Introduced by Lynn
Cristina Rivera-Garza was born in
Matamoros, Tamaulipas (Mexico) in 1964. She studied sociology
at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City
and received her Ph.D. in Latin American history from the University
of Houston. In addition to numerous articles in academic journals,
between l991 and 2001 she published three novels, a book of
short stories, and a book of poems. She appears here as an emerging
poet because, until now (aside from one anthology), her
poetry has not been translated into English or published in
the United States.
Reading Rivera-Garza for the first
time, I found myself feeling incredulous that her work was unknown
here; it was as though Szymborska had been overlooked among
the translated Polish poets. And while I realize this analogy
does not account for the difference in the age between these
two women (and therefore the difference in size of their bodies
of work), nevertheless, reading Rivera-Garzas poem Third
World one cannot help but feel that a major literary presence
has moved into our line of sight, an original and what will
undoubtedly be influential voice has suddenly been made audible
to our ears. Third World (the Terzo)
is, like Nazim Hikmets Human Landscapes, an epic
encounter with poverty and oppression. Like Hikmet, Rivera-Garzas
condemnations are intellectual and emotional and utterly lacking
in sentimentality. About the poor living on the streets of the
Terzo she writes, They could be recognized
by their way of being absolutely, roundly, cinematically wrong.
On the streets of The Biggest City in the World they could be
recognized by the jumbled
excess in their eyes
by the way they levitated, tremulous, over impossible yellow
The city was also their house
they had a living room of brackish
a dark bedroom in Tlanesburgo
an enviable view in Belvedere
and underground passageways that everyone called the Metro.
In the kitchen which was everywhere the men came to know the
bite of garlic intimately
and those who were going to be women wore glass armor instead
of flowered aprons.
They could be recognized by the agility of their thighs and
the proficiency of their hands as they snatched.
They were the diurnal animals that took the parks by storm
solid like a flagpole ringed with
the length of it appeased by wide red-black flags.
They, the ones with sad armpits and mouths bursting with the
flung themselves upon the roundness
of the world with arms and legs made of net.
They could be recognized because it was difficult to know if
they were just going or if they were already returning aghast.
They were the ones who sang hymns out of tune and walked upstream
the contingent of dark individuals.
They could be recognized by their way of being absolutely, roundly,
But above all they could be recognized by the excess in their
obsidian stones inlaid in firm
tremendously stunned drops
kites flying spiral.
Beneath their light, the world was finally small
a broken toy that wasnt
The Third World was a hospital, a party, an orphanage, a rest
abducted from reality.
The Free Territory of America.
Interminable like wretchedness the Terzo.
Saturated with piss and vomit like the whole country.
Motherland of those undone, of those wounded by desire, of those
dead from so much dying, of
those so often devalued, of those
alone so comfortably uncomfortable inside their solitude, of
those who are fed up, of those who
are full of shit, of those defeated
from the start, of those heralds of the Truly True, of those
with no sex and with all the sexes, of
those exiled from the city, of
those necessarily without hope, of those with terrifying hopes,
of those who later became warriors or
professors or died of hunger,
of those everyone.
House thats cruel.
House with cloud roofs.
House where dragging yourself was walking.
House with no entrance and no exit.
Everyone said lets go to the Terzo like someone
going inside a seed.
House thats artificial.
House with no aurora and no respite.
House of demolition.
Everyone said lets go to the Terzo like someone
They could be recognized by their steps, nailing themselves
into the earth with a nails
They could be recognized by the fiery pain in their bones.
House of the soulless holding onto their souls like an anchor
or a last chance.
And I was the man and I was the woman
my concavity was the state of the site
of the metamorphoses.
How the infectious terror of happiness raised blisters on my
Crumbled the before under circular microscopes
opened the box of whistlings in pelvic dawns:
daybreaks edged with pale borders and fruity dissimilarities.
I were an other, Rimbaud dixit
but I was more.
How to sing this holey sentimentality over trinkets
this diamantinically geological layer
upon my skin
the blindness of prayer and the magnanimity of the gift?
I was you excessive dog with yellow eyes
you proclivious girl
you glaringly sunny fragments and green city bend.
How to say Third World without burning my mouth with
I was a neighborhood accumulated on the outskirts of form
about to exist and about not to exist
narcotic in the ellipsis of a monumental mouth.
We laughed as if we were shelling nuts
as if we were stealing the show among
the noisiness of vast Alexandria
Salt deaf. In that geodesic place
where the infinitesimal shoot of the
carnivorous plant grew
the one we called pleasure when we wanted to say June sun.
How to say Lets go to the Terzo without falling
face down among objects?
We were mythological tatters
lusts for anonymous unruly bells.
The worst of the worst
what is left after basic consummation
the longitudinal fibroma of sugarcane stalks
the iridescent pulp.
How to say the Terzo once again without putting out this
match of words
this inaugural illumination that wakeful
unveils the dactyl
We were a vertiginous peeking out from behind the veins
an aerial industriousness of legs and fingernails and cartilage.
We were saliva.
Translated from the Spanish
by Jen Hofer