This was originally published in 2008
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free.” —Emma Lazarus, 1882
The Statue of Liberty came down from her pedestal on the Atlantic where she stands looking and waiting on the east, watching the boats come in. She set down her tablet, her crown, and last her torch. Checking that her veil was still in place, she waded into the ocean and swam for the other side. In Manhattan she caught a bus going west. The driver she paid in pennies, oxidized and green. The driver had never seen such a thing.
She sat next to a man from Louisiana—“Goin’ ‘a visit some family,” he said—and they talked about the hot summer weather and politics and the man’s house which he had lost in Katrina and the man’s family which he had lost in drink. She would have given him something for his pain but she was poor, had given all she had in New York, and so she smiled and comforted him with words. Her face was beautiful and he fell in love.
In Washington DC they stopped and she looked longingly toward the refrigerated food aisle at a Seven-Eleven. A young girl took pity on her and donated sixty cents so she could buy an apple. The girl was alone in the world, said she didn’t need the money though sixty cents was all she had.
When the man came back on the bus, he had a bottle of whiskey in a brown paper bag. He offered her some but she said, “No, thank you.” Soon he was drunk and as they went through Roanoke he tried to kiss her but she did not want to be kissed. She walked to the front of the bus carefully—for it is very hard to walk on moving buses—and spoke to the driver who stopped the bus and threw the man out, kicking and muttering, “But I love you, sweetheart… but I love you.”
She transferred buses in Memphis and they went west and rapidly. When darkness came she slept and when she woke the sun was coming up in Texas, that wide grasshairy state. The grass went and went and she felt the amber waves would never end.
They ended, in desert and saguaro, in red mountains and red sunrise. Earlier, they had stopped in Austin and waited for a transfer that was late for hours. A bus finally arrived as dark swept over them and darkness covered the road from Texas to New Mexico until she woke up and the sun was breaking over the desert and it broke like an egg, yellow and clear running over the toast baked earth. They were in Arizona.
They disembarked in Tucson and she hitched a ride with a Catholic priest from El Salvador. He took her down to Nogales. He gave her two dollars, saying it was good for the poor to help each other. When she was in sight of the border, there was a Mexican man selling watches. When she touched one of them, the man said, “Es verdad. Es Armani. Ten dollars.” She said she didn’t have any money. “For you, bonita, five dollars.” She said she had two dollars, holding them up apologetically. He scrutinized her. “Because you are mi amor, two dollar, es okay.” He handed her the watch and she put it on. She did not cross the border but started walking west along the fence that creates Mexico, the fence that creates the United States, and her watch clinked against her metallic skin like the sound of small bells.
As she walked under that great western sun, it flamed upon her copper skin and heated it to burning. She came upon a group of trailers where a young Mexican wife was crying.
“Mi esposo fue deportado,” the wife said as her children, brown and baked, scrounged for pennies in the dirt. She went to embrace the young Mexican wife, but as soon as she touched her, the woman shrieked and jumped back. Bright red burns showed on the young Mexican wife’s arms where her hot metal forearms had comforted. The young Mexican wife gathered up her children and dashed inside and she was left alone with the wife’s burned skin stuck to her forearms.
She walked on. She cut a hole in a cactus and pulled back the veil that covered her face and put her face to the hole. The needles tickled her nose and the water, when it first touched her lips, crackled, and spit and steam rose up from her lips like a cloud.
She walked along the fence, American steel and American concrete. It was brown and rusted and there was barbed wire looped across the top. She came to a city and half the city was on one side of the fence and half was on the other side of the fence and she came to a house and half was on one side of the fence and half was on the other side of the fence. She went inside. There was a family eating at the dining room table and half of the table was on one side of the fence and half was on the other side of the fence. The fence was slotted and see-through and the mother and her son sat on one side of the fence and the father and his daughter sat on the other side of the fence. They talked and laughed and ate. They ate all the time. Her feet burned and the carpet melted under them and stuck. The mother smelled the acrid smell and turned to her and yelled at her to leave.
She apologized and quickly left the house and walked to a river. The fence went through the river, it was built to the bottom of the river. The fence was slotted and the water went through the fence. As she was wading through the river a fish jumped. It came up out of a spout of water like a whale blowing its blowhole and flew over the fence in a giant arc like the moon and landed in a great splash on the other side like a child cannonball. Then more fish jumped so that soon the water was boiling with them. As they flew over the fence they dripped water on her shoulders and hair and the water crackled and spit and steam rose from her shoulders and hair like a cloud. The water itself crackled and spit with fish and boiled and steam rose from the river like a cloud.
Some of the fish were not big enough to make the jump. They lept and lept, small little things, and collided into the fence. They beat themselves against it until they were bloodied. Still they jumped and the water was boiling with blood and small dead fish and it was as if the river was a vein and the earth itself were bleeding.
She waded out of the river and walked on. Blood covered her legs and dried brown as rust in the desert sun. The desert stretched interminably. She began to grow tired. She leaned against the fence, not noticing the barbed wire because of her great tiredness. The barbs scratched the green from her and left red rust lines. The barbed wire broke under her tired weight. When she rose and walked on she took the barbed wire with her. It wrapped around her like Christmas lights.
A thousand Mexicans fled through the fence that she had broken. They were led by the coyote called Guadalupe. But she didn’t notice.
She walked on and passed the place where the fence ends. She was in desert, where even the cacti shrivel and die. She was tired and hot and bound by barbed wire which had left red rust lines. Her legs were covered in dried blood of the river. Her feet were black and sticky with melted carpet. Her forearms bore the skin of the young Mexican wife, which had become black and crispy. On her wrist was a fake Armani watch. In her tiredness she stumbled. She reached out to the fence to catch her but the fence had ended and she fell. She was so broken she curled up into ball. She was a huddled mass, all alone and in the desert.
After some time the coyote called Guadalupe came to her. The coyote went to give
r her some water and saw that she wore a veil. The coyote lifted the veil and shrieked. The veil was hot to touch but that was not why the coyote shrieked. Behind the veil the coyote saw that half of her face was skull and rotted flesh, half dead. The other half was more beautiful than any face the coyote had ever seen, more beautiful even than the face of the coyote. The coyote asked her how this happened. She croaked and whispered the dry words.
It has always been like this and will be so for a long time.
She wept and the tears crackled and spit on her cheeks and steam rose from her cheeks like a cloud. A thousand Mexicans stopped around her. They had been caught and were being sent back to Mexico. They remarked to each other how beautiful the statue was because the Mexican soul loves death as much as it loves life and the statue was the most beautiful statue in the world.
First, she took up her torch, then her crown and her tablet. She turned to the east and waited and her veil was a wedding veil. She stood looking to the east, watching the boats come in, and so she waits enlightening the world to look for the one she waits for. She yearns to break free.
After some time, the statue lifted her arm and covered her face with the veil. She rose and walked on. She walked and walked and finally she came to Manhattan. She swam through the Atlantic and stepped back on to her island, which is called Liberty Island. She was bound by the barbed wire which left red rust lines on her green skin. Her legs were covered in dried blood. Her feet were black and sticky. Her forearms bore skin which had become black and crispy. She wore a fake Armani watch. A veil covered her face.