Word Cloud: MIGRANT

Word Cloud Resized

by Nona Blyth Cloud

“Poetry is a call to action and it also is action. Sometimes we say, “This tragedy, it happened far away. I don’t know what to do. I’m concerned but I’m just dangling in space.” A poem can lead you through that, and it is made of action because you’re giving your whole life to it in that moment. And then the poem — you give it to everyone. Not that we’re going to change somebody’s mind — no, we’re going to change that small, three-minute moment.
nd someone will listen. That’s the best we can do.”
……………………………………..Juan Felipe Herrera 

Juan Felipe Herrera (1948 – ), the first Latino Poet Laureate of the United States and son of Mexican immigrants, grew up in the migrant fields of California.

mi·grant – ˈmīɡrənt/

adjective — 1. migrating, especially of people; migratory.
noun — 2. a person or animal that migrates.
3. Also called migrant worker,  a person who moves from place to place to get work, especially a farm laborer who harvests crops seasonally.

The bland descriptions in the dictionary leave out the long hours of back-breaking work under blazing summer sun, the exposure to poisonous chemicals, the unrelenting poverty where everything people with steady work can take for granted is uncertain and hard to come by.

Juan Felipe Herrera has never forgotten. Instead, he has brought it with him unto a national stage where he can share all that it has taught him. It’s been a long journey, another kind of migration.


and I heard an unending scream piercing nature.
    — from the diary of Edvard Munch, 1892

At the greyhound bus stations, at airports, at silent wharfs
the bodies exit the crafts. Women, men, children; cast out
from the new paradise.

They are not there in the homeland, in Argentina, not there
in Santiago, Chile; never there in Montevideo, Uruguay,
and they are not here

in America

They are in exile: a slow scream across a yellow bridge
the jaws stretched, widening, the eyes multiplied into blood
orbits, torn, whirling, spilling between two slopes; the sea, black,
swallowing all prayers, shadeless. Only tall faceless figures
of pain flutter across the bridge. They pace in charred suits,
the hands lift, point and ache and fly at sunset as cold dark
birds. They will hover over the dead ones: a family shattered
by military, buried by hunger, asleep now with the eyes burning
echoes calling Joaquín, María, Andrea, Joaquín, Joaquín, Andrea

en exilio

From here we see them, we the ones from here, not there or across,
only here, without the bridge, without the arms as blue liquid
quenching the secret thirst of unmarked graves, without
our flesh journeying refuge or pilgrimage; not passengers
on imaginary ships sailing between reef and sky, we that die
here awake on Harrison Street, on Excelsior Avenue clutching
the tenderness of chrome radios, whispering to the saints
in supermarkets, motionless in the chasm of playgrounds,
searching at 9 a.m. from our third floor cells, bowing mute,
shoving the curtains with trembling speckled brown hands. Alone,
we look out to the wires, the summer, to the newspaper wound

in knots as matches for tenements. We that look out from
our miniature vestibules, peering out from our old clothes,
the father’s well-sewn plaid shirt pocket, an old woman’s
oversized wool sweater peering out from the makeshift kitchen.
We peer out to the streets, to the parades, we the ones from here
not there or across, from here, only here. Where is our exile?
Who has taken it?

Mexican tile

Since his appointment as Poet Laureate last June, Herrera has spent much of his time traveling across the country for readings and events. He frequently gives away his personal copies of his books to students who can’t afford to buy them, then has to hunt up new copies for his next reading.

He writes new poems on whatever comes to hand, saying that paper bags and pieces of cardboard boxes have opened him up creatively. “Poems come to me in a big chariot, so I have to write them fast.”

Of his most recent collection, Notes on the Assemblage, he says, “I just put together what was on my table, and those were the poems.”  It contains works in both English and Spanish, which are not always translated. “I thought it added a nice question to the book. It added another layer. Like, ‘What is this doing here?’ I like that — I like an artwork to pose questions.”

Juan Felipe Herrera’s appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate came in 2015, a year that saw terrorism at home and abroad. His poems in response to these devastating tragedies do “change those small, three-minute” moments.

Poem by Poem

— in memory of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson Shot and killed while at church. Charleston, SC  (6-18-2015),  RIP

poem by poem we can end the violence
every day after 
every other day
9 killed in Charleston, South Carolina 
they are not 9 they
are each one
we do not know

you have a poem to offer 
it is made of action — you must 
search for it run

outside and give your life to it 
when you find it walk it
back — blow upon it

carry it taller than the city where you live 
when the blood come down
do not ask if
it is your blood it is made of
9 drops
honor them 
wash them stop them
from falling

Mexican tile black n white

After the November terrorist attacks in Paris, he wrote the poem “Nohemi — A Song for Paris,” honoring California State University-Long Beach student Nohemi Gonzalez, who was the only American killed in the attacks.

Nohemi — a Song for Paris

Mimi — can I call you that
this is a song for you —

with candles we stand & we kneel
this is how it is now we
well all of us we
send you these flowers across time
this time here which we
……………………cannot explain

all love goes to you
& your friends the other night
so many with you gone we
stand we play Lennon’s piano
Imagine — we say
a world without violence —
we want to imagine that in your name
Nohemi Gonzalez from El Monte
from Whittier California from
Cal State Long Beach —
………..we run out of words

the words
so many words your mamá
Beatríz your cousin Jacqueline
we know them now — for you

we write them a poem too
I do not know how we will do that
we are doing that — that is all
like the designs you made — for a high-spirited world
you said you were high-spirited & self-driven — yes
like the dreams you had
& the words First Generation
the ones you used to
describe………….your life

we continue with you — somehow
it is not important to know how
it is important to continue that is all
I must — say it again

we are all writing a poem
for you for your cousin Jacqueline
for your mamá Beatríz — she loved you
their love will make it alright
all of our love will make it alright……yes

…………………..here is your song Mimi —

We light Nohemi a candle
the candle waves across the stars
close they are so close because
Nohemi & Paris are in our hearts

………..Nohemi &
………………Paris — are in

….our hearts

Mexican tile-talavera

The poem was printed in California newspapers and read at a university vigil. But the response from Nohemi’s roommate at Cal State Long Beach was the one that most touched Herrera. “She saw the poem in the student newspaper and put it up on her dorm wall and kept it there because it gave her a lot of comfort. It helped assuage the pain in some way. So that’s what a poem can do. It’s a personal thing that happens. It’s not like changing a law or influencing thousands — but it’s a possibility for personal change. And that’s a lot.”

Juan Felipe Herrera has traveled a great distance, but not just in miles.

mexican_tile_blue n red

Juan Felipe Herrera was one of the first wave of Chicanos to receive an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) scholarship to attend UCLA.  He received a BA in Social Anthropology from UCLA, and a masters in Social Anthropology from Stanford, then earned an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

He has been active in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, and traveled to Mexican Indian villages, from the rain forest of Chiapas to the mountains of Nayarit. These experiences have had a deep influence on both the style and content of his work.

Juan Felipe Herrera

Sources and Further Reading:

“Poetry is a call to action” quote – http://www.npr.org/2015/09/15/438630601/poet-laureates-migrant-childhood-was-like-living-in-literature-every-day

The Poems

  • “Exiles” from Half the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, © 2008 Juan Felipe Herrera (University of Arizona Press) — http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/250748
  • “Poem by Poem” from Notes on the Assemblage © 2015 Juan Felipe Herrera (City Lights)  http://www.npr.org/2015/09/15/438630601/poet-laureates-migrant-childhood-was-like-living-in-literature-every-day
  • “Nohemi  a Song for Paris” from Notes on the Assemblage © 2015 Juan Felipe Herrera (City Lights)   https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/nohemi-%E2%80%94-song-paris

Selected Bibliography

Poetry Collections

  • Notes on the Assemblage (City Lights, 2015)
  • Senegal Taxi (University of Arizona Press, 2013)
  • Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2008)
  • 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross The Border, Undocuments 1971-2007 (City Lights, 2007)
  • Notebooks of a Chile Verde Smuggler (University of Arizona Press, 2002)
  • Giraffe on Fire: Poems (2001)
  • Thunderweavers (University of Arizona Press, 2000)
  • Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (University of Arizona Press, 1999)
  • CrashBoomLove: A Novel in Verse (University of New Mexico Press, 1999)
  • Loteria Cards & Fortune Poems (City Lights, 1999)
  • Mayan Drifter: Chicano Poet in the Lowlands of America (Temple University Press, 1997)
  • Love After the Riots (Curbstone, 1996)
  • Stories and Poems (University of Arizona Press, 1994)
  • Memoria(s) from an Exile’s Notebook of the Future (Santa Monica College, 1993)
  • Akrílica (Alcatraz Editions, 1989)
  • Facegames (Dragon Cloud, 1987)
  • Exiles of Desire (Arte Publico, 1985)

Children’s Books

  • Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes (Dial Books, 2014)
  • SkateFate (Rayo, 2011)
  • Cinnamon Girl: Letters Found Inside a Cereal Box (Harper Collins, Joanna Cotler Books / Tempest, 2005)
  • Downtown Boy (Scholastic, 2005)
  • Cilantro Girl / La Superniña del Cilantro (Children’s Book Press, 2003)
  • Grandma & Me at the Flea / Los Meros Meros Remateros (Children’s Book Press 2002)
  • The Upside Down Boy/El Nino de Cabeza (Lee & Low Books, 2000)
  • Calling the Doves / Canto a Las Palomas (Children’s Book Press, 1995)


  • Academy of American Poets – https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/juan-felipe-herrera
  • Aspen Times: “Aspen Words opens winter series with U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera” – http://www.aspentimes.com/entertainment/20096645-113/aspen-words-opens-winter-series-with-us-poet
  • The Poetry Foundation – http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/juan-felipe-herrera

mexican tile green n yellow

Word Cloud photo by Larry Cloud

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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