“Alive at Lampedusa” by Leticia Del Toro

“Alive at Lampedusa” by Pat Zalisko, 64×47, Acrylic on canvas.

On radio breaking news of drowning at Lampedusa
It is not a name I know, but sound bites of Italian coast
Roman mayor, deadly seas, bring to mind so many
other refugee ships … , I’m thinking of Elián
I’m thinking of Cuba, of Ceuta and death by water
or death by desert, which is more inhumane?
Why does this report break my heart today?
Is it the exotic port name? Or the thought of Eritrean
souls downed in the Mediterranean?
I once saw Euro tourists ferried with cars on board
to islands of sumptuous beauty
Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, playgrounds for europeos
now haunted by Yemeya´s children

I am the daughter of a man who at age fourteen
walked the desert for days, sunsick and weakened
He took blows to the head then woke up in jail
to witness the broomstick beating of an elderly man.
When my father died at seventy-seven,
now alone in his own kind of frailty
his house was empty except for a Bible,
a typewriter, and notes of his own crossing at Yuma.

I have strolled on Corsican beaches and know the summer
throngs along the Côte d’Azur, what is that luxury worth?
Will we not see their faces in the waves?
Where does nationality go when the body disappears?
They are fellow citizens of my
paisas in the desert, the unnamed but numbered,
How is it that we house the dead in modern stateside morgues
but we cannot shelter the living, we cannot offer a hand?
When a child suckling her mother’s milk empties
the right breast, does she not move on to the left?
Are we not free to search our Madre Tierra
as free to search and settle, in her fertile curves?

Refugees who’d survived the fire on the waters
did not stay put in their shelters, in spite of
welcome kits of deodorant and toothpaste.
Officials were astounded by those who fled
to run free is to know you’re hunted
but what is worse? Death by drowning on a fiery ship
or death by heat and fortified funneling through
a hell of bracken fields and barren waste that ends in Pima county?

To be alive at Lampedusa, or Ceuta or Arizona
could only hold a lamplight to your heart
You would know the gift of a new day, a drink of water
of refuge from the sun. For those of us settled
may we imagine what we can we give
in this vast land grab that is our lives,
mired in property deeds and purchasing power,
the need to ship your car by ferry on holiday
We will never know the force of hunger or the urge to run
or the absolute gold that is every day of strength and life before you.



Leticia Del Toro has had work appear in Huizache, Mutha Magazine, ZYZZYVA and Palabra magazine among others. Her honors and awards include a Hedgebrook Residency for Women Authoring Change, a fellowship from the New York State Summer Writers Institute, participation in the Voices of Our Nations Arts program, a 2015 finalist for the Maurice Fiction Prize for the collection “Café Colima” and attendance at Bread Loaf 2016 as a Rona Jaffe Scholar in fiction. She is a California teacher, arts activist and mother with roots in Jalisco, Mexico.


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