"Venezuela is dying," "Conversation between a white man and a brown woman who passes," and "Steel City Morning"

Venezuela is dying

5,000 leave her shores every 24 hours
under the shelter of moonlight

in leaky boats on rough seas.
On this night a child’s mother

trades an empty belly
for water-logged lungs.

The border to Brazil is soaked
from the blood on Maduro’s hands.

Columbia’s arms are closed:
We can hold no more.

There is no escape except by sea.
There is no mercy in this death—

it is not slow.



Conversation between a white man and a brown woman who passes

—Have you been watching the news about Venezuela? 
It’s really something right now.

Oh?  I say, my breath trapped in a box
beneath my larynx.

We already have too many Mexicans.
We don’t need “those people” too.

Who are “those people?”

Those whose bodies have vanished
in the black hole of disappearing meat.

Those who must ignore their hungry child
because the answer is always, “No.”

Those trabajadores pobres who wipe their asses
on old camisas because no toilet paper will come
for two more weeks.

Those whose rosary beads click in urgent prayer
for the aid trucks set on fire at the border.

Those whose wounds rot for want of antibiotics
or the moldy bread from which to make them.

Those whose tea is a bitter brew as even the bees
fly north, leave their empty honeycombs behind.

Those primas left behind
who bear my family name.

Those people whom my words
cannot protect.



Steel City Morning

It is still raining, the sky a sheen of gray
metallic particles of a long-ago forged
coke burned from the broken-down
bodies of my grandfather and yours.

What would Pap say of the headline
Pittsburgh:  America’s Most Livable City?

Would he hold up the two nub fingers
twisted off at Shenango Works?

Would he hold his X-ray
of coke dusted lungs
to a lightbulb, show off
the blackened areas?

I imagined he’d pull the bill
of his Bucs ball-cap
in his absentminded way,
flash his chipped-tooth grin,

say, You have Hunkies like me
to thank for that.



Janette Schafer

Janette Schafer is a poet, playwright, nature photographer, part-time rock singer and full-time banker living in Pittsburgh, PA. She is a Chatham University MFA student in Creative Writing. Her poem "What we want to remember about this river" won the 2019 Laurie Mansell Reich/Academy of American Poets Prize. Her play Mad Virginia won the 2018 Pittsburgh Original Short Play Series. Her writing and photography has been published in numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers. Janette recommends the Hispanic Heritage Foundation.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Tuesday, June 4, 2019 - 00:40