Because of the divisiveness of this election time, it feels even more important to me that we read widely, read others' views, and embrace what we can with sympathy. We cannot even approach empathy without knowing something about other experiences, even if it is through imagined stories--prose or poetry. Jama shared the book that I want to share again today here. It is a nominee for the Cybil's poetry awards. And it fills us with the feelings of the words of children who are leaving home, often alone, to make their way to the United States.
The author, Jorge Argueta, is a refugee from El Salvador’s war in the eighties. In his bilingual poetry, he explains the tragic choices confronting young Central Americans today who are saying goodbye to everything they know because they fear for their lives.
These children immigrating speak with poignant voices in the poems. They mostly travel alone while crossing the border into the U.S. from San Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.
The cloud theme is found throughout the poems, some Spanish words within the translations and foot-noted. The title poem shows the cloud shapes mentioned in the poem, along with a young boy flying through the sky, with the clouds. "Cornfields in bloom,/pumpkins and watermelons,/parrots and kites,/and the huge San Salvador volcano." Heart-breaking images by Ruano, somber, and even in a crowd, the kids stand in lonely images. That poem accompanying the image of a group walking away from home to the unknown ends with "I look at the sky/and think,/We are like the clouds."
I felt a small parallel upon reading this book again since Tuesday evening, I wonder if many of us don't feel ourselves like clouds, floating, anchors cut away, unsure of our destination. It meant more to me to read the poems than the time I read it last week. Also, iIn words and art, Argueta and Ruano are telling of these children on a journey, but now I wonder how many children in our country also feel like clouds.
In a poem that is cementing a memory as these children say goodbye to their homes, here are final words about a flame tree, "flowers . . . sway in their little red-winged/hammocks." This particular page captures what the children are leaving and will keep in their hearts. Another of my favorites is the story and illustration of some crossing a desert. The boy in the first poem is carried piggyback by his father. He says: "There is no horse as/ beautiful/or as fast/as my father/Felipe." On the opposite page, there is one part about singing, how it makes things better as they travel long and hard: "if we keep singing,/we'll scare away all the tiredness/and the fear/and become a song." Alfonso Ruano's illustrations are lovely acrylic mostly double-page spreads, sometimes realistic and sometimes dark and shadowed.
the book has touched me more than I think it would have a few weeks ago. Although it is not the only solace, I find poetry can inspire the kind of courage that I may need in these next years. To learn that others have chosen to face and then triumph over challenges inspires and challenges me to be better. This book of poetry is one not to miss.