National Poetry Month: Carla Hagen

I’m pleased to feature Carla Hagen on the blog tonight and her poem “Pilgrimage.”

This is the time of year when everything I do feels like a pilgrimage to some obligation or another: frantically plowing through my immense stacks of grading to finish the semester; hosting a reading of my students and their original work and celebrating the launch of their literary magazine (tomorrow night); attending a writing conference (Writefest!!) this weekend even though it’s not convenient timing with the school year because at some point I have to make some acknowledgement of my own writing career; even curating this poetry series on my blog every year. Again, not great timing — which is why these posts so often go up late at night — but oh so important in the grander scheme of things. Life cannot only be about obligations and chores and tasks. Sometimes art keeps us alive. I am on a personal pilgrimage to remember that. Busy, busy April is the cruelest month, but these moments of poetry hold me together.


Piedras was soft when we drove in,
faded pink and blue, dust rising,
roasted corn and chilies, roosters.

We’d crossed Texas for this:
true border, pure corridos, 
Los Pingüinos del Norte, black and white,

In the market, among onions, piñatas, watermelon,
tall Hilario, chest massive, guitar to match,
Ruben, red button accordion tuned just off key.

The cantina that night served up shrimp soup, salted peanuts.
Nearly empty — just the Pingüinos and us.
Reel-to-reel, rented mike — praying they’d play.

At least one tune. They sing in the kitchen
I pick so many oranges, I’ll turn orange.
Me voy a anaranjar if I pick one more.

Migrant tales follow the tracks of the north-bound train,
Adiós, Estado de Tejas, con toda tu plantación,
I’ll never pick cotton again. Ya no pisco algodón.

Everything’s different now, drug lords the only royalty.
Corridos float in my mind as I cross the ravaged Valley, 
no more Chulas Fronteras, beautiful borderlands,

that country gone.


Carla Hagen’s debut novel, Hand Me Down My Walking Cane, won the 2012 Midwest Independent Publishers Awards for literary fiction and historical fiction. Her second novel, Muskeg, will be published in August 2022. Her work has appeared in anthologies such as Voices for the Land and When Last on the Mountain, as well as in journals like Talking Stick, Saint Paul Almanac, Border Senses, and Sing, Heavenly Muse! The Minnesota-Canadian border and Latin America, especially Mexico, inform her work.

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