when your spine pulls from the earth

My daughter wants to know what makes our home dangerous. As we lay in bed at night, reading stories about our golden rules for joy, the sound of helicopters flying over is ever-present. Like a wasp buzzing above the water, waiting for you to come up for air. I've had her at my side since before she was born. My grandmother's eyes and laughter live in hers. The certain glow of all the stars that made the line of women in my family lives in her flickering eyes as she smiles and in the oceans that form at their edges when she tries not to cry. Women who come from here start learning where our tears have to live far too early on. I remember being young, laying next to my grandmother in her brass bed watching shadows of the trees move across the room, her magic heart beating in my chest in the stillness of warm summer nights. Some nights, in seconds, her patio and the entire house would light up with extraterrestrial light. "Estan buscando alguien. Pinche migra," she would whisper matter of factly before readjusting her legs and falling back to sleep. She'd grown accustomed to it. Delfina's home sat one block away from the edge of a deep arroyo where coyotes and jackrabbits lived. We lived there too, in the dirt. We used to stand at the edge of the arroyo when the rain was coming, when the moon was rising. On most days, without water, I could fly down its walls and play in its belly. Everything is dry in the desert- even its insides. Even its sadness and its joy. It was a place to explore and a place to hide. ​

​During warmer months, when the weather made it easier for people to move across deserts, across invented lines, men would run through the university campus to that arroyo to hide under the gobernadora and in the tunnels that carried flood water back to the border under neighborhood streets. Eventually, if it flooded, the water would join the dried up river. I'd never seen a man hiding in the arroyo, but always wondered if the flood waters had ever washed one away and always knew that when the helicopters came looking, the lights were bright enough to pierce the walls of homes, exposing all our skin in the dark. Now, a helicopter hovers in the sky above our home, just a few blocks away from Delfina's, every night. Like clockwork, as we lay our heads to rest, we can hear and sometimes see it suspended over Mt. Cristo Rey like a marionette. It hovers over the wall men built when they turned the desert’s spine to metal and stapled it to the earth. I don't know how to tell my daughter that the wall, its foundation built in our dirt, makes the marrow in our bones push rust out our nails. No shade of nail polish can make me forget what happens when a thing is severed. I don't know how to tell my daughter that we all come from everywhere and that everywhere is ours, when this line cuts the earth before our eyes. Maybe all that's needed is the echo. "Pinche migra."


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