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El Norte
by Sharmagne Leland-St. John

El Norte.
A prayer upon her brown lips.

El Norte.
A dream growing like
plumeria blossoms from
empty chambers in
her heart.

In El Norte
she can make a decent wage.
Her children will not go to bed hungry.
She quits her job at the plantation,
kisses her children's warm cheeks
as they sleep;
says goodbye to Columbia.

The Rio Grande behind her,
she now mops my neighbours' floors,
scrubs their toilets
for ten bucks an hour.

By the time she pays rent for her room,
buys bus tokens, and junk food
there is little left to send home.
Her children grow up without her.
Abuelita sends black and white photographs.
The little one is still frail and thin.

El Norte
The Land of Milk and Honey–
The Promised Land he believes in.
He'll go on ahead,
send for his children one by one;
then his wife and the baby.

Under the sweltering
San Fernando Valley sun
he pushes the market basket
as he picks through
the neighbourhood trash;
for glass and aluminum
to recycle for pennies.
Surely his job teaching
the village children their ABCs
was better than this.

In the marketplace in El Salvador
his wife almost forgets she is married.
The man with the gold tooth
smiles at her as he wraps the fish
in newspaper–
adding an extra piece now and then.

She misses her husband,
but has nothing to confess to the priest
as he leans in closer
to hear her sins.


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