(Published in The Sonora Review, Issue 74)
We leave you in the dark, always
in pre-dawn darkness, la madrugada,
in hopes of making it to Nebraska
or Kansas by nightfall. With square blank
stares, you watch us cram the old Plymouth
with as much stuff as we can:
School clothes bought in Grafton
or Grand Forks. (No need to take work
clothes; we’ll need them again next summer.)
Pots. Pans. Tools. An empty two-pound
Folgers Coffee can to pee in to cut down
on the number of stops.
We leave you to fend for yourself,
door and windows shut but not locked
(there are no locks in our North Dakota).
The warmth of the cast-iron wood
stove will linger for an hour or two,
then the Red River Valley frigidness
will settle in until our return in spring.
You will welcome visitors in our absence.
Not hobos or bums (there are none
in our North Dakota) but rats and mice
and other vermin. And powdered
black dirt howling as it blows
in from the Canadian plains.
And we leave you in silence,
cold and piercing, broken only
by the wail of the wind as it fills
the vacuum we leave behind.
The engine starts and hums as we
clamor on board. My father behind
the wheel. My mother next to him.
My older brother Norberto next to her.
From the back we watch you
slide out of sight, followed
by the other dark houses in the camp.
Soon there’s nothing to see except
for the lights from the dashboard,
flickering and shimmering like prayers
in a chapel. And then our silence is broken
as we hear my mother begin her own:
en el nombre sea de Dios.