A Database of Exhumed Objects to Identify those who Perished

by Celeste Schantz

Fluted skeletons of migrant children lay stacked
like bleached driftwood, or like kindling.
We disinter their bones; note incisions: evidence
of animal gnawing. Measure tapered ivory knuckles,
slender as crocuses, pushing up through the soil.
El Norte, Jim Hoggs County, Tepeguaje . . .
two kids tried to sneak around border patrol
check points. They have names, but we don’t know
them. We say Case 408, Case 409.
Note one dirty baseball cap, Rangers royal blue, size small.
In situ, one stuffed orange lion, red rosary beads in a plastic
7/11 bag.  We come to El Coyote Ranch, this paltry creek,
this field; to resurrect the relics of our disappeared.
Note the adamant husk of horse chestnut, green yarn.
A patch of blue sky that evening. Fresh cherry candy smile.
The stench of rotting Yucca; the 10-year-old boy’s grimace,
the dark rise of stacked crates. The way his sister jumps
to the sand, sings Rihanna’s Diamantes.

Of course, you must try to keep a clinical distance;
try to burn away the peripherals
of this mountain snow, these stars. Do not
imagine the girl’s tousled hair as she whispers,
with parched lips, the names of your village saints,
or sights the blurred robin that flew over their heads
in the dusk: do not regard the binary of Gemini rising
over the plateau as armed shadows run toward them.
But tell me, you, who sit in your armchair: on your
life’s last night, when the thing that sidles in on soft
and padded feet finally carries you away in its mouth—
Will the little children greet you? Listen closely—
for even now, far away

you can hear them calling your name.

Photo: Jen Reel, the Texas Observer. As the newspaper’s multimedia editor, Reel produced a project called “I Have a Name/Yo Tengo Nombre” to honor these remains found in Brooks County, Texas. They were exhumed from the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Falfurrias on May 23, 2013. Reel created a searchable database “where relatives could go to find photos of personal items associated with their missing loved one — a brother, sister, or son who trekked to el norte, never to be heard from again.” (NPR, 12/16)

In writing this poem I combined several stories from the project together, represented in the images of a universal young brother and sister, using found language from the reports.

This poem first appeared in the “Walls” anthology, volume 5 of the Poets Speak series.