During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present posts by CM fellows that will include essays, creative non-fiction, micro reviews and dialogues between writers. This year’s theme borrows a line from U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Borderbus.” Please return to this space and enjoy all the pieces in the series, and leave comments to participate in the dialogue.
Barbara Curiel, CantoMundo
Francisco Aragón, Letras Latinas
It is not a Drowning
by Rosebud Ben Oni
Toward the end of the last century, Guatemalan poet and writer Miguel Ángel Asturias said that when abroad, you long for your own country. How the world has changed. How fragmented, broken and evolving this 21st century landscape. How it wants more than singular nationhood and whitewashing traditions. Maybe it's for these reasons that I do not have to go abroad to long for the idea of homeland.
As a Latinx poet with roots along the U.S.-Mexican border and Jerusalem, I long to recover those borders which do not divide but define personal memory and the poetic self. It is not a drowning. It is not barrier but body in which, as Emmy Pérez writes in her poem "The River on Our Face:" "I shower daily/with el valle/river water on my face/Thank you and kiss you daily." I long for the shared grace of such plurality. I have shared the river on our face with Emmy on a cold, torrential October day in Newark in which we met for the first time to, of all things, read poems together at a festival, our faces still wet with the rain. Emmy and I have both drank from the same Rio Grande Valley tap, the surface water of the Rio Grande River. The water of my childhood. My wellspring border, my fluid-divisions-self. The water I often long for, which tastes acrid and metallic, with a tinge of ammonia when the algae blooms. When the algae bloom they say don't drink the water. I don't remember ever a time being told when the algae blooms. When my mother's eldest brother and the patriarch of my mother's family died, I was in Newark Airport, and the tears I cried tasted of this thousand-miles-away water. The tears tasted of the red plastic, frosted glasses that he and I would share at a small breakfast place on Padre Island, the slightly warm water presented with little ice and without straws, the water I was soon drinking at the time I held his hand as he was dying at home, the faucets in the bathroom no longer working, the sink covered in a black trash bag, my husband coming in from the kitchen with a large plastic McDonald's cup filled with this water that tasted like the water on my face, not just tears, not just disbelief, where I stood by his bed where, as Emmy might say, "this river/at its mouth/at it source."
Believe me, when he died, the mouth of the river and the source of the river died with him, and all that I'm left with is the longing for the water, even when I'm there back on the border, no matter how much I drink, no matter how much I drink.
And years later when I was living in East Jerusalem, while ex-pats from the U.S. and Europe only drank from Brita pitchers and bottled water because the water in some places in Israel is particulate and mineral-heavy, because it can upset unfamiliar, unexperienced stomachs, I drank straight from the tap. And sometimes, after coming home on a particular hot, windless August day, I'd shove my head straight under the kitchen sink and take long, ravenous swallows. I didn't want to lose my kinship to water, to fluidity, to adaptation, which one must practice if to keep it. Like speaking an old language in a new place. Like reciting a blessing when you no longer belong to a house of prayer. Like longing for the kind of homelands that are susceptible to waterscapes of carving, breaking, freezing, fracturing space. That, for a Jew like me, for a Latinx like me, it is not exile, but the evolving homeland to which I return and leave, which does not belong to one land or one people but to those who dare to have "loved other rivers/with el río grande~bravo on my face."
Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a recipient of the 2014 NYFA Fellowship in Poetry and a CantoMundo Fellow. She is the author of SOLECISM (Virtual Artists Collective, 2013), a contributor to The Conversant, and an Editorial Advisor for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Her poems appear in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Arts & Letters, Hunger Mountain, among others. She writes weekly for The Kenyon Review blog, and recently joined the Creative Writing faculty at UCLA Extension. Find her at 7TrainLove.org