A Poet’s Tears

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I was going to suggest that the poetry of Xánath Caraza pivots on landscapes, but that’s true of most verse, if not all. The landscape of my desk might be suitable material for a halfway decent poem; so, too, the landscape of my mind. In Donde la luz es violeta, the collection she published last year, Caraza roams about Italy and records not only the sights and sounds all around her, but also the thoughts and feelings within her, all in the sibylline idiom that is her trademark. This is to be expected of at least good poetry, as the poet’s goal always has been to find the words which can bridge the narrow yet deep gulf between the outside and inside worlds.

When I received my copy of Lágrima roja in the mail, however, I should’ve known Caraza’s latest collection would be something markedly different than what I’d read of hers before. Whereas the titles of earlier collections speak of “hummingbirds” and “syllables of wind,” Miguel López Lemus’s cover illustration depicting a young woman shedding a single tear of blood conveys the tragedy and despair pouring from these pages. Gone are the Venetian sunsets and the Andalusian vistas of previous sojourns. Lágrima roja sees Caraza return to the scene of her girlhood, Mexico, although the tableau she brings into focus is of a much more sociopolitical nature.

El trinar matutino
dicta las injustas horas.

Fractura la oscuridad
imágenes del caos.

¿Cuántas vidas
más tendremos
que perder cada día?

The collection begins forcefully with “¿Cuántas vidas?” (How many lives?), a poem which directly condemns the violence tearing apart the social fabric of Mexico. The title of another poem asks “¿Dónde está la justicia?” (Where is justice?). Women and womanhood amidst the “caos” (chaos) — a word a version of which appears at least three times in these 30 short poems — is a central theme. The words “dolorosa” and “desaparecida” also appear numerous times in various forms, reflecting the pain caused by countless abductions, disappearances, rapes and murders of women in a country long plagued by a femicide epidemic. (For years Ciudad Juárez on the U.S.-Mexico border had the ignominious distinction of being “the capital of the murdered woman,” a reputation it has yet to shake off.)

Aprisiono entre
mis manos
los gemidos.

y un frío golpe
me recuerda
mis muertas.

Las desaparecidas.

Los cadáveres

Las fosas secretas.

Las perdidas
en tierra tropical.

As ever, Caraza evokes the spirits of Verlaine, Lorca and other poetical forebears in her heavy use of fluid free verse and symbolic imagery, but again, Lágrima roja also presents an evolution away from the more Symbolist features of Caraza’s earlier work. Verse after verse I was reminded of Neruda’s poems about the Spanish Civil War, especially “Explico algunas cosas” (I’m explaining a few things). The poem, as with those in Caraza’s latest work, is filled with pain and sadness, blood and questions. Another of Caraza’s poems, “Media hora” (Half an hour), calls to mind the proletarian poetry of Sandburg and the late U.S. poet laureate, Philip Levine.

De manos trabajadoras
están hechas estas líneas.

De máquinas, engranes
y agujas de acero.

Solo media hora
para soñar al día.

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” Auden famously stated. That is a lie. Not only does poetry make things happen, but as Shelley argued, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Auden’s chagrin is likely owing to the fact that poetry almost never does enough — a view commonly shared by the poet and the reader alike. Perhaps because I’m familiar with Caraza’s work, or maybe because I know something about the parallel crises in Mexico, the verses in Lágrima roja strike me as a poetry of angry desperation in the face of systemic violence and hatred. Caraza, as always, searches frantically for the words and their precise order in which she can express what is happening around and inside her, ultimately finding the task impossible. This is no demerit against Caraza or her poetical skill. After all, how can anyone relate in mere words all the terrible beauty that is present-day Mexico?

Quemadas vivas
diecinueve mujeres
en el centro de una plaza,
me deja sin palabras.

Still, words won’t save Mexico, at least not in the meantime, and Caraza seems to realize this. She knows her “gritos” (cries) join a cacophony of wailing more awful than the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” awaiting the damned — more awful because it’s real and now. And while poets like Caraza, because they force themselves to feel more than the average person, wish they could create or do something that would wipe away the world’s troubles, in the end all poets must resign themselves to spilling their tears onto the page and waiting for something, anything, to happen.

Lágrima roja

By Xánath Caraza
Editorial Nazarí: 61 pages


Cover art by Miguel López Lemus

Hector is the founder and editor of MANO as well as the host of the LATINISH podcast. A Chicagoan living in Las Vegas, he's also the senior editor of Latino Rebels, part of Futuro Media, as well as a former managing editor of Gozamos, an art-activism site based in his home town. He was a columnist at RedEye, a Tribune-owned daily geared toward millennials. His work has been mentioned by The New Yorker, Good Morning America, TIME, the Washington Post, and other outlets, and his writing was featured in 'Ricanstruction, 'a comic book anthology whose proceeds went toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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