Carmen Giménez Smith and José Olivarez

Posted in 2020-2021 Readings and Talks

Left: Carmen Giménez Smith headshot. Right: José Olivarez headshot.

Virtual Event

November 17, 2020 at 7PM ET
Moderated by Ricardo Ortiz and Elizabeth Velez

Buy Books

Be Recorder (Graywolf, 2019) by Carmen Giménez Smith

Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books, 2018) by José Olivarez

From Be Recorder

after Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary”

—Carmen Giménez Smith

they work their fingers 
to the soul their bones 
to their marrow 
they toil in blankness 
inside the dead yellow 
rectangle of warehouse 
windows work fingers 
to knots of fires  
the young the ancients
the boneless the broken
the warehouse does too 
to the bone of the good 
bones of the building
every splinter spoken for
she works to the centrifuge 
of time the calendar a thorn 
into the sole dollar of working 
without pause work their mortal 
coils into frayed threads until 
just tatter they worked their bones 
to the soul until there was no 
soul left to send worked until 
they were dead gone
to heaven or back home 
for the dream to have USA 
without USA to export
USA to the parts under 
the leather sole of the boss 
they work in dreams of working 
under less than ideal conditions 
instead of just not ideal 
conditions work for the 
shrinking pension and never 
dental for the illusion 
of the doctor medicating them 
for work-related disease 
until they die leaving no empire
only more dreams that their babies
should work less who instead
work more for less 
so they continue to work 
for them and their kin 
they workballoon payment 
in the form of a heart attack 
if only that’ll be me someday
the hopeless worker said on 
the thirteenth of never 
hollering into the canyon 
of perpetual time 
four bankruptcies later
three-fifths into a life 
that she had planned 
on expecting happiness 
in any form it took 
excluding the knock-off
cubed life she lived in debt
working to the millionth
of the cent her body cost
the machine’s owner
Yolanda Berta Zoila 
Chavela Lucia Esperanza
Naya Carmela Celia Rocio
once worked here
their work disappearing
into dream-emptied pockets
into the landfill of work
the work to make their bodies
into love for our own

Originally published in Poem-a-Day by the Academy of American Poets.
Read more about Carmen Giménez Smith.

My Family Never Finished Migrating We Just Stopped

—José Olivarez

we invented cactus. to survive the winters
we created steel. at my dad’s mill
i saw a man dressed like a Martian
walk straight into fire. the flames
licked his skin, but like a pet, it never bit him.
in the desert, they find our baseball caps,
our empty water bottles, but never our bodies.
even the best ICE agents can’t track us
through the storms, but i have a theory.
some of our cousins don’t care about LA or Chicago;
they build a sanctuary underneath the sand,
under the skin we shed, so we can wear
the desert like a cobija, under the bones
of our loved ones, bones worn thin
as thorns to terrorize blue agents,
bones worn thin as guitar strings,
so when the wind blows
we can follow the music home.

From Citizen Illegal (Haymarket Books, 2018)
Read more about José Olivarez.

Listen to the Podcast

Watch Readings & Talks Featuring Carmen Giménez Smith and José Olivarez