Sunday, April 29, 2007

For those of you who do not live in a borderland, you may not give much thought day by day to what it is like living in one.

But we do live in a borderland. The biggest conurbation in the world straddling national borders is the El Paso, TX/Juarez, Mexico megacity. (Las Cruces, though in New Mexico, is only 40 miles from El Paso/Juarez, and is itself a hop and a skip from Mexico.)

We Anglos "belong" here because our country owns the land - although even the American negotiators of that treaty oh, so long ago, the one that took the land from the Mexicans, did not approve of the treaty, felt soiled by their own work in the negotiations.

We live in the middle of the Chihuahua desert - there may be a clue in that name as to what other people might feel a claim and a lineage in this space. Let alone the people who for so long freely roamed this land, now penned in on "reservations". This borderdom impacts us daily - we can not go anywhere from our home here, north, south, east or west, without having to pass through immigration inspection stations (la migra).

You in the North who would build fences, understand, it may not be so easy or so clear who or what truly "belongs".

My favorite poem on the issue is written by Polish Nobel prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska and translated into English by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh:

Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!

How many clouds float past them with impunity;

how much desert sand shifts from one land to another;

how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil

in provocative hops!

Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face of frontiers

or alights on the roadblock at the border?

A humble robin - still, its tail resides abroad

while its beak stays home. If that weren't enough, it won't stop bobbing!

Among innumerable insects, I'll single out only the ant

between the border guard's left and right boots

blithely ignoring the questions "Where from?" and "Where to?"

Oh, to register in detail, at a glance, the chaos

prevailing on every continent!

Isn't that a privet on the far bank

smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?

And who but the octopus, with impudent long arms,

would disrupt the sacred bounds of territorial waters?

And how can we talk of order over-all?

when the very placement of the stars

leaves us doubting just what shines for whom?

Not to speak of the fog's reprehensible drifting!

And dust blowing all over the steppes

as if they hadn't been partitioned!

And the voices coasting on obliging airwaves,

that conspiratorial squeaking, those indecipherable mutters!

Only what is human can truly be foreign.

The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.

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