I heard Christine read Thirty Pounds in Three Months in May when I went uptown to Hudson Gardens for a reading of poets who had contributed to Transition: Poems in the Aftermath, which was their reactions in words about the November 2016 election. The anthology and the reading were put together by Michael Broder, one of New York’s indomitable movers and shakers and the publisher of Indolent Books.
I liked Thirty Pounds in Three Months a lot. Its empathy affected me, told from the perspective of an undocumented worker after Trump’s election. Christine’s mother and members of her family came to the U.S. during El Salvador’s civil war. Perhaps that adds to the intimacy of this tale. I asked Christine if I could record her reading it, and we had been trying ever since, but something always got in the way. Until yesterday.
An artist and a writer, I am going to include a few of her art works at the end of this post. Here is the poem now.
Thirty Pounds in Three Months
On August 8, 2016, all 5’1 of my Salvadoran flesh and bones weighed 115 pounds.
My weight was documented, though I am myself undocumented.
This doctor accepted all patients, including ones whose parents stopped communicating with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services
when she was still in lacquered pigtails, watching Topo Gigio on Saturdays.
The doctor’s office quoted me the same rates any documented person would pay,
but, sometimes, I still wondered if the office manager would call the police to cart me away in my hospital gown, nalgas flailing in the faces of passersby.
I did not harbor much trust or even hope, given that I was always second-guessing where to dock my ship next. Was it safe to live here another year without papers?
I worked for an auto repair shop, taking my weekly salary in cash, which my boss skimmed off the top from overquoted jobs that clueless customers also paid in cash.
But if my boss fired me, where would I work next? Who would hire me without my papers in order? Who would pay me as well as this seedy little business paid me every week to keep their office in as tip-top shape as I kept my ship? How would I feed my son? Would I have to return to El Salvador, which I had not seen since I still thought Papá Noel was real? Since I was too young to appreciate the lorocos in my pupusas? These questions were etched in my psyche, as common as asking what the weather was or if I needed to go to the grocery store. But the news made them multiple. With each tweet, each meme, each sound bite, I gained half an ounce.
I became less mobile. I sat on the sofa, hugging my son as I scrolled through my phone as a reflex. In reality, I was barely aware of his presence. I mainly thought of him when hunger hit me. No, not hunger, simply a need for food. The election spurred my oral fixation and I had to shove whatever snack, however unappealing or unnecessary, into my mouth. He said. She said. Back and forth ad nauseam.
On September 8, 2016, all 5’1 of my Salvadoran flesh and bones weighed 125 pounds. I might have noticed if I weren’t so preoccupied. Instead, I boiled more beans after work and obsessed over the latest immigration scares, as if my fear could change anything. All that changed was the fit of my clothes, especially pants.
By October 8, 2016, I had to buy new clothes as urgently as I needed to visit the doctor. That was how I found myself dialing the doctor’s office from the dressing room of a discount department store. I wept as I spoke to the receptionist.
The doctor could not explain my weight gain. She only asked questions for which I had no answers. Normally, I had answers to questions, but suspected pirates would raid my ship at any moment. Surely I could not respond to “Who are you voting for?”
with “I am an illegal alien and cannot vote even though I have lived in this damn country most of my life—25 years—but that’s how it is because the law is cruel.”
The doctor promised to run a few tests and get back to me. I heard nothing.
By November 8, 2016, I did not recognize myself with 30 extra pounds on my frame.
My face was bloated, my hands were fat. Yet as I watched a map of the U.S.
blush until it glowed red, I knew I wasn’t suffering from cancer or a thyroid condition. And I knew that it would take me four years to lose the weight,
though I might be slimming down por allá because of the new administration.
Papá Noel: Santa Claus
lorocos: an edible plant in El Salvador
pupusas: a stuffed little taco in El Salvador
por allá: over there
This poem was previously published by Indolent Books. You can check them out here:
Check out Christine’s other work here:
…An Altar to Music
…The Great Escape
…Altar and Mermaid, 10