from "What kind of times are these?" by Penina Ava Taesali

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May 5, 2022 

from “What kind of times are these?”

Penina Ava Taesali

2

Virus sets fire after fire blazing the eco of the monarch trees kissing the clouds

The root of eco means home home once knew and grew alongside of ancient 

Sequoias who mediated sun and rain and song. 

But the children disappear somewhere 

And the forests forever scorched 

Virus asks what matters 

The children nick-named the cage—

The Freezer 

Lay on freezing floors 

Try to sleep  

On 

Concrete

When

The 

Children 

Cannot            be.          
 

Human?


3

It is not over. Border Control pulled the children out of their parents’ arms.  
Children stolen for private prisons to boom.   Seven Indigenous children 
died inside the prisons.  ACLU reunited a few families.  It is not over.  
The parents are looking for them, year after year looking for them. 
Who counts the missing?  Reporters fail to find a paper-trail.    
No.  database.  to count the Disappeared in America.  
Yesterday’s news.  No longer newsworthy.  
But they have stories—real cliffhangers.  

The child no longer remembers her eyes. 
Not even grandmother’s or grandfather’s, 
or big sister’s or brother’s, or cousin’s.
Lungs of sorrow catch the mourning 
molecules fueling Virus.
 

4

The children laugh at us. The children hear what we will not. 
They ask me. Auntie, you can’t hear that? What about now? Now?  
Can you hear the fiesta near those old woods by the old meeting house? 
We can hear those ghosts singing and dancing for—Maria, 

the great great niece of Uncle Lucas. She is about to walk.  
Graduating with Honors from UC Hastings College of Law 
in the heart of the Tenderloin in Immigration Law.  
Her parents lived to see her walk.  

Listen to her words.  

Forty years ago her parents crossed the Rio Grande before sunrise 
but in those days—in those days on the side of mercy—the others knew
brought the people water, food, blankets and a change of clothes.
           
What if our children made it to their thirteenth birthday?   
Were they not born to dream? A lawyer or a judge or a chef, or a poet.  
The children could have dreamed to celebrate with Maria.  

To see her walk so the ancestors could live.

Maybe the children dreamed the old revolutionary road 
unblocking the path to that old meeting house 
in the woods. There once was a path 

to make it, to give back.  

Copyright © 2022 by Penina Ava Taesali. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 5, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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This poem’s original title was ‘When?’ As in, when will the children be reunited with their families? The poem has ten parts all together. I’ve used experimental forms to try to speak to the humanitarian crisis at our borders, to how some Americans react with cruelty to those fleeing from harm. I wrote this poem a few days after the 2020 election. I wanted to mail the poem to President Biden with the hope that he would do everything he could to reunite families. The poem is, in some ways, written like a documentary poem.”
Penina Taesali

Penina Ava Taesali is a poet of Samoan, Irish, and Portuguese working-class descent. She resides on the Kalapuyan homelands of the Willamette Valley. 

“Cage” by Rigoberto González
read more
“Mexican American Sublime” by Rodney Gomez
read more

Thanks to Brandy Nālani McDougall, author of The Salt-Wind: Ka Makani Pa‘Akai (Kuleana ‘Oiwi Press, 2008), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Listen to a Q&A about McDougall’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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