To the Dead Who Are Found (poetry)

By Caitlin Patler

Caitlin Patler is a PhD candidate in Sociology at UCLA. She has been an activist for immigrants’ rights for over a decade. In 2012, she volunteered with No More Deaths’ Desert Aid Project along the US-Mexico borderlands. These are some of her reflections.



To the dead who are found
And never found
To the faded and fading backpacks
Discarded water bottles
Photographs and crucifixes half-buried in dust
The melted, soleless shoes

The smoldering, soulless desert

To your stories
Where you began and
The last moments

Were there yellow butterflies fluttering?
Could you see them dancing?
Was it hot, stifling, bright?
Or was the night’s pitch darkness all around, blinding and deafening
at once?
Were you frightened? Or
Was it peaceful, finally?
Were you alone?

Did you think about: Your father’s laughter
The sparkle in your sister’s eyes when she was a baby
The smell of your lovers’ lips
The crunch of steps on a dirt road
The crash of a wave
The debt you will never pay

Bones on the trail
Bullet casings
ATV tracks
Helicopters above
Lights shone and bullets fired, purposefully: To Scatter you
Bruised knees swollen feet empty stomachs bloodshot eyes
Panting under creosote, mesquite
Hunted, hiding, exhausted, praying
No water but from cow troughs
Phone numbers carved into skin in case they catch you
Running, running, Scars re-opening, infecting
Dry lips, dust in the lungs
Mind unfocused or so. very. determined.

Before you Knew
Did you notice the red flowers that grow on the cactus plants?
The beetles crossing, to and fro
The purple tint of the rocks
The bright leaves of the ocotillo
Animal scat
The clouds so thin and stretched in the heat, like cotton across a

To the Dead who are Found and Mourned
To the Dead who are Found and Never Identified
To the Dead who are Never Found
To your bones and your memories and your pain and your courage
Your life-defying courage

To the pleading nightmares of family and lovers who will Never Know
Never Know how noble you were
Never Know how far you got
How close you were
How hot it was
How powerful your love had to be
How you stared out into vastness and Knew

To the Dead who are found
And Never Found,
To the Dead whose remains remain,
To the Survivors, and to those who


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