Cutting Saguaros

Each month we feature a guest post from a contributor to Poetry's current issue. Javier Zamora's poem "Saguaros" appears in the January 2016 issue. Previous posts in this series can be found on the Editors' Blog.

I don't like remembering my time in the desert, nor do I remember it linearly. It took me years of denying I was born in El Salvador, denying I spoke Spanish, denying anything had happened, in order to begin to face what I'd experienced over the two months I'd traveled through three countries to be reunited with my parents.

My brain has decided to forget some details, to shove them deep in my memory, dangerously resurfacing when triggered. There have been times when I've drank too much, out of desperation, out of trying to forget, or ironically, trying to remember. I know the names of Mexican states I crossed through: Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacan, Jalisco, Nayarit, Sinaloa, and Sonora, but not necessarily what occurred in each one. After years of searching, of many painful drafts, of memories, I wrote "Saguaros" and other poems about my journey, but my search to know what really happened continues.

         I also scraped needles first, then carved those tall torsos
for water, then spotlights drove me and thirsty others dashing...

It's June 10. I wake and plan to hike anywhere near the California coast like I've done since I could drive. On this day, every year, I make it a point to reflect on another year I've been in this country without returning to my hometown of La Herradura. The last three years I've also posted on Facebook something like a day like today, X-number of years ago, I crossed the border when I was nine years old, when I ran into a small white van with 30 others. No seats, only red shades. I waited with a twelve-year-old girl and her mom at the side of the door as the men piled in. We waited till the end to jump on top of everyone, just like the coyote said, so we wouldn't end up getting crushed. My body was so tired from heat exposure I passed out immediately. It hadn't been our first attempt crossing the desert. For two weeks we'd tried to successfully cross three different times, with three different coyotes, with three different groups of 30, with three different outcomes. "Saguaros" deals with the first try, but our groups ran out of food and water every time.

Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.