Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

[Three Poems]

by Margaret Towner

Third Grade Writing Assignment

I like the dog. 
The dog is nice.
Over and over.
Day after day.

    If you want to write
    About this dog 
    You need to tell me more.

I like the dog.
The dog is cute.
Over and over.
Day after day.

	Can’t you write 
	About something else?
	Write about your weekend.

I like the dog.
The dog is brown.
Over and over.
Day after day.

	Is there anything else
	You could write about?

You want me to write 
About something else?
You want to know?
You want to know
What happened to me?

He hurt me
Hurt me in the night
My father’s friend
Hurt me in the night
That’s what happened to me.
You want me to write about that?


Border Crossing

You know that sign?
The yellow and black one
On the highway as you
Drive north from the border,
The sign with the family
Holding hands and running.
That’s where Maria’s uncle 
Died alone, coming north
From the border.

You know that fence?
That’s where the coyote 
Abandoned her father
He couldn’t make it over
The others were younger
They ran on, left him
To cross alone.
Her father struggled over 
Alone. He hurt his back,
Walked in the night 
Alone. He wandered down 
A street of stucco homes
Alone. He took a chance.
Chose a door and knocked.
A woman opened, pulled him in, 
And handed him the phone.
—Call your family, if you 
Have one. Tell them you’ll
Be safe.—

You know that highway?
His son drove south 
Alone. Down that highway 
To find him, take him home.
And the woman took him 
To a hidden corner where 
They met up. —If anyone 
comes near I am your wife—
she whispered. She hugged his son
—How are you, mijo?—
Then turned to him and whispered
Again—Now kiss me good-bye.
See you soon, mi amor.—

Father and son drove north
Together on that highway 
With the yellow and black sign.
In Los Angeles his own wife
And other children waited
For his return. They waited 
For them to make it past 
That yellow and black sign.

I know you know that fence.
They paid the coyote 
Who left him behind
At that fence. They paid 
Him what they still owed him 
Hoping there would be no trouble.


How to Achieve Wetback Status

She shows up 
in my classroom,
one day, a tiny 
sliver of life.
Wisps of wilted 
plumes frame 
her eyes, the color 
of the river. 
Once left behind
on the rancho
by her mother,
she now carries 
buoyant hope north.
School is of no use 
when she arrives.
She knows no books,  
but she knows
about the river.

The coyotes 
never asked 
if she knew
how to swim. 
They blew up 
plastic grocery 
bags, tied them 
to her arms,  
you know,
like wings.
At school  
she speaks
of the mud, 
how it oozed up
between her toes.
How her feet sank 
into the sludge.

She speaks of fear 
that wrapped around
her skin like darkness, 
of stepping off 
into nothing
with only plastic
bags around her arms.
She whispers 
of haunting voices 
that called her
into the river
as she clung 
to the embankment.
In search of her mother
where water and night
become just one,
she sought to keep
her hope afloat. 

I watch
the other girls 
encircle her,
the wind blowing
through her faded
pink dress,
as her words trace
the path of the water. 
Like she-dogs
they shield her
from fly balls 
on the playground
and hover close,
as if their presence
could erase that
night, so they could
all forget the
journey north.


SHJ Issue 6
Fall 2012

Margaret Towner

is a teacher of English learners and students at-risk in reading. Helping students discover the magic of language and literacy when they do not believe that they can learn to read is a true honor for her. She has lived for many years in Latin America and has three bilingual children. Translating poetry from Spanish to English, writing children’s music, and performing Latin American music are ways in which she shares her diverse life with others.

Towner received the Jan Buel Bradley Chapbook Award in 2005, and her poetry will appear in two upcoming anthologies: Silver Birch Anthology and the Cancer Poetry Project Anthology.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury