TO THE CHILDREN DETAINED IN MCALLEN

by adriana e. ramírez

 

 

I read that many of the children in detention regress. Toddlers return to wetting themselves. Diapers long since abandoned emerge from cardboard boxes, a renewed chorus of Velcro.

 

I’ve heard the children stop talking—don’t understand why mother-father-parent-person doesn’t answer a quieting call.

 

I’ve heard they wake from and into nightmare.

 

I’ve heard that social workers cry on the phone when they give the parents reports. I’ve heard it’s one phone call every three weeks.

 

I’ve heard that children fall silent—that it’s up to the parent, across the country in a different jail, to comfort, to come up with conversation, to fill the seven minutes allotted.

 

I’ve heard some just say “te quiero” over and over again. There is nothing else about this to remember or discuss.

 

I’ve heard that some of the children will say “te quiero” back and that it’s so much harder to hear than say—the ears that somehow make the chest caught prey, the throat a trap.

 

I’ve heard that some of the children have already forgotten their mother  tongue—that their muscles bend in foreign direction—that they’ve forgotten the sound of their mother’s voices.

 

I’ve heard some of the children call their social workers “mother.”

 

I’ve heard that some parents have already been deported and don’t want their children to be—that they’d rather live without them than let their children return to certain death.

 

I’ve heard that some parents wait for their babies on the border, pacing a new road, undamming a new tributary.

 

I’ve heard they throw the pacifiers in the river.  I’ve heard a mother threw herself in the river.

 

I’ve driven past the compound. It’s next to the airport. The sign in front is nondescript—nothing says there are hundreds of children in here, nothing says here is a place where forgetting happens. Here is a place full of what’s forgotten.

 

I’ve heard they pray, the children, that even when everything else is a distant memory, that they still try to speak to God. I speak to God when I can too.

 

And I hold my baby, I hold my son, like I hold the papers my parents carried—like a reliquary for a dead saint—like the blood of a savior. I keep. I keep…

 

I keep him close.

 

I teach him “te quiero” every night—as if my love could be prayer enough.

© 2004-2020 All Rights Reserved. American Poetry Journal