Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Crime and Punishment, the poem

A short piece of prose I wrote a few days ago just wrapped itself in a cocoon and came out a poem ...

The gavel came down on Mel Kay
and Michael McLaughlin
of the Golden State Fence Company

who built a levee fifteen feet high
to hold back the human tide
at the southern border.
The Army Corps of Engineers
called their work impeccable
and stuffed their pockets full.

Then a judge banged his gavel
sentenced Kay and McLaughlin
to house arrest, fines of five million,
for hiring men with borrowed names
and imaginary numbers.
For shuffling papers with a wink
and putting them to work.

But does the punishment fit the crime?
Perhaps a fine, a few thousand each
would suffice, paid with indentured sweat.
Being forced to run the deadly gauntlet
through the desert,
for the profit and pleasure of bandits.
Spending years not knowing when
the knock might come at the door,
whether tomorrow they will take you away
in a windowless van, leaving behind
your spouse, your children,
once again.
Spending years apart from your firstborn,
who turns flat into photographs, a voice echoing
at the other end of the line.
And getting stuck on the wrong side
when your mother or brother is dying back home
but there’s no way you can go to them,
because there’s no telling if you can get back again.

This, perhaps, would make a just sentence for Kay and McLaughlin.
Not for hiring workers without papers,
that is not the crime.
For building fences to block their passage—
cages, for men and women
who arrive with dry throats
and hearts laden down with stones.

revised December 12, 2007

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