Poetry is, by its nature, ephemeral, and in the eyes of many, disposable. However, I’m a fan of poetic ephemera (chapbooks, pamphlets, broadsides, poetry postcards, miniature poetry books - I collect it all). The practice of carrying poetry on one’s person is not unusual, especially in the rarified circles I occupy, and I’m always on the lookout for new material. I spotted a photo in my FB feed of Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo’s new portable poetry broadside Things to Know for Compañer@s, A No More Deaths Volunteer Guide. I became curious, and purchased a copy.
I received my copy in the mail a few days later, along with a very nice note from Bermejo. Things to Know is a long-form narrative poem contained in a small fold-out broadside (8.5 x14) designed by Ashaki M. Jackson, and nicely segmented into a map, which is exactly what it appears to be - on the surface. Things to Know is a powerful poetic vehicle that transports the reader right into the middle of the terrifying, perilous journey Central American immigrants risk for the chance at a better life within the boundaries of the United States.
Things to Know, begins, like any guide, with the question “Did You Know?”, followed by a series of facts regarding dangerous flora and fauna that exist in the desert. The query, “Did You Know?”, comes off as helpful, even humorous, as the reader starts to immerse herself in Berjemo’s concise poetic prose filled with hints on how to avoid mountain lions, lightning, wooly mammoth tarantulas, as well as needle sharp cacti.
The turn in the poem starts with the following:
Did You Know?
Tu Español puede ayudar a salvar una
vida. Compañero is Spanish for we are in
this shit together. Do not be afraid to
This passage reminds the reader that this is NOT another piece of poetic ephemera - this is social justice in action, an artistic bitch slap in the face of the reader - one that is sorely needed - of the real and present danger thousands of immigrants face every day; the danger we’re made to forget through privilege and media indoctrination, the constant dehumanization of people who deserve a chance to live, thrive, and contribute to the greater good.
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With the truth laid bare, Things to Know continues on a more intimate note, with alternating passages that encourage the reader to be more aware of the dangers and hallucinations one can experience/be subjected to in the desert:
Did you know?
When barrel cacti become tombstones
and their yellow starburst blooms
offerings for the dead, you can go ahead
and belt out Katy Perry songs?
Did you know?
There will be a moment when you
fantasize crashing water gallons down on
the rocks, throwing off your pack,
collapsing on the trail and quitting. This
is when you are to stop and rest. There
are people in the desert who are never
Things to Know ends on a surprising note, which I will not spoil because I believe everyone needs to read it. As for the quality of Bermejo’s poetic prose, the spare, sharp passages burst into the reader’s mind like full-fledged short film vignettes, colorful and complete, which adds to another layer of urgency, as well as importance.
All proceeds from the sale of Things to Know for Compañer@s, A No More Deaths Volunteer Guide, go to No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes (NoMoreDeaths.org), a volunteer, non-profit humanitarian organization based in Arizona, whose mission is to end the death and suffering of immigrants in the U.S.-Mexico badlands through humanitarian aid and advocacy for more humane immigration policies. If you want to make a difference, purchase a copy of Things to Known and carry it with you as a reminder that your fellow human beings - and poetry - are both areas that will always need care and support.
Things to Know for Compañer@s, A No More Deaths Volunteer Guide, a poem by Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo ,© 2016 Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, ($6 + shipping), www.XochitlJulisa.wordpress.com , www.NoMoreDeaths.org .
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Also by Marie C. Lecrivain