“The Other Side” by Shirley Hilton

Shirley Hilton


After so many years in the states,
I find I am forgetting my mother tongue
and my Mexican ways. For example,
I just called this place “the states”
instead of el otro lado, the other side,
as we say in Mexico. Earlier today,
I could not remember the word
for cage—jaula. Perhaps because
I am not fond of cages. Perhaps because
I have never had the misfortune
to be kept in one. I remember
the two canaries my father bought me
one bright Sunday from a vendor
in the Plaza Coyoacán. I named them
Chuca and Rogelio and hung
their cage in our garden in the shade,
covering them at night to keep them warm.
Afternoons, still in my school uniform,
mother let me climb up on a little stool
and talk to them through the wires.
I fancied myself their mother,
my babies, though I realize now
I knew nothing of motherhood then.
Today I turn off my radio and I take
out a map, smoothing it
on the kitchen table and tracing
my finger along the Rio Grande,
El Río Bravo. A river that is neither
big nor brave. Perhaps it got its name
from the people who dare to cross it,
from people like me who braved
the big danger. On this side
on this otro lado, cages hold little ones
helpless as canaries, no adoring
mother to watch them in the afternoon
to tuck them in at night. Mothers
so distant they cannot even be found,
their children in jaulas. I close my eyes
and imagine that I stand straddling
that brave river, a human bridge
one foot in El Paso, one in Juárez
unable to choose between the two jaulas.

from Poets Respond
November 3, 2020


Shirley Hilton: “This week I heard a four-minute news story on NPR, little more than a blurb, about the 545 children in cages at the border whose parents can not be located. Four minutes! Is that the extent of our consciousness? I have lived on both sides of the Mexican-American border and a part of me belongs to both cultures. Wrapped in feelings of helplessness and shame and rage, I sat down to record my feelings. As the poem developed, I came to realize that our inability or unwillingness to fight for what’s right, to change the inhumane actions of our current government becomes a cage of sorts, our own cage.” (web)

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