on I-25 headed for Albuquerque
my bus pulls into a Border Patrol checkpoint.
Weekly, I participate in this ritual.
The green clad agent steps aboard.
"If you are a US citizen, state the city and state of your birth
If you are not, show your documentation."
As far as I can see, the green agent and I
are the only Anglos on this full bus.
Border Patrol makes her way down the aisle,
frowning at papers of widely varying size, shape, color,
sometimes also asking for separate ID, sometimes not.
My head bows under the world's weight upon this spot.
This posture cues me to a whispered prayer.
"May there be an end to invidious distinctions
including those based on whether our mothers,
when we first peaked out from them into the world,
were north or south
of a line
a few politicians and generals drew
more than 150 years ago.
May I find ways to help bring
justice from my unjust privilege.
And blessed be all of us on this bus, including the Border Patrol agent,
as we all struggle in our diverse ways
to realize the fullness of our humanity."
She gets finally to me on the backmost seat.
This week no one has been hauled off.
I look up from clasped hands in lap
For a flicker our eyes meet.
My voice says, "Richmond, Virginia."
This only is asked of me, no papers, no ID.
Pale skin and the right sort of accent clinch it,
if I will but utter the name of an approved holy city
as the weekly sacrament of transition
from El Paso husband to Albuquerque minister intern.
I only have to say out loud my condemnation.
Richmond is a city much farther away than Mexico,
and memory recalls only a few passings-through,
Of Richmond, I vaguely know a view of a skyline from the interstate, nothing more.
Not that it matters.
What I'm saying with those two words is:
I am on your side, Agent Green Jump Suit.
I deny Yahweh's call for a preferential option for the poor.
I deny Buddha's call to live compassion rather than fear.
I deny my faith profession:
the unitarian commitment to the unity of us all
the universalist commitment to universal community
From my lips, this two-word Peter's denial: "Richmond, Virginia."
Peter, having spoken, saw in a dizzy flash, as I do:
We who long to be merely good,
Are revealed as rotten with complicity with the empire.
And what could show more clearly than that
That the world’s brokenness and mine are one?
Between El Paso & Albuquerque, 2003.09
* * * * * * *
In 2003, LoraKim and I and a nanday conure parrot named Exodor lived in El Paso. LoraKim was the minister to the Unitarian Universalist Community of El Paso, and I was in training to become a minister. I was doing my ministerial internship at the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque -- a four-hour drive north from El Paso. Not that I drove. I took the bus. It was such a well-traveled route by folks without cars, that an independent bus company had formed that charged $35 for a round-trip bus ticket from El Paso to Albuquerque and back -- less than seven cents a mile.
My "weekend" was Monday and Tuesday. After the Sunday church services in Albuquerque, followed by early-afternoon meetings or visits or adult classes, I'd get on the 5:00pm bus back home to El Paso. LoraKim would pick me up at 10:00pm at the El Paso bus station -- if the bus didn't break down, which it did a couple times. On those occasions, I'd borrow a cell phone -- since I didn't have one myself in those days -- and call to let LoraKim know we'd be getting in later.
The El Paso bus station was a rather run-down sort of place in a rather run-down part of town. I'd arrive hungry, often not having eaten since breakfast, and we'd go to a rather run-down restaurant and get some cheap enchiladas. Life was good.
I'd have a couple days with LoraKim and Exodor. Monday was LoraKim's day off, and we'd go hiking about in the Franklin Mountains or some other spot nearby. Tuesday, she'd be at work most of the day and I'd work on stuff at home. Tuesday evenings, I met with a Zen group at the UU Community of El Paso. Then early Wednesday morning, I'd be back on the bus to Albuquerque.
Life was good, and at the same time life was, well, life. El Paso, apparently, is in a kind of "buffer zone." It's right on the border, and immigrants who make it into El Paso have crossed only some of the hurdles to getting to any more interior part of the US. All the roads out of El Paso have "check points" where all traffic pulls in. A Border Patrol agent asks for identification, or waves the vehicle on, depending on the length of the line and the skin tone of the vehicle's occupants.
Every Wednesday morning I was on that bus as it pulled into the check point north of El Paso. After one such experience, I pulled out my journal and wrote this poem.