Rob Williams


When giving the signal to his birds, they arose in the air with him for their journey to the moon
—Francis Godwin, The Strange Voyage and Adventures of Domingo Gonsales to the World in the Moon (1638)

Hours after class, in my office,
I meet with a student I haven’t seen
in over three weeks, wondering where she’s been.
She tells me she hasn’t come to class because
she’s afraid for her parents.
They came from El Salvador. Saved
their money to get across
the border, paid the coyotes, couldn’t bring
everyone only the clothes on their backs
and one small bag that carried
a photo of the family, all of them
together, the last time.

This was before she was born, before
she was the fleck of gold in their eyes.

She shows me the photo on her phone. Faces
smiling through a Polaroid-orange haze.
Her eyes wet with tears, that’s my tia and my
grandmother and grandfather, people she
has never met.

My parents aren’t safe here now, she tells me,
I’m afraid they will get caught.
Black-wet mascara makes a trail
down her face, I wish I could carry them
to someplace safe, the moon
maybe, she says and laughs, wipes her cheeks on her jacket sleeves,
zips her backpack—leaves—but not before promising to
turn in the missing work.

I believe she will, and then I’m left
alone in my office where I think about
an essay, a tall-tale really,
read in a long-ago linguistics class
about a man who, aided by two dozen
harnessed geese in their migratory pattern,
flew to the moon, and I imagine my student, her parents,
and a skein of geese, silent as they are lifted up through the silvery clouds.

(First appeared in From Everywhere a Little: A Migration Anthology, ed. Dawn Hogue and Lisa Vihos, 2019, Water’s Edge Press.)


Rob Williams co-edited the Lambda Literary Award-Nominated anthology, From Boys to Men: Gay Men Write About Growing Up (Carroll & Graf). He received his MFA in Fiction from Columbia University. His prose and poetry have appeared in Versal, Maisonneuve, San Diego Citybeat, The Racket, and others. He lives and teaches English and Creative Writing in San Francisco.

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