Up early
with the light
to walk to a church
that houses a man
with an ankle bracelet
who cannot see the light
of day, though the real criminals
are the ones who would send him
back to a country he fled 18 years
ago for this land’s promise of better
protection and safety. Did you hire him

to plant your garden? Did you pay him
under the table to trim the edges
of your property, to make it look
pretty and welcoming? Now his wife
and children wonder how long
they will have to wait for his return,
relying on community support to pay
for groceries and rent. He prays everyday.

As for me, what matters is that I have feet
and my work is portable and my children
are warm in their beds and I am unduly free
to go where I please, when I please,
and there is nothing fair about this equation.
Please, understand: Those who look weak,
those who look needy? They are the leaders.

If I had a lawn, I’d say come set up a tent
city with booths and creative currency
and herbalists and midwives and women
in overalls who know how to build things.
I’d say keep out unless you want to come
in to stretch out a hand in offering.
Nobody has nothing to offer.
Nobody is above reproach.

This land is your land.
This land is my land.
This land is none of ours but we are here
and my great-grandparents fled somewhere, too.
To you whose ancestors knew the names
of each root and leaf and star: I am sorry.
To you in a city so close to and so far from
my small town, let me translate my shame
into something mighty, like a rock through a window
or a warm glove on the coldest morning yet.

* * *

Learn more and  please consider supporting this family ::
Amherst church to provide sanctuary for Guatemalan facing deportation

3 thoughts on “Sanctuary

  1. Glen Bertrand says:


    This is stunning and left me in a puddle of tears. I wondered when this moment would happen for me. I’ve been so preoccupied with logistics and planning. Pausing at times to look into the eyes of Lucio, I seek to know what he’s experiencing and feeling beyond the walls created by our own native tongues; grasping for true connection but often coming up short.

    The power of words . . . I am so grateful there are people like you in this world that creatively use words to lead us into new ways of thinking and seeing. These words you have written are nothing less than sacred.




    • Alia Starkweather says:

      After a night at the church with Katie for sanctuary, I too was moved to tears–for the beauty of Jena’s poem, for sorrow for all those we cannot help, for gratitude that I can be a small part of this, for joy of seeing Lucio’s first guitar lesson with Katie, and for appreciation for Glen, Vicki, all those who are on the team, and for all those who send prayers, food, money, and love for this process. I forwarded the picture and story of Lucio to friends in Burlington and they send love and prayers as well.



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