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My Mother Returns to Calaboz

May 30, 2008

The Lower Rio Grande, known as the Seno Mexicano (the Mexican hollow or Recess), was a refuge for rebellious Indians from the Spanish presidios, who preferred outlawry to life under Spanish rule.” — Americo Paredes, With Pistol in his Hand

The fragmented jawbones
and comblike teeth of seagulls
sometimes wash up from the gulf
to the levee of the river
and gather straited along the berms
where my grandfather irrigated sugarcane.

My mother, returned after forty years
working away from Calaboz,
walks there often now,
hassled by INS agents
when she jogs by the river
where her ancestors planted, hunted,
prayed and resisted invasions.

The INS think she runs away from them,
that she is an ‘illegal’, a ‘savage’
‘trespassing’ from Mexico.

Used to the invasion,
she asks them how they assume,
how exactly do they know
if she came from here, or there?
When she tells me this story
she exaggeratedly points to the spot
she stands on (here) and the land
I stand on (there) which means:
you idiot…we indigenous don’t recognize
your violent settler borders

I am an an indigenous woman,
born in El Calaboz, you understand?
she says loudly, in mixed Spanish and Lipan-Nahuatl,
and they tear out,
the truck wheels spinning furiously,
sand sprayed into the humid air.

When I was a girl walking on the levee with my grandfather,
I thought I saw gull teeth
chomping at the soil wall.
The air was dank steam,
the scent of sand, roots,
and something alive beneath the soil,
deeper and older than memory.
when I immersed my hand inside
the cloudy water,
it became a fluid form,
soft, something becoming,
something ancient.

The air is still heavy with heat and damp,
and smells like diesel and herbicides.
the scent reminds me of failed gestations.
My reproduction, the plants’, and the water’s,
each struggling in the same web of resistance
and survival.

When I was a girl, my grandfather taught me
to put a small clump of soil in my mouth,
and to swallow it. I watched him.
Then I did.
I used to watch the gliding and swerves
of uprooted reeds in the river’s unhurried flow
to the Gulf.
I reached with all my body,
stomach on the bank of the levee,
hands and arms stretched out like an acrobat
to touch and grasp their slender stems.
Once, my feet pressed into the soupy bog,
and stepping up was heavy, yet with the sound of gurgles,
puckering, a mouth opening,
like seaweed and millennium of soil, my ancestors and water breathing.

Now, I think I’d like to be,
that I will be
running with my mother
when she tells of la migra.
Listen to the bubbling duet of water and plant life,
listen to the sound of grandmothers and grandfathers
closely.
Again and again.

Margot Tamez

This poem is from her collection Naked Wanting.
Tamez is a “Jumano and Lipan Apache survivor of the bordered lands.” Read an interview with her at La Bloga.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 18, 2011 3:55 pm

    Hi and thank you for posting this poem. Given the increasing level of conflict and violence in konitsaagokiyaa (Lipan Apache country) I’m ever more inclined to return to El Calaboz as my mother did… to confront and challenge the Wall, ongoing displacement and violations of the rights of Indigenous peoples in our homelands. –Margo Tamez

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