"The Patron Saints" by Balam Rodrigo, translated by Dan Bellm

September 27, 2021 

The Patron Saints

Balam Rodrigo
translated by Dan Bellm

         —For its daily efforts since 1995, offering free food and drink
         to migrants traveling north on the train known as the Beast,
         the Veracruz women’s group known as
Las Patronas has received
         the national Human Rights Award.

                  for Las Patronas, who have more balls than any macho

Storm in La Patrona, Amatlán, Veracruz—

a night lit by oil lamps,
the sun gone down, the electric light gone out,

rain beating its fury against the roof, sheets of water
pounded to shrapnel-clatter—

coffee made from tortillas burnt charcoal-black
and strained through a rag,

nothing but tortillas to ease hunger,
and beans boiled over the fire.

The fire lights up faces, warms the shadows.
The migrants shiver, cups in hand
like little hearth-fires of water,
sugar candle lights for the journey.

They barely speak, they stare at the ground,
at its cracks and crevices, the ash of charred wood
a snow-frost over their feet.
The train shakes the earth as it passes,
and roars deep, and kills the last of the sun.

Two Nicaraguans widen their eyes like street cats—

“Tomorrow—we’ll hop the Beast tomorrow—”

Still, they stand up to go.



Las Patronas


—Por los esfuerzos que implica ofrecer un taco y agua, día a día
desde 1995, sin recibir un peso, a los migrantes que viajan en el tren
conocido como La Bestia, el grupo de mujeres veracruzanas recibe
Premio de Derechos Humanos.

         para Las Patronas, que tienen más güevos que cualquier gallo

Tormenta en La Patrona, Amatlán, Veracruz.

Es una noche encendida con lámparas de petróleo;
la luz se ha ido—la del sol, la de los cables—.

Riñe con furia la lluvia contra el techo, agua en láminas
vencidas por el tableteo de las metrallas.

Café de tortillas quemadas, negras hasta el carbón,
coladas con un trapo de manta.

No hay más que tortillas para saciar el hambre,
frijoles hervidos con leña.

El fuego ilumina rostros, calienta sombras.

Tiritan los migrantes con tazas en la mano,
pequeñas hogueras de agua, velas de azúcar
para el camino.

Hablan poco, llevan los ojos a la tierra,
a sus grietas, y la ceniza escarcha
los pies con su nieve de madres calcinadas.

Trepida el tren la tierra con sus pasos;
brama profundo, hace morir los restos del sol.

Dos nicas abren las pupilas como salvajes gatos:

“mañana subiremos a La Bestia, mañana”.

Sin embargo, se levantan.

Copyright © 2021 by Balam Rodrigo and Dan Bellm Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 27, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

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This poem is dedicated to the brave group of women known as “Las Patronas” (the patrons), who for the past 25 years have voluntarily aided and fed thousands of migrants traveling atop the train known as The Beast, trying to reach the United States. I’ve tried to recreate the atmosphere of the place (La Patrona, Amatlán, Veracruz, Mexico), and the insecurity and suffering of two Nicaraguan migrants waiting for the train. Despite their exhaustion and hunger, the darkness and rain, they decide to hop on when they hear the whistle. For migrants, tomorrow’s right now: time to continue their long, hard journey.
Balam Rodrigo, translated by Dan Bellm

Balam Rodrigo is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Libro centroamericano de los muertos (FCE, 2018), winner of the Premio Bellas Artes de Poesía Aguascalientes; Marabunta (Ala Ediciones, 2021); and El tañedor de cadáveres (CONARTE, 2021). A biologist, writer, and former professional soccer player, he lives in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, México.

Dan Bellm is a poet and translator living in Berkeley, California. He is the author of Deep Well (Lavender Ink, 2017) and Practice (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2008), which won the 2009 California Book Award. His translations include Central American Book of the Dead by Balam Rodrigo, forthcoming from FlowerSong Press in 2022, Speaking in Song (Shearsman, 2017) by Pura López Colomé, and The Song of the Dead (Black Square Editions, 2016) by Pierre Reverdy. He teaches literary translation and poetry at Antioch University Los Angeles.

Libro centroamericano de los muertos
(FCE, 2018)

Deep Well
(Lavender Ink, 2017)

“The Love of Travelers” by Angela Jackson
read more
“Borderbus” by Juan Felipe Herrera
read more

Thanks to Rosa Alcalá, author of MyOTHER TONGUE (Futurepoem, 2017), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Listen to a Q&A about Alcalá’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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