ROGUE AGENT IS TWO YEARS OLD THIS MONTH! A HEARTFELT THANKS TO OUR AUTHORS AND READERS, WHO HAVE MADE IT POSSIBLE. MAD LOVE TO YOU!
María José Giménez
Fernando Esteban Flores
Home. For many people, it is their safe space, retreat, or sacred haven. At the very least, it’s a permanent address. For some refugees, immigrants, and their children, home can be synonymous with danger. Home can be an idea, a dream of asylum and opportunity – between now and home are the obstacles to be surmounted after fleeing a life-threatening situation. Home can be the yearning for a future hoped-for residence. For the diverse immigrant population of the United States, however, this concept of “home” is in peril as the government takes bold, unconstitutional strikes against the ability for immigrants to remain in their homes.
According to the Pew Research Center, foreign born people living in the U.S. comprise about 14% of the population, and “non-Hispanic whites are projected to become less than half of the U.S. population by 2055.” The United States is a fusion of cultures, with immigrants from all over the globe, but this diversity has provoked a culture war among Americans, with the fate of immigrants left hanging in the balance.
Since his election, President Trump has made it abundantly clear what side of the war he is on. He has attempted to pass several executive orders which have left people from seven predominantly Muslim countries shocked, confused, and in limbo about their status. Trump built his campaign on nationalism, and high on his agenda was the deportation of up to 8 million undocumented people and the building of a physical wall to separate the US from Mexico.
Although construction on the physical wall has not yet begun, the social walls are already up, and looming. Faced with a climate of renewed hatred and prejudice, documented and undocumented immigrants are beginning to withdraw from governmentally funded service programs such as food stamps and CHIP, facing an even steeper slide into crushing poverty.
Fear makes us hide. Fear makes us small. Fear makes us desperate. Rogue Agent stands with immigrants and refugees who are seeking a better life, and with the millions of undocumented Americans and their families who are among our neighbors and our friends. Human beings cannot be inherently “illegal.”
This winter, we invited submissions of poetry and artwork from refugees, immigrants and the children of immigrants. Authors and artists responded to bring you issue 25: NO WALLS, which also happens to be our journal’s second-anniversary issue. These works demonstrate that the creative force can battle fear. These are wry works, with themes of family, desire, connection, longing, and hope—robust works which stalwartly insist that, somehow, love will conquer fear and melt the walls between us.
Jen Stein Hauptmann
Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen
Another bent prayer for we who were sent away,
who can’t arrive.
The sun quiets and day rethinks dusk.
Hawks keep rising next to night.
We are the other, taken loose to obedience.
We are past tense, we are words
no one can say. We are evidence
and you may think you can unname the conspicuous
but we stand in our khamiis,
our jalabiya, in our jeans and our t-shirts embroidered
with American logos for sneakers and bands.
The sky, cloudless now,
has thrown its corners over the plane.
The wheels make their wide decisions
about who will live where.
The wheels rush forward, leave the practical earth.
We watch each breeze smooth to the next,
and feel blown, inhabited with separation.
The headlights straight out and the tight air
of the plane. Lifting, climbing without apology
over land lazy as blood.
The moon hurts our eyes.
Without looking down,
we know there is nowhere to be.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I grew up with a strong core of connection to my Iraqi heritage, though I knew little about it. I have spent years imagining my father’s childhood in Baghdad. Because he has maintained a silence around that part of his identity, I had to keep leaning into unusual sources: music, recipes, grainy photos, other people’s historical accounts, the events that changed the arrangement and peace within the country. The result of this research became my third collection, One Hundred Hungers. Since the Trump Administration enacted its travel ban, I am again scribbling poems about the Middle East. Everything I know about empathy comes from digging out a single story, shaping it, and offering it. Moving through perspectives, not all mine, I investigate our value as individuals, and as part of a collective whole.
Always winging, immigrants know for hard flap;
Flap made news when nationals cruise for scapegoats.
Goths are ever threatening at the outpost—
Blast them off packing.
One for all are immigrants put on perp walk.
Every Sam is son of a gun by wide talk.
Neighbors say you’re one of the goodies. Be their
AUTHOR'S NOTE:Nationalists seek out sensational anecdotes of dangerous or resource-abusing immigrants in order to demonize all arrivals. Challenge them with immigrants who bring unimpeachable good, and they claim to only oppose a bad subset. Only undocumented workers, or migrants who would change the national character (code for non-whites). We immigrants, and our friends, must be vigilant against the like. We are as diverse as any such large grouping of people, existing in black, white, and all shades of grey along any axis. We must show solidarity against cynical ploys of nationalists, and against all oppression. Attacks on civil rights tend to hurt immigrants the most.
THAT I REMEMBER
That I can tell firecrackers from gunfire. That I can only distinguish
bombs from thunder when a whistle precedes the thunder. But that I
think every thunder is a bomb falling and That I drop and look for
shelter. That I am embarrassed that I jump at a loud noise. That I know I
will not die as long as I can relive memories where I lived through death.
That I know to open windows to avoid glass shrapneling the house. That
the building in Lebanon did not have a basement. That I know how to fill
sandbags. That I know what they are for. That the buildings on the street
with sand bags are the ones with sons called to fight. That I know when
school will be canceled.
That I remember we forget to protect ourselves from a bomb landing in
the elevator shaft. That we assume if it happens we are meant to die.
That men can cry. That I remember filling the sand bags that block the
lobby entrance. That the tenants of the building crawl on the ground on
mattresses wait for bombardment. That I want to live. That I remember
the warning on the radio the day before. That we are warned. That all
day we fill sand bags. That I remember the next day is sunny. That the
sound of music in the dark and psalm this and psalm that do not drown
the bombs. That the hills alive mean I will not die.
That I am afraid to die by bomb. That there is a moment we think the
warning is an exaggeration. That there is a moment we laugh at our
fear. That I remember the sounds so rapid and close. That the walls
wave in sonic booms. That I touch the walls. That I wonder how sound
makes them move. That I want to live. That my father finally afraid and
my mother switched off in song. That my sisters cannot speak. That my
brother nurses. That I remember brothers called to fight. That they fight
for different factions of the same nation. That it was a nation against
itself. That my mother is not in herself.
That I remember how I do not understand what this war is about. That we
sleep in the shelter. That I can only remember sounds. That we are all
afraid. That we are all afraid to die. That my father does not shave this
morning. That he does not laugh the bombs off. That I do not care if my
stuff I left upstairs in my room is blown apart as long as I am not blown
apart. That I don’t think of tomorrow. That I want to live. That I
want to go to school. That I want a future. That I cannot see a future.
That God has abandoned us. That my mother is alive. That we abandon
That the moment is always alive. That the word trauma spells memory.
That when it starts, it starts so fast and I can not move. That even when
a bomb drops in a movie, I cannot move. That my father has to lift me
and take me to shelter. That my only thought is I would die. Surely, I
would die and that it would be okay because I would die with my
family and we will not be alone when it happens.
AUTHOR'S NOTE:To be an immigrant even after becoming a citizen is to live as an adopted thing— as one who lives in fear of being rejected; as one whose security of citizenship depends on the whim of a country’s governing party. Citizen exists only insofar that the other exists but the immigrant-other never attains a sense of self, or citizenship, and is instead trapped in subservience towards validating the framework for maintaining the powers that adopted him or her. For me, eliminating the tension between a self and (an)other means subverting language and traditional practices in writing— it means to write away from the expected literary tension— from linearity, in the hopes it may direct readers towards discovering that the repulsive thing they fear; the immigrant-other, is merely the fear of one’s self and that ultimately fuels prejudice.
I HEART YOU
The title of my piece is “I Heart You” and was painted in ink. The heart is a muscle, it sits at the center of our circulatory system, but it also represents love and heart break, and the source of our emotions.
200 days to go
Venue: sent pictures to mom / booked
194 days to go
Photographer: met over coffee, lovely person, says San Diego is stunning in July / booked
Dress: Facetimed with mom, she cried=it’s the one / bought
Parents’ visas: applied, interview appointment in 54 days — reminder: book 4 tickets to Armenia,
damn not having an embassy in Iran
182 days to go
Invitations ready to be sent out
We wait more
180 days to go
Email from the U.S. embassy: doors are closed.
— days to go.
The wall is up.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I’m truly indebted to all the brave souls who have created a wall of resistance and are fighting
to end discrimination and injustice. Some are seeking to smother the light. Let’s be each other’s torches and show them how we shine.
María José Giménez
in my tongue
ardor can mean
under the skin
a gentle fire
like fresh woven
weight of heat
a collared cape
inside a ribcage
hung over lungs
the way desire
a smoldering shroud
a shedding of skin
flaking off slow
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have taken up residence in my writing. Poetry is my body—the only home I will never leave or be exiled from.
Fernando Esteban Flores
You kept your place at a discreet distance
for you were made to stand & serve
like a Levite I passed you by at times
unconcerned with health or disposition
In your distress I turned my face
walked the other way
but after sweet & bitter years I find myself
a kind Samaritan
bound to my side
through the war I waged with the world
dragging you like a prisoner
never questioning motives
playing the Devil’s advocate
(as though it would have helped)
one massive block of pain & joy
sculpted from a muddled mass
of ligaments & bone
an earthly living stone
& almost a prayer escapes
these infidel lips which have believed
too much in the power of words
Their forces to leash or unleash
as we were thrust into this world
At Mercy Hospital delivered to
León & Nieves where he would
soon after die in the grip of unmerciful
hands & a new chapter would begin
at Grandmother’s small white washed
house with its blooming plot of earth
as near to Paraíso as we would get
Pomegranates round with succulent promise
ready to be crushed between our teeth
The scent of lemons oranges
drifting through the evening like
gentle blossoms of her thorny life
Mesquites offering a measure of rest
Between idyllic play
The air primal spiked by yerbabuena
Roses splashing their palette of paradise
& for awhile
childhood stood preserved—
Its allotted time allowed to grow
against the shocks & jolts
of impending change
Co-conspirator through the clumsy contradictions
of adolescence we plotted our way
determined to have our say
We roamed the streets like Aztec kings
wild proud & free
to take our share of pleasure
orchestrate the plunder of youth—
We strode strong into manhood
No life sublime for us
We were the world
& the world our field of vision
We rushed the Bastille of youth
with one intent
suited to each other
like knights to armor
committed to a
a self made cause
for men live their lives
as if they owned them
In the mirror I see how I might resemble
the other still her face emerges through a wilderness of aches
It takes some getting used to living between faces
—perhaps thrown together randomly
Two portraits set
like contradicting texts
provoking faith in self
the most encouraging belief
y mis pies— my feet—
My two solitary conductors
over this fiery planet’s plane
We plunged straight
into the ruin
You plodded right along more faithful than a shadow
through youth’s pleasurable pursuits
where you felt misused
estranged from everything
Ordered to attend outrageous escapades
in unfamiliar rooms at unkind hours
We stood together toe to toe
& took the count
There was no turning back
We stomped into the struggle
mile for mile
pitted against the plots to take us out
We stepped into the fabulous fray
firmly footed—Ajax & Achilles
Who’d contest such hubris
Shipwrecked such a long way from home
to topple our Trojan myth
We rode the common rush for survival
the loneliness of distance
the emptiness of longing
the restlessness of always moving farther
Illusive Ithacas never leading home
Dos manos—two hands
Two warring angels
Remnant wings of right & wrong
light & dark
You maneuvered me in directions
sometimes rigged at odds
& I was bound to live
a contradictory life
Together we did and undid
bound & loosed
accepted & rejected
blessed & cursed
Tú: la espada llameante
flaming sword at Eden’s gates
barring all admittance
Adam’s right hand
to take dominion over what
the eye encompassed
& the books were opened
to reveal the need for hands
to inscribe what the heart
had counted worthy of remembrance
& the names of our dead were
scripted in the pages of
Order Duty & Affliction
& what the hands affirmed
the heart acknowledged
& though the wanderer travels far
from where he started
he is never lost
& it will be the hands
that lay us down at last
in rest or unrest
After the toils of the tales
they will take up the final task
behind the rib cage
pumps no human heart
but an angry fist—
extending towards divinity
wanting to connect
The exile reaching out for home
to fuse the broken ends
The severed continuity
at the point of touch
so beautifully defective
as to deceive itself
For we have seen the
worst the best
played out across the
screens of history
Cadaverous nations pared to the bone
by the reek of tyranny
the mockery of ignorance
the poison of apathy
Hands thrown up in discontent
at the continual deceit
A heart already heavy
with excesses & excuses
Tú—mi corazón my heart
thwarted by the maps
of time and age
uprooted like tumbleweed
sowing its seeds as it rolls
Testament to the power
of survival engineering
its own destiny over
the hardest places possible
barbed by wire & fence
bordered by bullets
Tú—O mi corazón—
made off like the poet-
My life thrashing
wildly in your arms
& never once looked back
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'd like to offer up these few lines of a much longer poem called "Song for America" as my statement:
I wandered homeless America’s wilderness
I was no craftsman no tradesman no builder of any kind
A raconteur a painter of words a chronicler of times
For poets are the loveliest of liars who burn to paint a better world…
—from Song for America (Part 1)
YES, IN 1952 WHITE TEACHERS MADE THEIR STUDENTS STAND UP
AND TELL THE CLASS WHAT THEIR FATHERS DID FOR A LIVING
My name is José. The school says Joe.
My father works for General Motors
which means I am brown, which means no one will look at me
when I say, my name is José.
My father sees at night as an owl, all feathers
the color of ash and night.
See how the moon light speckles him.
Hear his beak crack a bottle cap.
One for la luna. One for la lucha.
My father flaps his wings over iron
cooling it from 2,000 degrees his talons sparkle like diamonds,
like gold teeth, like morning on the twisted mouths of the tulips
that weep in Spanish, the language my father saves for himself
when he tosses us out like newly feathered birds who stutter over English
like air and breath. I am the son of an owl.
I coo myself to sleep until the screen door catches my father’s work boot
and I hear him hoot, “mi’ijo I have brought you home the sun.”
No one asks what he left that was worse
than being dragged, unconscious from the Plant.
To whom did the foreman say,
“if he’s alive, he can come back to work.”
No one was there when he woke, wiped the ash
from his skin and reformed the crease in his fedora.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: What I wanted to do was change this moment for my father. It is painful for me to picture him being made fun of, being made to feel less than. I wanted to write this as a speech for him, so he could stand up, be proud of his brown skin and of his father. What his father did to provide for the family was hard, unfathomable work. It was so hot, next to the iron in the foundry, that one’s skin could blister and burn. These men who did this work were heroes. They need to be respected and remembered for taking all the shit jobs that the white people wouldn’t do.
My artwork varies in shape and form & each piece reflects my thoughts and views of the world. My interests, styles and themes vary. My background in theatre has help me to view the world in diverse and different ways.
You’re always trying with your walls
as if anything could keep you safe.
You built your house with mud, then bricks
then you wanted a garden too, and built
your wall around that. For the wind
you said, or maybe it was the wolves.
Six feet, then ten. But still there was a gate
so you added guards, and slept safe
until you thought to worry about the guards,
their friends and cousins, wanting to come inside
always wanting something, inside.
So you moved away, down the road and then
away from the road, twelve-foot walls and
eyes instead of guards, beady windows
you could watch from safe inside instead
of sleeping. It was unnerving, that vision of
empty space before the door; you imagined torches,
unseen many-headed mobs, and help far away.
You bought an island, but it was inconvenient and
water has never reassured you as much as walls:
even in the time of moats, you needed your keep.
A planet perhaps? But it’s not distance you crave but
the perfect wall, impenetrable and close around you:
a shroud of silken armor, a force field with no flaw.
You knew something like that once, and floated
unconcerned, without fear of what lay without.
Foolishness. There’s no going back.
AUTHOR'S NOTE:Perhaps because I've read a lot recently about the people directly affected by walls both existing and planned, both literal and metaphorical, I wanted to write about the other side of it: what walls do to the people who build them.
(after the election, at the Persian market in Woodland Hills, Calif.)
An older woman holds a bundle of fenugreek to my nose
I say sorry, no Farsi and she says in my language
thank you and I say back merci.
Here among crates of rosewater, everything bursting
and spilling turmeric and cardamom —
Here I come to forget America.
The checkout girl looks into my face, deep
like she’s trying to read something from far away,
and decides to speak English.
The bag boy holds up a bag of cucumbers: is this yours?
and then says in Farsi khiar. I tell him, in Arabic we say khiar, too.
Then he, seeing my blue eyes, asks you speak Arabic?
and recites some unintelligible phrase he must have practiced.
I say merci and his face melts into a bowl of honey. I forget America.
On the walls, glamour shots of Iranian singers in sepia.
You can buy concert tickets next to where they bake the bread
they call naan, unrelated to the Indian stuff. Women with gold
streaks in their hair and European noses adorn their posters.
The word Tehran in bold roman letters.
I think of the revolution, universities closing,
Parisian ladies forced to cover all that beautiful hair.
For all the bustle, not one scarf here.
I have come to forget America. I have come for the way
people look you in the eyes when they talk.
I have come to be thankful for this
unintelligible America. I have come to be seen.
At home, before I put away Shiraz,
rosewater cakes, chai, and olives imported in their oil,
I dig my spoon into ice cream made with saffron and pistachios.
And I forget America. Now I am in Tehran,
and the only word I know in Farsi is a French word.
I have come see, come saw. We must
always say Merci when we do not understand.
AUTHOR'S NOTE:As a first-generation American, food is one of the main ways I connect to my Palestinian heritage and the immigrant communities in my city. In my neighborhood, there’s a significant Iranian community. I wanted to tell the story of the faces that greet me when I’m procuring my comforts of home, the foods our cultures share in common.
Reconstruct the architecture of youth before
Muscles petrify to granite, cartilage
Whittled clean; before clavicles divulge
Signs of collapse.
Nave spine, transom ribcage, apse hips: flesh
No longer recollects leisure after hoarding
Pain between joints, even at the site
Of pleasure, however once
Rolls off the tongue like a shamanic chant.
Kettle spits fire.
We blow on barley tea, listening to the same
Abridged stories––such reveries
We dare not speak of:
Our shaky, common ground.
AUTHOR'S NOTE:My first poetry collection Bodega explores issues of race, identity, class, and marginalization (even within marginalized communities) through the lens of a 1.5 generation child of Korean immigrants. The overarching themes that seem to keep cropping up in these poems are the remarkability of sacrifice of our elders and the sheer tragedy in our inability to communicate with them due to the confines of language or cultural-generational rifts or both. That’s been the most heartbreaking thing to negotiate with my own parents: the incalculable loss of all the silences, fading shards of memory, irreparable physical gaps, and the toll of manual labor on their aging bodies. Perhaps the lasting stain on this generation of immigrants will be the compromised relationships in the name of providing a better life for their children while they are left behind in a strange purgatory of silenced sufferings.
Issue 25 Contributors
Jessica Abughattas is a Palestinian American writer from Los Angeles. She is an MFA candidate at Antioch University, where she is the Poetry Editor of Lunch Ticket. Before pursuing an MFA in poetry, she interned at Write Bloody Publishing and served as Editor of CurrentsMagazine. Her poems appear (or are forthcoming) in Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Roanoke Review and elsewhere.
Born in Italy to Russian immigrants, Jenni Belotserkovsky grew up in Germany where she studied graphic design. There she worked as a graphic designer and a typesetter before setting out to explore the world. She now lives in Vermont, where she teaches art and curates an art kiosk. Jenni has had her art exhibited throughout Central Vermont. You can find her paintings and drawings at www.facebook.com/JenniBeeArt.
Lauren Camp is the author of three books, including One Hundred Hungers (Tupelo Press, 2016), which won the Dorset Prize. Her poems have appeared in Poetry International, Boston Review, Pangyrus, Beloit Poetry Journal and elsewhere. Other literary honors include the Margaret Randall Poetry Prize, the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award, prizes from RHINO and Western Humanities Review, and a Black Earth Institute Fellowship. She is a staff writer for Poets Reading the News and the producer/host of “Audio Saucepan” on Santa Fe Public Radio. www.laurencamp.com
Carl Dumicich works as an artist, theatre consultant, set designer, scenic artist, technical director and teaches theatre at Western Iowa Tech CC. He has an AAS from Suffolk County CC, and both a BFA In Theatre Production and MFA in Design from Brooklyn College. He enjoys working in both 2-D and 3-D formats and on murals and has art displayed at galleries in the Omaha area. .
Fernando Esteban Flores graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English. His work has appeared in: the SanAntonio Express-News, Voices de la Luna, The Americas Review, Written with a Spoon: a Poet’s Cookbook, (Sherman-Asher Press) Is This Forever or What? (Green Willow Books), Lost Children of the River, (The Raving Press), and writersoftheriogrande.com; nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. Visit his webpage: www.madwarbler.com
María José Giménez s a Venezuelan-Canadian poet and translator. Recipient of a 2016 Gabo Prize for Translation and fellowships from the NEA, The Banff International Literary Translation Centre, and the Katharine Bakeless Nason Endowment, María José is co-director of Montreal’s collective The Apostles Review and Assistant Translation Editor for Drunken Boat.
Su Hwang was recently awarded the 2016-17 Minnesota Emerging Writers Grant from the Loft Literary Center and the Coffee House Press In The Stacks Residency Fellowship at Dickinson House in Belgium. Born in Seoul, South Korea, she grew up in New York then moved to San Francisco before transplanting to the Twin Cities to attend the University of Minnesota, where she received her MFA in Poetry. Several of her poems have appeared in Ninth Letter, Drunken Boat, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, and Poets.org. Her first poetry collection Bodega was a finalist for the 2017 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Book Prize with Pleiades Press. Su currently lives in Minneapolis.
Nawal Nader-French is an MFA candidate at Regis University and holds a BA in English and Secondary Education, as well as an MA in Curriculum and Instruction. After ten years of teaching English, developing curriculum, and coordinating blended learning in school districts and other educational institutions, she stopped working in education to pursue writing full-time. Her work has appeared in By&By Poetry and is forthcoming in Bayou Magazine and AMP: Hoftstra's Digilit Magazine. She tweets @nawalnader.
Uche Ogbuji born in Calabar, Nigeria, lived in Egypt, England and elsewhere before settling near Boulder, Colorado. His chapbook, Ndewo, Colorado (Aldrich Press) is a Colorado Book Award Winner and a Westword Award Winner ("Best Environmental Poetry"). His poems, published worldwide, fuse Igbo culture, European classicism, American Mountain West setting, and Hip-Hop. He co-hosts the Poetry Voice podcast, featured in the Best New African Poets anthology, and was shortlisted for Nigeria's Eriata Oribhabor Poetry Prize. http://uche.ogbuji.net/
Malka Older s a writer, aid worker, and PhD candidate. Her science fiction political thriller, Infomocracy, was named one of 2016's best books by both Kirkus and BookRiot, and the sequel, Null States, will be published in September. You can find links to her writing at malkaolder.wordpress.com/publications/. Named Senior Fellow for Technology and Risk at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs for 2015, she has more than a decade of experience in humanitarian aid and development. She is currently pursuing her PhD at SciencesPo.
Monica Rico is a second generation Mexican American feminist. Her chapbook Twisted Mouth of the Tulip is forthcoming from Red Paint Hill Publishing. Follow her at www.slowdownandeat.com.
Leila Zonouzi is an Iranian native currently living in Santa Barbara, CA. She’s a first-year PhD student in Global Studies at UC Santa Barbara with hopes of one day becoming a university professor, helping the younger generation to be more mindful of the world around them. She has received her MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, Pittsburgh PA. When she isn’t reading, she thinks about going to the beach, but then resumes reading.