In his elegant third collection of poems, “This American Autopsy,” José Antonio Rodríguez examines what it means to be on the edge, between nationalities, acceptances and dismissals by la migra — immigration agents. When did anxiety become a birthright for whole groups of people? From the very beginning? How has a country made of immigrants come to this current moment of walls and detention facilities? His poems are humanizing testaments of life, penetrating headlines, inviting readers into real rooms and families. Selected by Naomi Shihab Nye
By José Antonio Rodríguez
The grownups sat on their long chair called couch
And talked of the weather, the dew of the blossoms’ morning,
And what might happen to us, the children.
Mom said don’t leave the house, not without
Papers. Do I dare speak of the papers hoarded
In corners? How many more poems can you write
About a face spackled with fear before
It holds you? The reader aiming, too.
Let us find a darkened corner, you and I,
Where we will lay these words. Leave children
To sleep in windowless rooms. The mother
Biting a prayer. The country weaving a tomb.
Naomi Shihab Nye is the 2019-21 Young People’s Poet Laureate of the Poetry Foundation, Chicago. José Antonio Rodríguez teaches creative writing at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. His collection ‘‘This American Autopsy’’ was published by the University of Oklahoma Press.
Illustration by R.O. Blechman