Border Voices / Anthology by Anthony Seidman

Petition to the Men in Masks Committing Their Raids

Let the masked men mask their eyes so that they abuse themselves

Let the masked men mask their greed so that they can’t distinguish the bribe’s amount

Let the masked men unmask the condition of their anonymity so that they can’t commit

     their abuses with impunity and from behind masks

Let the masked men unmask their sinister motives and reveal the black grimaces of their

     abuses beneath the official spectrum

Let the masked men unmask their callousness when they

insult me

strike me

kidnap me and

disappear me

Let the masked men not mask their shame

when I reveal my own

upon finding out what they truly are

upon finding out what I am

and what we are as a society

Let the masked men mask their bullets

so that they can be recognized when they’re

dug out from the cadavers of the innocent.

Jhonnatan Curiel (Tijuana, 1986) is the author of seven collections of poetry, many of them documenting the violence and corruption in his native metropolis.  He finished a BA at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, prior to finishing a PhD in Social Sciences in Manizales, Colombia.   He resides, teaches, and writes in Tijuana.

45°

The Juárez sun un-holstered his 45,

took aim at the heads of city inhabitants.

45 degrees Celsius in the shade,

salt rubbed into split skulls. 

Rusted air conditioning units

squealed from rooftops,

and vapor steamed from a sleeping dragon.

I fall before the sun’s slumber.

Even the shadows wither.

Some of the scraggly trees

             bend

                        begging mercy.

At three o’clock in the afternoon I hear

the creaking of a noose tightened around neck,

the afternoon’s taut rope

when the sun’s engine stalls, 

but everything carbonizes.

Poem on Summer’s Ending

It’s not the blank page, but the blank mind

that I fear.  Even worse, an empty soul.

Nothing to do, just whetting the blade of time,

the heat outside drying out the hours, 

as if they were strips of salted beef hanging from the awning.

The wind goes nowhere, goes in circles

like children on the playground, or sugar in coffee.

Only mountains know about hour as enduring as the ocean.

I have walked on days like this, warming

myself with the cloth which the sun unravels.

There’s a long highway on this page,

a highway that vanishes by the distant hill

where the heat rings in one’s ears.

A mind as blank as the desert,

and this poem in the middle of it, like a cactus. 

Martín Camps (Tijuana, 1972) Although Camps was born in Tijuana, and studied in Mexico City, his family is from Chihuahua, and he spent formative years in Ciudad Juárez.  He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, such as La extinction de los atardeceres (Solar, 2010), as well as book-length studies on the literature of the border, and other work in journals throughout Latin America and the United States.  He is a professor of Spanish Language Literature and Latin American Studies at the University of the Pacific.

Moon Looming

Moon looming above the Tijuana night,

rotund, sassy, and foul-mouthed.

Conceited city:

if you gaze at the moon as she descends seeking my front gate;

if she curls—

ever so deftly—

under the eaves of my house;

if she descends to the shore or

if she mounts herself into my bed, or tiptoes the water,

city, don’t you worry, and

don’t you dare shine your lights on her,

don’t deprive me of this blade slitting the night in two,

that rotund, sassy, and foul-mouthed, perhaps-to-bleed

moon looming above Tijuana.

Alfonso García-Cortez (Tijuana, 1963) García-Cortez is the recipient of two municipal prizes for poetry for the years of 1983 and 1988, and he is the author of several collections of poetry, including Llanterío (UIA Tijuana / Ediciones lobos de mar, 2001).  He has published in such journals as Blanco Móvil and CulturaNorte.  In addition to his work as a poet and promoter of culture in Tijuana, he is a full time professor of literature at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Tijuana campus. 

“I” Is Only The Man Who Walks Away

Alone at home

someone knocks on my door

(if I forget the physical hardness

the color of bones belonging to that someone

the presence will vanish)

a voice made from stubborn finger-bones and knuckles

comes pounding on my door

he could be the vendor of some unfortunate story who dropped off

implorations sealing his eyes

or the mail carrier repeating

the deep chasm of time

the deep chasm of time

green coins strewn across the bottom of the pond

dreams diluted there, miserable and drowned,

perhaps that woman who always brings me a flower in her sex

corolla opened to the embrace of my flesh

(how I hope to hear her anxious rapping

at my door once

again yet

there is no trace of her heavy breathing in this silence)

I open the door

and recognize the shoulders of a man in the distance

it is I,

            nothing to worry about,

     I

who is a man walking away

Agustín García Delgado (Ciudad Juárez, 1958) García received a grant for literature from the state of Chihuahua in 1992.  The piece included here is the title poem from a collection published in 1994 by Joan Boldó I Climent.  Since then, he has published several collections of poetry, short fiction as well, and he won the state prize of Chihuahua for literature in recognition of his collection entitled Album (2017). He works as an editor for the press of the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez.

Mexicali

It has to be some sort of gag,

bad joke, slap to the face.

Just who came here and thought: City

in this inert place,

     vast and empty?

Furnace of rusted humanity.

Even so, you gave birth, coins of impalpable talc,  

clayish loam bursting forth a flower.

Spotting things on your plain is useless,

trying to do so will result in a mirage.

Luminescent steppe.

You come from the sky,

a grid of salt,

trace of an imagined planet,

hollow of volatile earth.

Your heart

lodges within an artificial cloister

and rations saliva in order to speak.

Your city center,

the same that was once a fiesta, 

today is but a cadastral record,

a route of passage

sparkling in memory.

You sit, dwarf-like,

on concrete platforms,

yet you preen

forgetting what you once were,

how the wind inhabited you

when the Sun was in its kingdom.

Rosa Espinoza (Mexicali, 1968) is currently a professor at CETYS, as well as the founder and editor of the independent press Pinos Alados.  She is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Señero: Poemas 1994-2014 (Pinos Alados, 2014).  She has published poems in journals like Tierra Adentro, Yubai and Aquilón.

Migrants

                                                To Rebeca, poetry’s spur

                                                          After Entre la necesidad y el scenario by Roberto Rosique

Death has now been born in this no-man’s land,

place of isolate rocks, of silences in which one’s voice cracks, and thought splinters.

It has been born, painted in a hue of steel, its skin tattooed with loss.

Death which is a vile laugh emitted among stirred dust, a deaf face, an old cough choking

            on each nostalgia.

Death as long as the desert’s horizon, sacred lightning bolt, blinding sword beneath

            a copper sun.

It has come like the returning of ominous graves that make us regard the shadow:

here, the same, reoccurring story of our Fall, the old specter which condemns us to

            diving from the cliffs of nothingness like a fistful of souls already taken for lost

            and lodged within that body,

that body of bodies dragged from the main plaza century after century, system after

            system, credo after credo.

Flesh of lamentation.

Flesh of sacrifice.

Here, the wall which appears, the gates which dash our hopes, the confusion of roads.

Here, the procession of silence in the yard where hunger chews an ear of corn picked

clean of its kernels, and dreams

of gathering together the scattered remains of the mother,

            of shaking off plague and shame from blankets,

            of starting history anew, elsewhere:

Wherefore have we come here, to the place of grief we have come,

we have left behind the ancient refuge where the days, lasting longer each moment,

witnessed the immolation of the sowing fields,

we seek a refuge, such is our motive for coming here.

Nothing held us back in the land from whence we departed.

Our heart weeps, and we suffer, inconsolable,

Because here, we should not live, nor have we received consolation.

Where have we truly come?

Here, our semblance,

the scene of our downfall.

Wind and exhausted limbs, visages rising in final protest against the dark gust of wind.

You seek the land you lost, and your feet and your eyes, your tongue, your throat, all

            proclaim to you its proximity,

because the land envelopes you, it has risen and it envelopes you with its dogs and golden

snakes,

downfall after downfall, its assails your breath, bit by bit, robbing you of your sense,

motives, it blots out your body,

the image which you are, and disfigures your visage with the blow of a simple,

huge insult.

Vicinity of death, and its myriad faces: beyond that threshold you are but a ghost, a mere

            bulk moving off yonder, a shadow.

You have trod the land uniformed by an army of steamrollers, an empire of dreams and

            haughty arsenals.

Your incursion is the closing episode of a contradictory gesture, and in your flight we

            behold, as in a categorical mirror, the collapse of utopias;

we are the sapped tree of the hanged-man, and the wind which rocks it,  we are

            a barren steppe that breeds hunger and theft,

            we are the mask’s scab on the imaginary Mexico,

            and the buried mirror, we are a prayer,

            deserted and insistent.

Eduardo Arellano (1959-2004) was a poet, critic, and profesor who was born in Zacatecas, yet spent the majority of his life  in Tijuana, where he was considered a vibrant member of the city’s literary community.  He published a over a dozen books, and he his early death was widely mourned. 

On the Border

(After Cavafy)

The girl aboard a train headed north

imagines the sinuous city with her finger tracing

the dust on wagons

a deep wish to learn the art of crossing borders

leap walls and sink bridges

grasp that gold in the twilight of her gods

during the ailing journey

and the dust inside eyes some other condemned woman announces

another successful way of ridding oneself of…

as soon her steps trace the desert sand

my burial will take place here

before dying the young woman gasps

about a new house

frail parents

complex forms of a dream

I dream

The one who was nothing knew no homeland

in the vast Latin American world

better that way stretched out beneath  

stones and sand while during the immense night

her parents await her homecoming

Antonio Rubio (Ciudad Juárez, 1994) is the author of Blu (Anverso, 2019).  Along with Amalia Rodríguez and Urani Montiel, he won the Guillermo Rousset Banda prize for literary research in recognition of the study Cartografía literaria de Ciudad Juárez (Eón, 2019).

The Border

First it was a stone

then a chalked line

a wire fence

a wall blocking our gaze

However

for me it’s always been

a rosebush

a vine

Something alive

replete with birds and lizards

Something bustling and pleasant:

more soft leaves than thorns

more life than death

Autobiography

                                                In my childhood…there was plenty to be seen

                                                          –Luis Mac Niece

In my childhood the desert was

like the stories from the Old Testament

a plague of locusts rained on the houses

In my childhood the rattlesnakes

coiled among the bushes in vacant lots

and one played with them as if they were from the garden of paradise

In my childhood mermaids appeared

at the traveling circus

and they charged you five pesos to see them on dry land

In my childhood the city was

an enchanted kingdom: a separate reality

teeming with voices and accents from the world over

In my childhood the city was

a vast farm where dust storms

chased girls across the schoolyard

In my childhood time went on its way at

a relaxed pace, calmly: to the rhythm of the brewery’s whistle

at the speed of the pushcarts selling popsicles

That was my childhood: solitary, sweet…authentic.

Gabriel Trujillo Muñoz (Mexicali, 1958) studied medicine in Mexico City, yet returned to his city in Mexico’s northern desert where he began writing, as well as teaching at the state’s major university.  He is prolific.  His numerous titles include poetry, detective fiction, regional history, and science fiction.

Definition of Waiting

I write about days

I write on its leopard’s back

accidents that don’t take place

names of objects like

eyes of blind women gazing at the afternoon

nights that trace the empty ring in our souls

bland days

ash between fingers

as fragile as

the glass-pane of a voice

holes

immense holes in the pages and in what is said:

days drawn by the absence where we sleep

writing

waiting

The Enclosure

At a certain moment

after having left home

you thought you had forgotten something

an object

something uncertain

and that it was necessary to turn back

Once in particular

while in the middle of childish games and glee

a word took you by surprise

and you turned your gaze elsewhere in search of it

Then with undeniable fear

a voice surprised you while you spoke

another voice

simply another

And when the vast and

traversable night offered herself to you

you became aware how

between the dust and the city

for us

poetry was building an enclosure

Edgar Rincón Luna (Ciudad Juárez, 1974) most recent collection of poetry is the brutal Puño de whiskey, an unflinching gaze at the violence and heartache in his native city.  It was recently reprinted by the University of Ciudad Juarez.  His work has been included in the leading anthologies of contemporary Mexican poetry.

Astronomer with Impossible Candlestick

All this week I read about impossible stars

in the newspaper.

Too immaterial for any type of calculation,

for any table of figures, theory.

Impossible, was what they noted about these stars,

for they possess a light, an immensity

which the scientists can’t—and don’t wish—to grasp.

Things like that exist in the universe.

I like stars and museums

and the illustration on the bookmark

that you gave me as a gift,

(Astronomer by Candlelight).

I liked it

Because it hails from that European school of the XVII Century,

with dark interiors, and within in each interior

(you would joke, calling it “profundity”),

there’s always something incalculable,

                                                                 difficult to grasp,

like that small flame

which doesn’t yield.

Teresa Avedoy (Sinaloa, 1979) lives in Tijuana.  Her numerous collections of poetry include Dicen que en esta ciudad solo se deberían escribir novelas negras (Forca-Instituto Sudcaliforniano de Cultura, 2010) and Antidewey (notas de campo), (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León).

Zona Norte

                                                A world where everyone was an accomplice

                                                          and where the most minor act, the most

                                                          insignificant and smallest of their movements

                                                          and actions, was undertaken in order to cloak

                                                          the true and fearful condition of each one of them.

                                                                        –José Revueltas

*

What you always

refused to utter: 

scribbles

on public bathroom walls.

*

Stinking of piss

and litter

the urban nomad

sings from his corner, there,

where his dreams of being an emperor

take on flesh tonight

and the stray dogs

admire the sparkle

of his glass crown.

*

The ancient man

drags his feet

across dirt and glass shards.

He’s forgotten his name,

age, family…

the only thing he has left:

pride in being alive

and small bottle of liquor.

*

These very hands you see

making this tequila bottle 

seem so tiny

defended me from Death itself

one moonless night.

However,

these enormous hands

were in 33 fights

and lost every one.

*

Each weekend

she changes her name, her corner.

Since the age of fifteen

she has grown old

and you don’t recognize her now on the street;

she’s that woman in the blue dress

whom, one winter night,

you forgot to pay.

*

Between beers

the woman dances;

the men sweat and pant

their rancid breath.

(The norteño ballad

drags itself under the tables

and scatters through the curtain

which struggles to be a door.)

A midget, holding a great grudge,

approaches the woman,

shatters a bottle against her.

*

To ask for another beer,

or listen to the blind man playing the piano,

as well as his fifty-something singer

belting out a nameless bolero. 

The map of their lives,

umbrage of sobbing and glass shards,

clouds braided to the legs of a piano with

yellow and black keys

out of tune,

while on the dance floor

an elderly couple dances and

relives something I can’t see.

*

As always,

when the last bottles falls

so too

will all of the masks.

(Zona norte: the red-light district in Tijuana)

Roberto Castillo Udiarte (Tecate, 1951) Long hailed in Baja California as the godfather of Tijuana’s counterculture, Castillo Udiarte has produced a vast amount of poetry collections, translations, articles, anthologies, as well as having led workshops in universities, community centers, juvenile incarceration centers, and homeless shelters, on both sides of the border. 

from On Some Dock

howled, I die in the copper moon that witnessed my birth

I cut the sand and only silence remains

like the sea after death

I leave behind the old names

that burst in the air during stormy days

deaf among the statues

I open my incomplete heart

I see how life           grows distant

childhood is the first razor to tear dreams apart

Rubén Macías (Ciudad Juárez, 1982) is a member of the José Revueltas collective in Juárez, and his work has been included in such anthologies as Anuario de poesía (FCE, 2006), and journals including Alforja, and the UNAM’s Periódico de poesía. In 2014, Otra Editorial published his collection En algún muelle. Some of his poetry has been translated into French.

from Saxophone Poems

From the night

there emerge liquid tigers

            seeking moist dreams.

They have been sent

            to shred the words uttered in bed.

with deep bites they hunt down the love stories

            that have survived.

They will not leave any passion unscathed,

they will rob

            libidos,

            sheets,

            caresses,

            kisses,

            milk,

            wine,

            flowers,

            letters,

            memory itself.

Not a trace of dreams,

            semen

            nor tears will remain,

and all the sexual fluid of women

will be dried

by the wild

breath of the water tigers

sent to banish

the sole sacred

thing on earth:

                          the saxophones dancing beneath your skin.

Miguel Ángel Chávez Díaz de León (Ciudad Juárez, 1962) is the author of a half dozen collections of poetry, including his collected work, under the title of Obra reunida (1984-2009), published by the Universidad Veracruzana in 2011.  In 1998, he won the Pellicer-Frost competition for poets from both sides of border region states.  He is also widely known as a journalist and author of fiction.

from Parachute Poems

From death to death

I have taken the risk of the tightrope walker

hanging from the trapeze

I have answered to the word What

But … hush

don’t ask me the other questions just yet

                   …

We plan to fall

parachuting onto a soft roof

foam

ostrich feathers

orthoflex mattress

But we fall on hard ground

from unexpected precipices

Cheek slaps against concrete

sudden seizures

seize the lips

Elizabeth Villa (Tijuana, 1974) is a professor of literature, and an author of fiction and poetry. Her most recent collection of poetry is Memorias de una molécula (Pinos Alados, 2018). Her work has appeared in such journals as Tierra Adentro and Yubai, as well as in the anthology Nuestra cama es de flores. Antología de poesía erótica femenina (CECUT, 2007).

Carne Asada

Last Saturday morning of each month,

it advances, an iceberg among the shoppers,

inviolate, nestled in a white basket,

down the supermarket aisles

five pounds of meat

kosher salt and beer

he bought unwrapped and grilled everything in April

straight to the flames in his garden

far from the traffic-jams

and the appointments hanging from telephone cables

he’s got ribs and tenderloins and he dreams

of coals white-hot

his mind drifts far from the daily grind

now he pictures the thin juice, the ribs, the bone’s taste

the thin grease glistening on the tenderloins

it’s the end of the month and hunger touches us

the salt slowly saturates the ribs

now we listen to the meat’s sizzle and the fluttering flags of fire

hand clutches beer

and the meat smells like centuries of bloodshed & hunting

Inscriptions

I like not uttering your name, keeping it within

maintaining it in that continuous tumble towards my bones

the drawn bow of your name

the arrow’s tip of each letter in silence

, first the sign

, to first write the sign and never utter it

to assemble the resurrection of the world’s silences

in the voyage of your name

César Silva Márquez (Ciudad Juárez, 1974) is a novelist and poet who grew up in Mexico’s Northern Border region.   He is the author of several collections of poetry, and he is widely celebrated as the author of numerous noir fiction novels and short stories.

Treble

I have entered the labyrinth and I have exited thence, wounded by skepticism.  I moistened my ears with gurgling springs that could be discerned from great distances, and I refreshed my eyes with the aura of unseen glazes, and I erred by naming things which were nameless.  From the exactitude of certain pitches, I have rediscovered the innate conjurations of pigmentation.  The tracery of maps and forms—angles, volutes, straight lines of Cyclopean heights—disposed their pointer of dazzling mica in my pupil.  In a pink corner, the waterfall confided in me its algebra of occult music, its graceful tresses of silvery and fleeting logarithms.  Without a camera, I have arrived at the country of I-was-here, yet not even language can click and capture the instant forever.  It’s the untranslatable palimpsest of what is perceived, the laziness of the footnote, that un-language implied by letting the testimony stand and to reserving one’s right to testify; the insufficiency of an etching, the uselessness of the vocabulary that runs in vain towards the sparkling peplos of a nymph in gardens more beautiful than what was imagined.  At my own risk, I crossed the entrance arch, and I have returned, bogged in the boundless silence of eviction.

First Call

One must recount what occurs

not in the upper registers of language

and its crust of foam

but on the lower registers where

the flame bends

or the root shudders.

One must turn the cone upside

down and denounce what’s settled at rock-bottom,

summon the roar of the sands

that the deep sea

sifts.

Take a deep breath, then dive.

Come up and tell what you have seen,

in order to relieve those waiting

by the mirror of the surface.

Much ink has smeared,

yet we’re still on tenterhooks.

So.  Cast a little more light on your predicament,

raise your lantern above the abyss

as you seek a key among the rocks.

Jorge Ortega (Mexicali, 1972) has published over a dozen collections of poetry and essays in Mexico, Argentina, Spain, and the United States.  Among his poetry collections, one should mention Devoción por la piedra, which won the coveted Premio Internacional de Poesía Jaime Sabines in 2010.  Ortega currently resides in his native city where he is a professor at CETYS University, and where he also edits the university’s journal Arquetipos.

All of the poems in this selection were translated by myself. They reflect an interest in the poetry from Mexico’s northern border region that has been a part of my creative life since the mid ‘90’s when I lived in Ciudad Juarez for several years.  Avoiding cliques, alphabetization, importance of age or “generation,” I sought to gather a collage of voices, cities, genders, and aesthetics. If this seems rendered in helter-skelter fashion, my apologies.  I wished to collate the poems as if they were heard during poetry festivals in those northern border cities, and to echo the diversity of work one encounters at such events.  Also, this selection should not be interpreted as exemplary when it comes to including all voices.  Many poets I admire were not included for diverse reasons—the poems didn’t sit well with others, the poets had other translators currently working on their poems, I couldn’t reach poets for questions, etc.  Two poets I wished to include had recently appeared in Sulfur Surrealist Jungle.  I also tried to establish a balance of poets from Tijuana, Mexicali, and Ciudad Juarez.  Poets from Ensenada, Chihuahua, Monterrey, are not in closest proximity to the border.  I felt it would have been presumptuous of me to include them.  I also wish to add that Rubén Vizcaíno Valencia would have been an ideal voice to include, as he is so deeply revered in Tijuana.  My gut instinct, though, was that he was perhaps more significant as an instigator of cultural foment than as a poet (although, I am currently reading his poetry…viewpoints are always allowed to change). This selection also includes only one poet who is no longer alive, Eduardo Arellano (he passed away in Mexicali, 2004).  I selected his poem as I found it to be of extraordinary strength.   Clearly, a more encompassing suite of border region poetry would also gather voices who have now left this rotten, taxable world, and have entered a higher standard of living (to pilfer a good line from Richard Wilbur), such as Facundo Bernal, and many others.   In short, this was intended as a sample of the jolting, electrifying and very necessary poetry from Mexico’s northern border region.  I thank the poets.  I learn from them and am honored.

Anthony Seidman, San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles

6/30/21

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