journalism in verse

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Protection Spell

in Identity by

In my yard, between live oak and lemon tree,
I’m burning my old passport
along with a photo of my infant great uncle
sprawled on a bearskin in Odessa.

I’m protecting the Salvadoran neighbor girls,
the Nicaraguan neighbor children,
the Oaxacan neighbor boys, from ICE.
I need heat to protect them from ICE.
I need papers to protect them from La Migra.
I need clouds of anonymity.
I need Oakland to stay a Sanctuary City.
I need Governor Moonbeam
telling the Feds to fuck themselves.

I invoke the grass that my neighbor Francisco
waters at the retirement community.
I conjure the tamales and arroz con leche
my neighbor Benjamín brings me
at Christmas and New Years
from the house he’s building
by hand for his family.

I call forth the memory of Socorro,
who had never seen a shower,
who taught me to suck on lemons.
Of Maria from Guatemala
who laughed when I cut the phone cord
with a scissors because she had been talking
too long instead of playing with me.
Of Marta who left her own children in El Salvador,
who never once in six years addressed me
with the familiar “,” always “usted”:
the Latinas who helped raise me.

I conjure Jorge, goalie, commander of the team,
throwing himself fearlessly before the ball;
Fernandito, the handsome, laughing forward;
Juan, the Mexico-City Communist who begged me
not to tell the others he was a Jew;
all the Spanish-speaking boys
(plus Rosa, budding dyke in a stevedore cap)
I played soccer with in high school.

Lastly I chant the name of Agapita from Guadalajara
who has worked for my parents for 39 years,
the closest I ever had to a sister,
arriving when I was 15 and she 17.
She taught me how to file my nails.
I taught her about birth control.
I danced at her wedding.
My mother sent her kids to Catholic school.
Her mother made the best mole I’ve ever tasted.
I am summoning the spirit of Gapy’s mole-making dead Mom.
I am calling the ghosts of my murdered Rigan relatives.
I am weaving a spell of protection to hide
all the Latinos on my street,
keep them safe,
keep them on my street.


Jan Steckel is a poet and former pediatrician. Her book The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) won a 2012 Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Nonfiction. She has published two award-winning chapbooks: Mixing Tracks (Gertrude Press, 2009) and The Underwater Hospital (Zeitgeist Press, 2006). Her writing has appeared in Scholastic Magazine, Yale Medicine, Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, California, “where we keep our fist in the air.”

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