During the month of March, coalition members CantoMundo and Letras Latinas are partnering to present guest posts by CM fellows at Letras Latinas Blog 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
Micro-review: Verónica Reyes, Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives, Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press, 2013
by Sheryl Luna
The poem “Los Angeles River—Rio Grande: brown speckled mirrors” by Verónica Reyes in Chopper! Chopper! Poetry From Bordered Lives (Arktoi Books/ Red Hen Press) opens beneath the old Juárez El Paso International Puente. The Río Grande river runs below is described as being strangled. Politics, we are told, “lace the bordered fortress dividing tierra y familias.” It migrates between Spanish and English, between cultures, between time and between places.
The poem then moves to Los Angeles, which the speaker says is a reflection of the Río Bravo. The stanza focuses on the smog, sewage and dirt of the city which is used to indicate the corruption of the land. It too struggles. The Los Angeles river
Trails down a 1930’s gringo-made route cutting the canela dirt.
Patchwork of yellow chaparral and desert line in the brown agua.
Much of the poem is spent reflecting on the Mexican people who lived in California long before it became part of the United States.
They say California was once México living in Aztlán:
The Anasazi, the Ventura people, la Mexica existed here.
On this arid land, this State, there lived many nations.
They were a living part of the living blue seacoast:
in a dream, seashells were money, half a mussel was a spoon.
the acorn source of a stable diet, women crushed them
This along with earlier images of tossed garbage cans, black tires, wobbling signs, murky canal water, red-brown children fill the poem with a longing for the past before the border was drawn.
The speaker asks three times whether or not this was or is a dream.
Was it a dream that the earth lived and breathed
blue skies so freely?
Towards the end of the poem, there is a man at the edge of the concrete bordering the water. We are back in the Río Grande.
In the Zacatecas, Jalisco, Sonora, he left his familia,
His daughter waits for him by the puerta.
Her mother tells her, “Papi will be back soon.”
And the heavy sun settles itself beneath Tonantzín
. . .
Este hombre could be my tío, mi papa, my brother
It is also a migration between two languages and two cultures with the speaker taking the #30 bus down to el Centro, crossing over to la Primavera Street puente from Boyle Heights to Broadway avenue. She is all the while traversing the Río Grande, as well as L.A. in her imagination.
Sheryl Luna is the author of Pity the Drowned Horses (University of Notre Dame Press), recipient of the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize and Seven (3: A Taos Press), finalist for the Colorado Book Award. Recent work has appeared in Poetry, Saranac Review, Pilgrimage and Taos International Journal of Poetry and Art.