats painted crimson.
Mizna, Volume 18.1, 2017: Surviving
At this last AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference, I attended a panel reading of contributors of the “Surviving” issue of Mizna: Prose, Poetry, and Art Exploring Arab America.
The contributors were from different states, some born here, some immigrated here.
Bahamian immigrant Bernard Ferguson‘s poem, “alternate universe in which no human body can be illegal,” particularly moved me that day, and it speaks even louder during this time of family separations. The fifth and last stanza:
here, there is no passport of treaty required for entry. you only need
someone to vouch for you. and when i say vouch for you, i mean:
they’ve heard the long winding tale of your failures and still throw
their arm around your shoulder when they see you at the bar. when
i say vouch for you, i mean: they are torn awake by your cries in the
dead of night, and unable to sleep for a second longer, they summon
a line of bloodthirsty mothers at your back.
About the Reviewer:
Lisa Houlihan Stice is a poet/mother/military spouse, the author of two poetry collections: Permanent Change of Station (Middle West Press, 2018) and Uniform (Aldrich Press, 2016), and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She volunteers as a mentor with the Veterans Writing Project, as an associate poetry editor with 1932 Quarterly, and as a contributor for The Military Spouse Book Review. She received a BA in English literature from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) and an MFA in creative writing and literary arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage. While it is difficult to say where home is, she currently lives in North Carolina with her husband, daughter and dog.
You can read some of Lisa’s most recently-published poems here: “Counting the Casualties” in The Military Review, “Ophelia Among the Reeds” in The Ekphrastic Review, and two poems in Interstice Poetry Journal. She has poetry forthcoming in The Sea Letter, 8 Poems, and Kallisto Gaia Press. Follow her web site to keep up!