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Jen Hofer

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(2014 - Translation)

Excerpt from "A Network of Holes" from Dolerse, by Cristina Rivera Garza

[translated from the Spanish]

They left Ciudad Victoria at four in the morning so as to arrive in Zacatecas around midday. We wanted to take this opportunity—my participation in a festival, in one of those mythical mid-points that sometimes defy geography, and our shared fondness for that colonial city—to meet up, finally, after many postponements. There’s no way around it: moments occur in life when neither fb nor twitter nor msn are sufficient to fulfill our desire to see one another, as they say, live and in person. That old habit. I was happy to see them arrive, sleepless but fierce. I was happy to hug them and sit around a table to recommence the conversation that binds us together, ever since our first meeting years ago, in our shared land of origin: Tamaulipas. Not long passed before Claudia Sorais Castañeda acknowledged it: she had arrived scared to death. Both Marco Antonio Huerta and Sara Uribe, poets who live in the port city of Tampico, admitted it immediately: same for them. None of them could bear to mention it in the car Claudia was driving beneath the northern sky, but each kilometer they advanced obliged them to remain awake and to keep silent. Minimal chatting. Forced smiles. All the rest, anxiety. On those same roads though a little more to the north, not that long before, the Army had massacred two boys, Martín and Bryan Almanza Salazar, in an action that remains unpunished even today. For example. On those same roads, not long ago, a candidate for governor was murdered. On those same roads though more to the east, just a couple of days ago, the bodies of 72 migrants massacred by drug traffickers were found. Our Zacatecan conversation could not avoid the facts. "Are things as bad as the newspapers report?” I asked, referring to the intimate spheres of neighborhoods or families. When they looked from side to side and lowered their voices before beginning to respond, I realized that things were even worse.

The Lawless Roads is the title of a book by Graham Greene. He was referring, even then, to Mexico.

But these were—those same Tamaulipas roads—the roads of my childhood. And I want them back. That’s where we traveled, at dawn or in the full light of day, from Matamoros to Tampico, inevitably passing through San Fernando to visit friends or relatives. How many times would we have left Matamoros in the wee hours to go to Reynosa and from there cross at McAllen? On the freeways, and then in open spaces on communal farmlands, that’s where we drove to get to the tiny Santa Catarina cemetery, the resting place of the bones of the oldest of our oldest ancestors. We would go from Tampico to Mante, to visit an aunt in full summer: if that isn’t hell, what is? I remember the afternoon we were riding in the back of a pickup—the wind in my face, the very first light of a few stars—just before we arrived in San Fernando to get gas. The ferry crossing, for example, from Tuxpan to Tampico. The lines of cars or people on the bridge that links Matamoros with Brownsville. These aren’t Greene’s lawless roads; they are the roads of my family, and of families like my family. They are mine. They are ours. And I said: I want them back.

Excerpt in Spanish

About Cristina Rivera Garza

Cristina Rivera Garza was born on the Mexico-U.S. border (Matamoros, Tamaulipas, 1964), and lives on the border still; she currently directs the MFA in Writing at UC San Diego. Her work spans a range of genres, including poetry, short story, novel, essay, and criticism. Her writing has won numerous prizes, has been published widely (17 books to date), and enjoys tremendous readership and critical acclaim. In the journal Otro lunes, Amir Valle writes: “Cristina Rivera Garza is… a powerful seer…possessed of enormous inventiveness and imagination, grounded in the minute details of daily life. And she is reflexive. And profound. And delightful.” Rivera Garza’s work has been translated into English, French, German, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, and Slovenian. She writes La mano oblicua/The Oblique Hand, a weekly column for the cultural section of the Mexican newspaper Milenio, and maintains a blog titled No Hay Tal Lugar (There Is No Such Place).

Jen Hofer is a Los Angeles-based poet, translator, social justice interpreter, teacher, knitter, book-maker, public letter-writer, urban cyclist, and co-founder of the language justice and literary activism collaborative Antena. Her translations include Ivory Black, a bilingual edition of Myriam Moscona’s Negro marfil (Les Figues Press, 2011, winner of awards from the Academy of American Poets and PEN); sexoPUROsexoVELOZ and Septiembre by Dolores Dorantes (Counterpath Press and Kenning Editions, 2008); lip wolf, a translation of Laura Solórzano’s lobo de labio (Action Books, 2007); and Sin puertas visibles: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by Mexican Women (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her writing is available from a range of small presses, including Atelos, Dusie Books, Insert Press, Palm Press, and Subpress, and recently at BOMB, The Conversant, Floor, Harriet, and Jacket2. She teaches poetry, translation, and bookmaking at CalArts and Otis College.

Photo by Pablo Giménez Zapiola

Translator's Statement

Of what use are words “against the artillery of organized crime or of the State, which conduct(s) public policies…using the only language it seems to have in common with its adversaries, the language of violence?” Javier Raya poses this question in response to Cristina Rivera Garza’s book Dolerse: Textos desde un país herido (To Be In Pain: Texts from a Wounded Country), published in Mexico City in 2011 by the independent press sur+ ediciones. Words provide small solace, small sparks, small moments of contemplation or provocation in contexts of unthinkable brutality, but to remain silent is to allow violence alone to speak. “Because writing, as writing, invites us to consider the possibility that the world might be, in fact, different,” Rivera Garza affirms at the end of Dolerse.

Dolerse addresses the impacts, in Rivera Garza’s own words in La Jornada, of “this unjust and absurd war, in which approximately 60,000 people have died—60,000 sons and daughters, husbands, wives, cousins, friends of someone.” Dolerse is not about drug trafficking or the war on drugs per se, but rather illuminates Mexico’s current context with a poet’s attention to detail and texture and a philosopher’s incisive questioning about the human condition and the potential for language as a balm or catalyst.

I first translated Rivera Garza’s writing for my anthology of contemporary poetry by Mexican women, Sin puertas visibles. My introduction to that anthology posits: “it is in the incongruent gap between language and language that the strangeness of understanding begins to occur. As much as…allowing readers a window into another culture, translation, like a two-way mirror, provides simultaneously a view out and a view in, doubling our attention back onto our own language and literature.” We need—now more than ever—to see out toward Mexico, to seek to learn more about the difficulties our neighbor country faces. And we need to see in, to re-examine our capacity for empathy and understanding not just in relation to those outside our borders, but also in relation to our own contexts, and our own capacity for meaningful speech in the face of profound injustice.