Wednesday, December 19, 2018

#50 Backstory of the Poem "For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014" by Joseph Ross . . .

*The images in this specific piece are granted copyright privilege by:  Public Domain, CCSAL, GNU Free Documentation Licenses, Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law, or given copyright privilege by the copyright holder which is identified beneath the individual photo.

**Some of the links will have to be copied and then posted in your search engine in order to pull up properly

***This is the fiftieth in a never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem.  All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece. 

#50 Backstory of the Poem "For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014." 
By Joseph Ross

Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form?   In July of 2014, I was visiting relatives in Southern California and spending a few vacation days in Palm Springs. While there, I read an article about Gilberto Ramos (Above Right), a fifteen year-old Guatemalan boy who recently
died in the Texas desert (Left) having crossed the border from Mexico into the United States. He was trying to reach his
brother who already lived here. I read that his mother placed a rosary around his neck when he left Guatemala and that rosary provided  the only way his body could be identified. I remember scribbling down all the details the article contained and I began to write the poem that night. I too had a mother who regularly prayed the rosary so I felt a kind of kinship to this young boy. 
I tried to imagine the sorrow of a mother as she sends her second son off into the world for a better shot at life. I tried to imagine the horrific way this boy must have died: thirsty, hungry, and alone. I knew I wanted to create an elegy to remember him. I am a deep believer in elegies, in their ability to bring someone back
to us, someone whose physical life has ended. I believe the elegy has a kind of resurrection power. While it does not literally bring a person back to life, it does bring them back in a real way, into our imagination, our consciousness, our hearts. I hoped a poem about Gilberto Ramos would do
this. While I usually revise poems for months, this poem got only a few revisions and within a few weeks, I sent it to the Los Angeles Times (Left) who published it in August, 2014. It later became the closing poem in my third book, ACHE, from Sibling Rivalry Press. Since its publication, many people have asked me to read it at readings, it has been re-published several times. I hope the story of this young boy and his mother might open our hearts a bit.
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem?  And please describe the place in great detail.   I began writing “For Gilberto Ramos” sitting by a pool on a 90-degree morning in Palm Spring, California. I had a cup of coffee and a plate with toast and jelly on the table with my notebook. I start most of my poems with a black pen, on paper. 
The morning was silent except for the darting of hummingbirds around the desert flowers in the gardens around me. I remember the morning very well because the poem seemed to come out of my pen so easily.

How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?)   I recall that there were three or four drafts of this poem but it came out initially in basically the same form it ended in. I made a few changes to the initial draft, but, unusual for me, my first draft nearly became the final draft, very few edits.

Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version?  And can you share them with us?   I initially had a few lines describing what Gilberto Ramos’ death might have been like. I tried to imagine his hands on the desert sand. The more I looked at those lines I realized the poem needed restraint, not hype. This boy’s death was awful enough. I remembered that simple descriptions would touch the reader more than intensity. The truth was, as we say, bad enough. (Left:  Clothes that Gilberto Ramos was wearing at the time of his death)
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem?   I am struck by the fear and anger at immigrants all over the world. Whether people are fleeing war in Syria to get to Europe, or whether they are fleeing from Sub-Saharan Africa trying to cross the Mediterranean, or whether they
are fleeing violence and poverty in Central America to get into the United States, I don’t understand the fear and anger.  I don’t understand the ownership some people seem to feel about their own land. None of us chose to be born in the country of our birth. None of us owns the land in which we live. 
So how to people get so righteous and angry about poor people fleeing from conditions any of us would also flee?  What do I want readers to take from this poem? I hope the poem might stir up more compassion and perhaps even love for those whose lives are in danger. I hope the poem might open up a reader to consider this boy, a young boy, his mother, any mother, to more kindness and patience than we normally show people we think are strangers.
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why?   These lines hurt me to read: “But Texas does not / know these prayers. It knows // that desert air is thirsty / and you are made of water. // It drank you slowly.”

Anything you would like to add?   I would just add that I believe in the power of poetry to move us and to make us better people. I have experienced this in my own life. When I read poems by Martin Espada, Naomi Shihab Nye, Langston Hughes, among others, I have been changed and I hope some of my poems can offer that to readers as well.

For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014
By Joseph Ross
Before you left, your mother
draped you with 50 Hail Marys,
a rosary of white wood,
a constellation she hoped might
guide you. But Texas does not
know these prayers. It knows
that desert air is thirsty
and you are made of water.
It drank you slowly. Your name
only linked to your body by the string
of aves still around your neck,
the small cross pressing against your
wooden skin, the color of another cross.
You left home on May 17
with one change of clothes and two
countries ahead of you, your brother's
phone number hidden on the back
of your belt buckle so the coyote
couldn't find it. The coyotes pray
in the language of extortion.
The phone number was eventually
found by a Texas official whose name
your brother couldn't remember. She called
and spoke in the language of bones. He translated
her news into "pray for us, sinners,
now and at the hour of our death."
His prayer meant "brother," a word
he kept moist, just beneath his tongue.

Joseph Ross is the author of three books of poetry: Ache (2017), Gospel of Dust (2013) and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poems appear in many anthologies and journals, including Xavier Review, The Southern Quarterly, and The Los Angeles Times (Right:  Joseph Ross during a poetry reading in August of 2018.  Copyright permission granted by Joseph Ross for this CRC Blog Post Only) 
He teaches English and Creative Writing at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. (Left) and writes regularly at


001  December 29, 2017
Margo Berdeshevksy’s “12-24”

002  January 08, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “82 Miles From the Beach, We Order The Lobster At Clear Lake Café”

003 January 12, 2018
Barbara Crooker’s “Orange”

004 January 22, 2018
Sonia Saikaley’s “Modern Matsushima”

005 January 29, 2018
Ellen Foos’s “Side Yard”

006 February 03, 2018
Susan Sundwall’s “The Ringmaster”

007 February 09, 2018
Leslea Newman’s “That Night”

008 February 17, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher “June Fairchild Isn’t Dead”

009 February 24, 2018
Charles Clifford Brooks III “The Gift of the Year With Granny”

010 March 03, 2018
Scott Thomas Outlar’s “The Natural Reflection of Your Palms”

011 March 10, 2018
Anya Francesca Jenkins’s “After Diane Beatty’s Photograph “History Abandoned”

012  March 17, 2018
Angela Narciso Torres’s “What I Learned This Week”

013 March 24, 2018
Jan Steckel’s “Holiday On ICE”

014 March 31, 2018
Ibrahim Honjo’s “Colors”

015 April 14, 2018
Marilyn Kallett’s “Ode to Disappointment”

016  April 27, 2018
Beth Copeland’s “Reliquary”

017  May 12, 2018
Marlon L Fick’s “The Swallows of Barcelona”

018  May 25, 2018

019  June 09, 2018
Alexis Rhone Fancher’s “Stiletto Killer. . . A Surmise”

020 June 16, 2018
Charles Rammelkamp’s “At Last I Can Start Suffering”

021  July 05, 2018
Marla Shaw O’Neill’s “Wind Chimes”

022 July 13, 2018
Julia Gordon-Bramer’s “Studying Ariel”

023 July 20, 2018
Bill Yarrow’s “Jesus Zombie”

024  July 27, 2018
Telaina Eriksen’s “Brag 2016”

025  August 01, 2018
Seth Berg’s “It is only Yourself that Bends – so Wake up!”

026  August 07, 2018
David Herrle’s “Devil In the Details”

027  August 13, 2018
Gloria Mindock’s “Carmen Polo, Lady Necklaces, 2017”

028  August 21, 2018
Connie Post’s “Two Deaths”

029  August 30, 2018
Mary Harwell Sayler’s “Faces in a Crowd”

030 September 16, 2018
Larry Jaffe’s “The Risking Point”

031  September 24, 2018
Mark Lee Webb’s “After We Drove”

032  October 04, 2018
Melissa Studdard’s “Astral”

033 October 13, 2018
Robert Craven’s “I Have A Bass Guitar Called Vanessa”

034  October 17, 2018
David Sullivan’s “Paper Mache Peaches of Heaven”

035 October 23, 2018
Timothy Gager’s “Sobriety”

036  October 30, 2018
Gary Glauber’s “The Second Breakfast”

037  November 04, 2018
Heather Forbes-McKeon’s “Melania’s Deaf Tone Jacket”

038 November 11, 2018
Andrena Zawinski’s “Women of the Fields”

039  November 00, 2018
Gordon Hilger’s “Poe”

040 November 16, 2018
Rita Quillen’s “My Children Question Me About Poetry” and “Deathbed Dreams”

041 November 20, 2018
Jonathan Kevin Rice’s “Dog Sitting”

042 November 22, 2018
Haroldo Barbosa Filho’s “Mountain”

043  November 27, 2018
Megan Merchant’s “Grief Flowers”

044 November 30, 2018
Jonathan P Taylor’s “This poem is too neat”

045  December 03, 2018
Ian Haight’s “Sungmyo for our Dead Father-in-Law”

046 December 06, 2018
Nancy Dafoe’s “Poem in the Throat”

047 December 11, 2018
Jeffrey Pearson’s “Memorial Day”

048  December 14, 2018
Frank Paino’s “Laika”

049  December 15, 2018
Jennifer Martelli’s “Anniversary”

O50  December 19, 2018
Joseph Ross’s For Gilberto Ramos, 15, Who Died in the Texas Desert, June 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment