I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.
When I was a kid growing up in California, we often drew monarch butterflies in class, or cut them out of crêpe paper, or made small sculptures of them. The monarch is the state butterfly of California and is known for its mass migration. The Eastern populations of monarchs fly to Mexico for the winter while the Western populations overwinter in California.
We learned a great deal about California history in my elementary school. But it was the flora and fauna that interested me more than the 21 Spanish missions which always seemed to me to be dangerous and terrifying even before I knew about their legacy of genocide. Even more than the goldrush, or Jack London, I wanted to know about poppies, lupines, and quail, and butterflies.
When we studied the establishment of the US/Mexico border, I remember feeling uncomfortable. My grandfather had crossed that border and it seemed to me like nothing good happened there. Still, the thing that I began to grasp was how the border was just something man made, an agreement, an idea. A line in the sand.
The first fences that went up along the border were mostly to keep cattle from wandering back and forth. Cows didn’t know if they were in California or Mexico, they were just seeking more grass, more water. Borders don’t mean anything to animals.
As a kid that wanted only to draw pictures of butterflies and look at the oak trees out the window, I realized that the establishment of nations didn’t have much to do with the fauna and flora at all.
The monarchs, when they migrate, also don’t care about borders. They do care about how we contribute to the climate crisis, how warming trends affect their habitats. This is one planet after all. One of the reasons I loved to draw butterflies back then, was how they could go wherever they wanted, how they were free.
Today's poem explores both the anxiety and real fear of the border, of citizenship, and its consequences. But I most love how this poem explores the ethereal nature of the border itself.
by Stella Wong
J is scared, an alien feeling so we compose a rhapsody in the key of the wind’s song. Without the haves and the holds, and the holding cells, J prays for some divine order. Would they deport a butterfly, who knows how to carry wishes to the ears of gods. We can preempt hope itself, even better than genies. Gold pilots alight on all three branches of the oyamel fir tree. Through the pane of over-state- meant, building on trapped distraught monarchs. What beautiful wallpaper for the border wall. A path to freedom wraps around the paper’s weave. Apatheia comes from below and above. Negligence of the peat and the plant: the pattern repeats when caretakers are sent to protect, but renege. Royals leap and are put to sleep en masse. Is mass migration an exigence or assassination? What nation has walls when the light is swallowed by night? We have no need for your leave to leave. Caped crusaders winging, winning out, we’re flying over the wall. Lepidoptera all asprawl.
"Deportation" by Stella Wong, from SPOOKS, copyright © 2022 Stella Wong. Used by permission of Saturnalia Books.