Javier Zamora was born in La Herradura, El Salvador in 1990. His father fled El Salvador when he was a year old; and his mother when he was about to turn five. Both parents’ migrations were caused by the US-funded Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992).
In 1999, Javier migrated through Guatemala, Mexico, and eventually the Sonoran Desert. Before a coyote abandoned his group in Oaxaca, Javier managed to make it to Arizona with the aid of other migrants. His book Unaccompanied (Copper Canyon Press, Fall 2017), explores how immigration and the civil war have impacted his family.
Zamora is a 2016-2018 Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and is a 2016 Ruth Lilly/Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellow. He holds fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University (Olive B. O’Connor), MacDowell, Macondo, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Yaddo. In 2016, Barnes and Noble granted him the Writers for Writers Award for his work in the Undocupoets Campaign.
He currently lives in San Rafael, CA.
Salvador, if I return on a summer day, so humid my thumb
will clean your beard of salt, and if I touch your volcanic face,
kiss your pumice breath, please don’t let cops say: he’s gangster.
Don’t let gangsters say: he’s wrong barrio. Your barrios
stain you with pollen, red liquid pollen. Every day cops
and gangsters pick at you with their metallic beaks,
and presidents, guilty. Dad swears he’ll never return,
Mom wants to see her mom, and in the news:
every day black bags, more and more of us leave. Parents say:
don’t go; you have tattoos. It’s the law; you don’t know
what law means there. ¿But what do they know? We don’t
have greencards. Grandparents say: nothing happens here.
Cousin says: here, it’s worse. Don’t come, you could be …
Stupid Salvador, you see our black bags,
our empty homes, our fear to say: the war has never stopped,
and still you lie and say: I’m fine, I’m fine,
but if I don’t brush Abuelita’s hair, wash her pots and pans,
I cry. Like tonight, when I wish you made it
easier to love you, Salvador. Make it easier
to never have to risk our lives.
Mom didn’t know, Dad didn’t know
even if they’d run across fences
before, they didn’t foresee my knees
crashing into cactus needles that night
one shoe slipped off. She says Coyote
said I’ll carry him to your front door
myself, Pati. She didn’t know 110 degrees,
saguaros, no compass to run
north when like Colorado River toads
we slid under bushes—officers yelled
¡On your fucking knees! You couldn’t have
known this could happen, Mom.
You couldn’t have. No es su culpa.
No lo es.