0

Still In The Land and Other Poems




The following poems are based on my experience and observations drawn from living among the Mennonite communities of Seminole Texas in the 1990s and early 2000s and on oral histories I collected from some of my closest friends and their parents, as well as from people who would later become family members through marriage. While we ate Faspa around the kitchen table and knocked zoot on the back porch, they shared childhood memories and coming of age stories from the years they spent living in Old Colony communities near Cuauhtémoc, Mexico. I am thankful for my opportunity to be a witness to the past and present among friends and family in Seminole and Mexico, and these poems spring from that gratitude.

Walking in Colonia Rubio

laundry day. Monday and Friday. by hand. I smell the sun
soap powder and crunch up and down the dusted path, packed flat
by the steel wheels of un-painted wooden trailers, propelled

by bare backed mares, in my black caliche--strapped sandals
grosspapa bought in Casas Grandes. the weight of socks
in my sole, makes the hens fight and the rooster to chuckle before

I kick him away from the jagged hem of the pink and white dress
I stitched myself for the first time: the flowers cut
from the same fabric as my mother and my sisters. we bought

fifteen yards at the Dietcha Wal-mart to match our new
straw hats, wide ribbons around the brims so we could tell
them apart from the ones our brothers wore with their striped

and solid knipzeham and coveralls. before my oldest brother nailed
his outhouse closed. our father said they were going to
hell because my cousins pissed inside, buckets, heavy, the well

water on green tile. before we snuck out, under the summer
moon to play volleyball outside the neighbor’s barn, until
preachers, in black coats and bekjse, split and gutted our ball

with a crowbar and stomped the devils’ music --a portable radio
that only played corridos from Cuauhtémoc and the weather
reports from El Valle—with their boots and Die Biebel, we could

not decipher their shapes, but we knew they demanded
silence. the corpse, crucified, sagged on the clothes line. I walk
that line to recover the stains cranked from the rusted handle,

where I always crouched over a trough of Wranglers (bought once
a year, cheap in El Paso) and polyester aprons we ironed
Tuesdays before the tractors had rubber tires. and before I smoked

cheap cigarettes with wild Mennonite boys who drove flat-bed
pick- ups and drank warm Tecates, while they turned their eyes
away from our waist high panties, strung like flags of surrender.

-

A Warning to Every Waitress at Mennonite Restaurants in Mexico

she’s a menonita que no puede
bailar. not one foot in front
of the other, paso a paso, no

corridos, cumbias, salsas or what-
evers. her hips, stiff and untouched
angles jabbing through her polyester

dress, pulled up so she could show
off her lower calves, or at least
that’s her excuse when she stumbles,

slow seductress, but she still tries to flirt
behind a batch of bread and dreams
of boys in cowboy boots and skoal

tin imprints rising in the seams of their
wrangler jeans. sliding across hard
wood floors, she remembers the devil

music she heard in Cuauhtémoc and
looks behind her to make sure that
no one knows she’s going to hell.

-

Still in the Land

Dee räden nich frädlich, oba komen met faulsche Beschuldjungen opp jäajen de Stelle em Launt.

Psalmen 35:20

a rainbow beach ball smacked the uncovered
arms of barefoot dietcha teens from campo 23,

younges and yalles old enough to work but not
to get married, gathered every Sunday after

church in the summer, behind Pete Friesen’s shed
across the path from Johnny Thiessen’s rows

of apple trees on the way to campo 24. no sand
or net, just an open pasture and Waylon Jennings

playing on a battery powered eight track, so loud
that no one heard the crack against the horse’s back

or the crunching of the preacher’s buggy behind them
until he grabbed Anna Fehr by the wrist as she jumped

and stretched out her palm to spike the ball. her best
lavender dress fluttered up over her hips and before

she could reach down to cover her milk thighs, her face
smashed into the dirt. the eight track still screamed,

but nobody moved as the ball rolled toward the road.
the preacher sprinted, his black coat flapping against

the knees of his black pants as he snatched the ball out
of the ditch. shouting, he raised the rainbow globe above

his black hat before he thrust a screwdriver into the plastic
skin. it didn’t pop, just shriveled up, but they knew

he wouldn’t stop until the land was quiet. he walked away
in silence: Waylon Jennings crushed beneath his tall black boots.

-

Neighbor

the screen door smacked against the frame as she let
herself in after a couple of soft knocks and a nod
of acknowledgment from Leah, still a teenager then,
her pony tail, slapping the backs of her knees hidden

under the denim skirt she sewed herself, ankles exposed
as she hovered over the electric stove. I never learned
her name, the neighbor, a twenty year old mumkya,
so thin her wrist bones bulged as she drew her hand

up to her mouth, jaw sharpened to a point. she was just
a few years older than us, from Chihuahua--never
paid her rent on time and left her youngest daughter
in the same diaper all day while her husband worked

on a well drilling crew. not quite legal, he was always
paid in cash. one day we peeked from behind the curtains,
as we dried the supper plates, unable to avert our eyes
from her screams in Plautdiestch at her son, about to start

kindergarten, riding his bike on the dirt pile between
the two houses. look close, Leah said, no inner tubes,
only strips of rubber stuffed with rope. my dad says
that’s how the old time Dietchas still do it in Mexico. if

we were English we would have already called
CPS, but mom says we have to help our own so they don’t
get deported. lips clasped, barefoot and hair tied
back under her düak with a bobble, the young mumkya

clenched a stack of mail in her fist. sitting straight-backed
at the kitchen table across from us she stared down
at the ground, cracked and floral, as Leah ripped
the tops off the envelopes and began to read out loud.

-

Divine Healing

Mumkya Dyck goes to Juárez every three weeks for salt
pills to thin the blood crystals under her skin, crushed
chiles to deflate her swollen heart vessels and wonder
oil for the rheumatoid arthritis beginning to curl

her fingers like kjielkje noodles before they are
pressed flat. Mumkya is afraid
to drive in the city so she waits until Saturday
when her husband Abe, who witches for water

in the desert and drills wells for farmers, can
take her. Abe has been driving since he could reach
the tractor pedals and his Spanish is better since he used
to work as a day laborer, getting drunk in Cuauhtémoc

until he received a vision from the Lord, who spoke,
over the fire and the demons and the rock music,
Abe, you will be dead in two days, if you don’t
stop drinking. now when he goes back to Mexico he knocks

zoot in an Allsup’s cup and scatters the shells
at a hundred miles an hour over Guadalupe Pass,
while he and mumkya listen to Gloria Gaither shout Holy
Ghost Power, foreheads alight with oil, hands lifted in prayer.

About the Author

Abigail  Carl-Klassen

Abigail Carl-Klassen is a writer, researcher, poet, educator and translator. She grew up in the rural west Texas community of Seminole and worked for many years in public education and community development on the U.S.-Mexico border. She has done narrative collection and docupoetic work with migrant workers, Mennonite communities in Mexico and Texas, social workers, homeless communities, immigrant communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, and with Central American migrants and asylum seekers in Mexico. She earned an MFA from the University of Texas El Paso’s Bilingual Creative Writing Program and taught at El Paso Community College and the University of Texas El Paso. Her work has appeared in ZYZZYVA, Catapult, Cimarron Review, Willow Springs, and Rhubarb, and Guernica, among others. She is a staff writer for Poets Reading the News and her chapbook Shelter Management is available from dancing girl press.