Poetry Sunday: Every Day We Get More Illegal

It was announced by the Library of Congress last week that we are going to have a new national poet laureate. Juan Felipe Herrera, the son of migrant farmworkers whose writing combines experimentalism with reflections on Mexican-American identity and who just completed a stint as California's state poet laureate, will succeed Charles Wright in the national post.

It is a very timely appointment in that immigration is a much debated issue in the country at the moment. The problems of immigrants are central to much of Mr. Herrera's poetry. Here is an example of that poetry.

Every Day We Get More Illegal

by Juan Felipe Herrera

Yet the peach tree 
still rises
& falls with fruit & without
birds eat it the sparrows fight
our desert       
            burns with trash & drug
it also breathes & sprouts
vines & maguey
laws pass laws with scientific walls
detention cells   husband
                           with the son
                        the wife &
the daughter who
married a citizen   
they stay behind broken slashed
un-powdered in the apartment to
deal out the day
             & the puzzles
another law then   another
                      spirit exile
migration                     sky
the grass is mowed then blown
by a machine  sidewalks are empty
clean & the Red Shouldered Hawk
down  — from
an abandoned wooden dome
                       an empty field
it is all in-between the light
every day this     changes a little
yesterday homeless &
w/o papers                  Alberto
left for Denver a Greyhound bus he said
where they don’t check you
walking working
under the silver darkness
            walking   working
with our mind
our life


I like the rhythm and cadence of this poem. My only criticism of it and of other poems of his that I have read is the lack of punctuation. Why? I just don't get it, just as I could never understand e.e. cummings' prejudice against capital letters. Both seem peculiar and unnecessary affectations.

Sigh. I guess I just don't have the soul or sensibilities of a poet.


  1. I agree. It needs punctuation.
    Have a beautiful day!

    1. Words without punctuation are just...words. Like a word salad. Maybe that's the point. Maybe the reader supplies his/her own punctuation and, thus, interpretation. But would it have destroyed the poem to have a few periods and commas? I don't think so.

  2. He seems interested in using the words like a painting for shapes and patterns, so maybe sentence structure would mess up his art? All of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, even the "native Americans" supposedly came across the Bering Straits. It is a thorny problem. I think the bigger problem is why can't the other countries become places people would like to live.

    1. I think that is the experimentalism part of his art.

      And you are certainly right that all of us come from immigrants and we should be able to empathize with those who are currently going through that experience. Whether we are first generation Americans or seventh generation Americans, we are here because someone wanted a better life for themselves and their families and they thought they would find it here.

  3. I don't like it. Without punctuation is like a word soup, everything mingled without much sense. Sorry, Dorothy.

    1. It's challenging for sure. His poetry is meant to be read out loud, but without punctuation, where does one put the emphasis? I think Hannah has the right idea - that he uses words like a painter uses paint to form shapes and patterns. It's definitely an experimental approach. It'll take some getting used to for me.


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