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National Poetry Month: Robbie Gamble's Memo to a Border Patrol Agent

On the podcast: Robbie Gamble shares an unforgettable poem from his experiences working with immigrants in the Southwest.

Episode notes

Our Poetry Month series returns! Every Tuesday in April we invite a Lesley poet to share a poem and speak briefly about their work. This year, we're starting with Robbie Gamble ’17, who reads and discusses "Memo to the Border Patrol Agent Who Poured Out the Water We Left in the Desert."

About our guest

Robbie Gamble ’17 holds an MFA in Poetry from Lesley. He is the author of A Can of Pinto Beans, from Lily Poetry Review Press (2022). His poems and essays have appeared in the Atlanta Review, Pangyrus, Poet Lore, RHINO, Rust + Moth, Spillway, Tahoma Literary Review, and The Sun, among other journalsRecipient of the Carve Poetry prize, and a Peter Taylor Fellowship at the Kenyon Summer Writers Workshop, he serves as poetry editor for Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices. Robbie worked for 20 years as a nurse practitioner with Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, and he now divides his time between Boston and Vermont.

Check out last year's poems:

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  • Transcript

    Georgia Sparling

    This is Why We Write a podcast of Lesley University. Every episode we bring you conversations with authors in the Lesley community to talk about books, writing and the writing life. Hi, everybody. My name is Georgia Sparling, and it's National Poetry Month. To celebrate, we're bringing back our special Poetry Month series. Every week in April. I'll welcome one Lesley poet to introduce one of their poems and then read it for us. I hope that these short episodes will introduce you to new poets and help you pause for a moment of literary reflection. This series starts with Robbie gamble, who graduated from our MFA in creative writing program in 2017. Robbie has been published in the American Journal of poetry, the Atlanta review the literary Poetry Review, among many others. He is the assistant poetry editor for Solstice magazine of diverse voices, and the author of Acana pinto beans, which is going to read from today. Here's Robbie.

    Robbie Gamble

    Hi, my name is Robbie Gamble, and it's really exciting to be here. Today I'm going to read a poem from my recent chapbook called "A Can of Pinto Beans," and this is a project that came out of work I've been doing for the last several years prior to COVID. I've been volunteering a few weeks each summer going down to the Arizona-Mexico border to work providing medical material aid for migrants who are moving to a very dangerous and remote part of the Sonoran Desert on their journeys. And my background is I'm a nurse practitioner.

    I've worked most of my life with homeless folks and people living on the margins, undocumented. And at some point, I turned to poetry sort of in my in my early 40s as a way of sort of working out some of the issues and trauma that I witnessed with people, and I pretty much got into sort of writing witness poetry, issues of social justice. I'm a white straight cis-male from a privileged background and I haven't suffered a lot of the trauma that the people I've worked with have been been a part of, but it's, it's been important for me to, to try and talk about that and bring it to the broader world in my work. This chapter came out of that process.

    Today, I'd like to read a poem called "Memo to the Border Patrol Agent who Poured out the Water We Left in the Desert."

    I saw you. I saw you hustle past in your green striped SUV, casting a huff of dust across our windshield. Ten minutes later, we got to the radio tower, and the gallon jugs we had left for migrants were all poured out, the ground still shiny, moist in 115 degrees, parched. These are the facts. And although this document is not binding, I have several questions. One, do you understand what thirst is, a thirst for home so strong? A man will walk 90 miles under bone bright sun to quench it. Not a death wish not a martyr's pilgrimage, not a penchant for Air Jordans or a welfare check or some Mickey Mouse accessories for his toddler daughter. Just a semi-safe place to work and live. Live and work. Fill a belly, harbor a family. To what does it profit you to be cruel? Did you thrill to the glug of the jugs heaving their quench into the dust? Were you the kid who ignited ants with a magnifying glass? How cozy is that government issue paycheck in your pocket? Three and this one is kind of biblical. So listen close. Who is your neighbor? Who? You and I and who else? The passports we both holster are embossed with a self same spread eagle clawing at arrows and olive twigs such a coveted ticket. But plunk this in your Trooper-shaped skull. We are the newcomers on this hemisphere. And the footpaths you patrol have veined these continents for millennia, with no regard for turnstiles or trade quotas, or zip ties, or drone strikes or dreams of a wall drawn arbitrarily.


    Thank you for listening to today's episode. For more information on Robbie, check out our show notes. I've also included a link there for the National Poetry Month series from last year. And be sure to come back next week as the series continues with a poem set in outer space courtesy of July Westhale.