Javier Zamora reads “Second Attempt Crossing”

January 29, 2018

Curtis Fox: This is The Poetry Magazine Podcast for the week of January 29th, 2018. I’m producer Curtis Fox, with an archival edition of the podcast from November of 2016. The podcast that month featured four of the Ruth Lily and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg fellows for 2016. The podcast was hosted by Poetry editor Don Share and associate editor Lindsay Garbutt. They were joined in the discussion of the poet by Christina Pugh, the consulting editor for the magazine. Here’s Don Share.


Don Share: This has been an exciting year for Javier Zamora. In addition to our fellowship, he’s also a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford, and his first book Unaccompanied will soon be published by Copper Canyon.


Lindsay Garbutt: The title of his book comes from his own experience as an unaccompanied minor migrating to the US. After several failed attempts, when he was 9 years old he finally made the trip from El Salvador to his parents in California. Javier told us that in spite of growing up and going to college and graduate school in the US, he still doesn’t have citizenship or a green card.


Don Share: We have two of his poems in the November issue, and the one we’re going to hear is called “Second Attempt Crossing”.


Javier Zamora: This poem is dedicated to Chino. He is the ex-gangster who helped me with each of my attempts trying to cross the border. I wouldn’t be here without him.


Lindsay Garbutt: The gang that Chino quit was Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. It might also be helpful to know that the border control and immigration police is called “la migra” in Spanish. Here’s the poem.


Javier Zamora: Second Attempt Crossing


For Chino


In the middle of that desert that didn’t look like sand

and sand only,

in the middle of those acacias, whiptails, and coyotes, someone yelled

“¡La Migra!” and everyone ran.

In that dried creek where 40 of us slept, we turned to each other

and you flew from my side in the dirt.


Black-throated sparrows and dawn

hitting the tops of mesquites,

beautifully. Against the herd of legs,


you sprinted back toward me,

I jumped on your shoulders,

and we ran from the white trucks. It was then the gun

ready to press its index.


I said, “freeze, Chino, ¡pará por favor!”


So I wouldn’t touch their legs that kicked you,

you pushed me under your chest,

and I’ve never thanked you.


Beautiful Chino — 


the only name I know to call you by — 

farewell your tattooed chest:

the M, the S, the 13. Farewell

the phone number you gave me

when you went east to Virginia,

and I went west to San Francisco.


You called twice a month,

then your cousin said the gang you ran from

in San Salvador

found you in Alexandria. Farewell

your brown arms that shielded me then,

that shield me now, from La Migra.


Christina Pugh: It’s great to hear his reading of this poem. What really struck me reading it on the page was just the tenderness expressed toward Chino. Hearing him read it, that really comes through. It’s very moving.


J: you sprinted back toward me,

I jumped on your shoulders,

and we ran from the white trucks


Christina Pugh: It’s a very dramatic moving scene and I just think the sense of love, gratitude for this man who’s last name he never even knew, really comes through.


Don Share: I’m really struck by the rhythm in the poem. “Second Attempt Crossing”, each of those words has two beats. I can’t help but think about the second attempt; the two beats really function through the poem. You might think of Dante “In The Middle of Our Life”. A journey starts here, it’s in the middle of that desert, and even the word “middle” and “desert”, and for that matter “Chino” and “Migra”, their two beat rhythms all throughout the poem, it’s like two feet one in front of the other just pushing forward rhythmically. In the poem, it’s something I found to be really moving.


Lindsay Garbutt: One of those two beat words that really stood out to me here was also “farewell”. You could have easily said “goodbye”, or something else, but “farewell” has such a tender quality to it, as you were saying Christina. And also, this sense of a journey. Go well, farewell, that even though Chino has passed away, he’s kind of gone on another journey or a second journey from life into death, yet he’s still there with Javier protecting him every day.


Javier Zamora:


your brown arms that shielded me then,

that shield me now, from La Migra.


Christina Pugh: It’s very moving as well, the way the elegiac moment is handled. It’s really just “then your cousin said the gang you ran from / in San Salvador / found you in Alexandria.” You can almost picture how that would happen, but it’s not stated out right. I think that adds to the mournful quality of it.


Don Share: The poem is endlessly deep for me, every time I dip into it it seems different. It’s another attempt of making a crossing, and the crossing is also a euphemism for passing out of life entirely. It’s quite something.


Curtis Fox: That was an archival Poetry Magazine Podcast from November of 2016. You can read “Second Attempt Crossing” by Javier Zamora at We’ll be back next week with a new episode. For The Poetry Magazine Podcast, I’m Curtis Fox.

In a special archival edition, the editors discuss Javier Zamora’s poem "Second Attempt Crossing" published in the November 2016 issue of Poetry.

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