The Murmuring Grief of the Americas [You are on the ground] & The Murmuring Grief of the Americas [there are children crossing the river]


The Murmuring Grief of the Americas

You are on the ground, wrapped in a ratty blanket at the edge of the cage. The interpreter wedges her way into the corner. She sits on her knees, brings her head to your mouth so she can hear the whispers that barely come:

I don’t know where I am. I don’t know who my parents paid for me to get here.

She slides your hat off so the cameras can see you more clearly. You refuse to open your eyes. It is what you have been instructed to do. But the director is unhappy: with the blocking, the angles, the shadows. He asks the interpreter to tell you to look into the camera as the hat is removed from your head.

The assistants give your wrapped-up body a few rolls. They twist you into the proper position, at which point a doctor asks you to open your mouth, to say ahhh while you look into the camera.

This moment here, with your mouth open and the doctor looking into it, is where the scene is supposed to turn. Something transcendent is supposed to happen. But the director can’t figure out how to realize his vision. He yells cut, then confers with his colleagues about what should flow out of your mouth.

Their opinions differ. One suggests a butterfly. Another suggests a snake. Another a stream of the most beautiful words spoken first in a foreign language then translated by a child with a sweet voice, an adorable accent that perfectly articulates how your body and mouth convert the murmuring grief of the Americas into a currency of empathy, accumulation, and massacre.

The crew meets for several more minutes to discuss what should come out of your mouth after the doctor asks you to say ahhh. But the director pauses as soon as the cameras start to roll. He is unhappy about something. There should not be a sunset in the background. There should not be flowers in the foreground.

The world will be dark until we douse his body with light.



The Murmuring Grief of the Americas

there are children crossing the river     some float on cardboard and some hold on to each other and some sing we are alive     there are neon lights above the river    the camera crews stand on the banks and film the river in the right light     they film the floating children in the right light     they film the sky turning purple and pink as fluffy pollen dissolves in the warm air     a tree with edible fruit is in the background     droopy white flowers with long petals hang downwards and by the tree a brother and sister     exhausted 

don’t die    the director says to the children      if you die we won’t be able to make this film and if we don’t make this film there will be no evidence that once you were alive and if there is no evidence that once you were alive     no one will know that we loved you

the children step out of the river and walk to a bridge and on the bridge there is a sign that says welcome to the promised land     but the sign is not meant for the children    it is meant for the early Americans who are chasing the children     the early Americans do not enter the scene to be documented     they are there to hunt the children     they try to trap the children on the bridge but they do not arrive in time     they meet the children on the other side of the bridge    where the camera records one of them saying welcome to the Promised Land you little wart hogs and there is gunshot     and the children run off in different directions    the camera doesn’t know who to follow     one child is shot in the leg and the camera zooms in on his blood as the early Americans drag him away    

the camera catches up with the children later that night when they set up camp on a spinach farm     the director takes great pleasure in filming the older children as they care for the young ones     they feed them and bathe them and sing songs and play games with them like Simon Says and Simon tells the children to stop speaking     he tells the children to stop breathing    he tells the children to stop wanting     he tells the children to stop thinking     he tells the children to stop being themselves     he tells the children to become someone else     to become something else     and the children say how do we do that     and Simon says you listen to the earth     at the right time it will tell you what to do    but he knows that the earth is a liar 

After Simon puts the children to bed the camera lingers on his face as he weeps    and he tells himself     stop speaking     and he tells himself     stop breathing    and he tells himself     stop eating     and he looks into the camera and says the pain in my mouth won’t stop     the pain in my eyes won’t stop     my tongue is burning     my lips are burning     my soul needs to rest he says     your soul?      stop breathing     he tells himself     I need to die again he says     because when I die again I will become the river that runs between myself and myself     I will become the mountains that separate myself from myself and you will deposit new meaning into my body as I become the story you’ve been waiting for      

But in the story you’ve been waiting for I will not be an I     and you will not be a you     and for several minutes water will run toward me and it will be the river of death and I will say no no it is not the river of death it cannot be the river of death but by the time I get the words out of my mouth the river of death will have emptied itself out and the river of death will be gone and the past will not be the past and I won’t know what it means to be dead


Daniel Borzutzky is the author of Lake Michigan (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), finalist for the 2019 Griffin International Poetry Prize, and The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press), recipient of the 2016 National Book Award for Poetry. His other books include In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy (Nightboat Books, 2015), Memories of My Overdevelopment (Kenning Editions, 2015), and The Book of Interfering Bodies (Nightboat Books, 2011). His translation of Galo Ghigliotto’s Valdivia (co-im-press, 2016) received the 2017 ALTA National Translation Award. He teaches in the English and Latin American and Latino Studies departments at the University of Illinois at Chicago.