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Can't Be Helped

He walked into the lobby with his
ragged entourage in tow,
four, maybe five of them.
He was bright-skinned, sunburned and blue-eyed.
The men he brought followed him into the office.
They were brown-skinned and mostly quiet.
They smiled, nodding their heads politely,
exchanging pleasantries with me in Spanish.

The men looked weathered, their faces singed by
the western Oklahoma sun somewhere,
maybe in Elk City or Anadarko.
Their boss had come to ask a favor, a mighty favor:
Get these boys their papers.

It turned out the Mexicans worked with this man on
his road-building business.
Not a large business, just a small going concern.
One day the boss went down with a heart attack.
And not one of them bolted.
They saved him, he said.
They did the work, took good care of his business.
He would have lost everything without his Mexican
boys, he said.

Here, I thought, was a man laying bare his debt,
pleading his truth that he was nothing
without his boys.

So could I get them their immigration papers?
Maybe through the amnesty program?

No, I told him; they don't qualify. Can't be helped.
The words crushed his healing heart.

Was I sure?
Yes. Just can't be helped.

There was nothing more to say.
They left, the Mexicans smiling,
nodding their heads, offering me a well-wish,
extending their brown, callused hands
to grasp my brown hand,
callused at the thumb and index finger
from pushing a pen across thin ruled
paper landscapes where
heartaches are hard-headed,
dreams are withered,
and miracles are stillborn.