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BorderSenses Volume 17 Summer 2011


BorderSenses ©2011 BorderSenses is a bilingual literary journal published annually by BorderSenses, a non-prof it literary organization. BorderSenses was established in 2000 in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border. Please visit our website for information on back issues, subscriptions ($15/yr or $28/ 2 yrs), submissions and donations, or email us at info@bordersenses.com. Website: www.bordersenses.com Address: 4228 Hampshire Lane, El Paso, Texas 79902 Submissions We welcome submissions of original fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translations and visual art. Submissions are accepted in English and/or Spanish. BorderSenses accepts web-based submissions only. Please visit us at: http://www.bordersenses.com/submissions.php PUBLISHER Amit K. Ghosh EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Laura Cesarco Eglin SPANISH EDITOR Selfa Chew POETRY EDITORS María Miranda Maloney, Robin Scofield FICTION EDITOR Laura Cesarco Eglin LAYOUT Silvana Ayala COVER ART “Carnaval Social” by César Iván WEB DESIGN Ernesto Flores, Robert Arellano, Matthew Bustamante PRINTER PayDirt Copy The University of Texas at El Paso BorderSenses ISSN: 1526.3236


Editor’s Note

My first reaction to César Iván’s painting “Carnaval Social” was: Wow. My second reaction was: I want this picture for the BorderSenses cover. The medley of people, the textures, the colors, and the concept of carnival are just perfect for this literary journal. A carnival celebrates difference; it brings together a variety of individuals without trying to make them into uniform repetitions of one pattern. On the contrary, the different colors and textures of the carnival shine brighter and become stronger when they come together. BorderSenses Volume 17 celebrates the variety of voices that are assembled in this issue. These voices address varied concerns, such as love, living on the El Paso-Juárez border, identity, journeys, and perspectives, among others. What is more, these voices come in different languages, and I’m not just referring to the obvious two— Spanish and English—given that this is a bilingual literary journal, for Spanish and English in this issue acquire greater dimensions than what two languages might express. The authors and artists in BorderSenses Vol. 17 engage and express themselves in the language of the border, in translations, in Spanish and English with different accents and dialects, and in the languages of the visual arts. I cannot help but compare this carnival to my native Uruguay’s. They are similar in many ways. Firstly, the latter is the longest one in the world, and the former is a carnival that goes beyond the covers and beyond the time it takes you to read the texts and art. Secondly, both these carnivals obseve the world and establish conversations with it, with the self, with the other; they also incorporate what is outside and inside the carnival to create yet another equation. What is more, both carnivals involve raising questions, the voices of children and adults, socio-political protests, laughter, magic, beliefs, discussions, and observations. The Uruguayan carnival includes las llamadas, the calls, which derive from the drum calls made by Black Uruguayans during the colonial period when they wanted to gather, be it to celebrate or discuss certain social matters. I call you to be a part of the carnival in this issue of BorderSenses. I invite you to celebrate and participate in the conversations.


Contents Fiction Johnny Payne Wendy Tronrud Yasmin Ramirez Pablo Izmirlian Richard Yañez Heather Null Betina González Tony Press Danilo López Christine Utz

Second Chance (excerpt) Air Force Artist The Pink Shoes La pasante Music Under the Stars Middle of Nowhere Celestia (fragmento) Perhaps Quebec Digresión en ocho partes Leila

8 12 14 17 22 29 36 38 40 47

Sangre mía Blood of Mine Seaside, Yet Still Docked Seaside, Yet Still Docked

56 57 58 59

Felipe Cierzo (fragmentos) Tras las huellas de Polifemo

62 67 73

Dogs are Circles Ends Stopped

84 85

Translation Susana Chávez Jennifer Rathbun Daniel Blaustein Daniella Tourgeman

Nonfiction Guillermo Astigarraga Laura Chalar Margarita Salazar M.

Poetry Robert Travis John D. Fry

4 BorderSenses vol. 17


Wendy Taylor Carlisle Daniel Larkins Emiliano Martínez Laura Stubbins Katherine Hoerth Francis Toohey Satya Palaparty Amalio Madueño Arturo Ramírez-Lara Donna Snyder Gary Jackson Nicolas Phillips Virginia Lucas Emmy Pérez Michael Reed Judith Terzi Lawrence Desautels Jose B. Gonzalez

Interview American Sahara Revisión 1 – boca abierta A Petty Thief The Girl Who Opened the Door North by Night Witnesses Amexica Tercer Cardenal The Company of Thieves Fugue with One Voice Longing for Company Dialing Dementia Del abandono, del número: ch ch ch The Myth of Brushland Murder in the Rio Grande Valley Exile Morning Worship, Madrid City Mouse Chase

Jorge Azcárate

Snow in the Desert Primera lección de patriotismo An Ambiguity Traditional Love in El Paso Fundación de la isla A Farmer, a Chain The Fattest Part Entomología en tiempo Chinese Literature Schumann Folds to Revisit

Lydia Gil Keff Adela Najarro Chuck Taylor Alex Piperno Rodney Gómez Britt Harraway Agustín Abreu Cornelio Gene Keller Dee Cameron Miranda Smith

87 88 89 90 91 92 94 95 97 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 107 108 110 112 113 115 117 119 120 122 123 124 125

BorderSenses vol. 17 5


Art Pedro Pérez del Solar Mónica Álvarez Herrasti Jeniffer Stapher-Thomas Sergio Godoy

Contributors

6 BorderSenses vol. 17

Lápida 1 Lápida 2 Lápida 3 Bestiario de Erzsebeth No. 12 Before the Rain Untitled

52 53 54 60 82 126


Fiction


Second Chance (excerpt)

Johnny Payne

Darla closes her eyes to receive the brush strokes. Mommy administers them one by one, luxuriously, as if she doesn’t want them to run out. Wherever it is Mommy went, Darla doesn’t want to know. That’s a place for grownups. They tried to tell her about it, tried to explain the whys and wherefores, put the departure in context, help a child understand why the skin around her mother’s eyes turned white, but all Darla wants is to be held in her mother’s lap, while the bristles move over her scalp, time and again, until every tangle has disappeared. That motion is more important than any word she might have to say. This is the compact between them. Mommy brought her into the world, so Mommy will stay in the world, and the brush will act as a talisman, a shield between Darla and the beyond. Afterward, she will take out her jump rope and go to the sidewalk, near the fire hydrant, and with slow ceremony she will begin to skip, in rhythm, slowly and then faster but not too fast, she will find the exact rhythm necessary for this day. Ultimately, it’s a matter of putting your feet on the ground. Through the screen, her mother will listen to the rhythm of the rope scraping the sidewalk, feel it in her own body as if she herself were skipping on the sidewalk. That rope rhythm will penetrate all the way down into her bones, it will circulate in the bloodstream, it will change Mommy’s neural pathways, allowing her, in turn, to forget the acceleration of the wind. Darla’s skipping will slow down the sirocco, make it into a cool and caressing trade wind, one that stirs the senses to the exact state of awareness that can be called pleasant, not too much thinking, not too little. From down the block, children have 8 BorderSenses vol. 17 | PAYNE


begun to gather around Darla. They are chanting merry merry mango what ya gonna do you had to be appealing and they all peeled you. She has become a little shaman, drawing the words out of them, causing them to clap and sing, urging them on, as she breaks into light perspiration against her party dress, which she insisted on wearing this ordinary day, to utter tiny shrieks and cries. Mommy has conferred on her this inordinate power simply by teasing out the brush strokes, issuing the assurance she needs to go forth and possess the pavement. If she were of a mind, Darla could utter prophecies of the first order, turn to each of the bystanders, Freddy and Jocelyn and Nina and Solomon, tell their futures, that one will open a car wash and prosper from bushels of quarters and thereby find the queen of his dreams, another will survive a cancer scare and become an evangelical and so find peace, one will have affairs, keep promising not to, but she can’t help herself, nonetheless the work of her fingers in the beauty parlor, her subtle way with a bottle of dye and a f lash of scissors will bring solace to three generations of halfloved women, almost supine in the chair where they sigh out their travails, and one will excel as a bicycle mechanic. The meticulous calibrations of his wrenches will send children spinning through the neighborhoods, where they will go on a quest for the perfect basketball game. But Darla says none of this. She couches her wisdom in riddles, asking what’s white and yellow but never, never settles? How can a powder be a power? When can a stick be a tap? Some of the riddles are unanswerable. Some she heard and didn’t understand, but only repeats, because she is the vehicle, not the source. Some she made up, in a trance. It doesn’t matter whether the riddles are answered. The main thing is to ask the question. The main thing is to keep your curiosity alive. The main thing is to ask the riddle again tomorrow, because that implies there will be a tomorrow, and that you’ll be in it. Divination is a simple art. All you do is make your best guess. Nobody knows anyway, not even God and if she does she isn’t telling. Whipping her skips into a fury, Darla lets f ly with her legs. They’re reaching PAYNE | BorderSenses vol. 17 9


almost up to her waist. Moisture is coursing in her hair, the same hair that Mommy brushed into a cool and airy coif. But now Darla needs the hair to dampen down, to plaster onto her cranium like a skullcap. She needs to feel encased within herself, while the scalp prickles and tingles, driving her into a blind fury of incertitude. With the cry of eternity befitting a dervish, Darla f lings the rope above her head, it writhes itself into knots as if it were a live kinked serpent trying to bite off its own tail, and launches above the treetops, the rooftops, wheeling above the nimbus and on into that profound interplanetary realm where the spaces between objects are so great that it’s impossible to feel alone. Vacancy overwhelms the mind, you fall into a swoon, and there’s no turning back, because you can’t be where you were before, you try and you try but you can’t, you can’t, you can’t. So you shriek and you chant, invoking the first savage gods to make a footprint and dare to call it a rune. As the rope f lies off, Darla howls and spins, knocking Solomon to the pavement. Now they’re in a tussle. He’s calling her a little bitch between his clenched teeth, tasting his own blood where he bit his tongue. The kids are now chanting “Fight, fight, one’s wrong and one’s right.” They have no idea who is right and wrong, they might have opinions but in the end they don’t care. They only want to be appeased by blood. Solomon pulls Darla’s hair and she cracks him good upside the head. She learned how to use her fists by beating them against the wall. They’re crying, they’re embracing each other as they roll onto the grass, each one only wants to be held and reassured that nothing weirder than this is going to happen today. Let them break the taboo. Let them utter the shibboleth and get it the hell out of the way. Don’t muck us up with your grownup mishmash. Don’t summon the tremors of the entire planet. A few cracks in the sidewalk to break your mother’s back are about all they can handle. Ants will scurry out of the opening, bewildered, trying to reform their line, to make sense out of nonsense. Then the children themselves will feel all-powerful, torn between the desire to stomp the ants lifeless in a frenzy of glee, and to the 10 BorderSenses vol. 17 | PAYNE


equally strong desire to figure out how you clasp an ant to your bosom and nourish it, even if it squirms down into your shirt and bites your chest as a reward for your tenderness. That’s an acceptable trade-off, to return home with a sulky face and a swollen nipple, where your mommy can squirt a little unguent out of a tube, one she specially bought at the store in anticipation of this day, knowing you would need the ministrations of her sure touch. Knowing that she knew in advance, before conceiving you, what it meant to be a mom, what it would require of her, and deciding without any qualms that she was up to the task, and that she always would be, no matter what. Knowing that she stood between you and oblivion, a monolith, an immutable rock. That is what Darla needs Kara to be. No crack allowed except the ones in the sidewalk that say you get to break your mother’s back. She doesn’t get to do it to you. And even if she does break hers, that will only happen for a very good reason, and no one else may do it except Darla. That right was conferred on her the instant she fell into the world. But Kara doesn’t have to worry, because Darla is going to nestle her mommy like a baby. That is how it works. You go backward, which ensures that you’re always moving toward life. Your skin gets more elastic, your mind gets unclouded and the accretion of sins falls away. So there is no need for guilt, anguish, second-guessing. You don’t have to be forgiven for your adulteries and your yelling. You don’t have to be forgiven for shattering somebody else’s psyche, for passing down the curse of your existence and your questionable genes through the sheer irrepressible urge to procreate. No, you just splash in vitality like a bird in a birdbath or a baby in a baptismal font. The liquid in your hair isn’t sweat, it is water, pure and clear, cold and bracing, leaving you calm and collected for a new and everlasting day.

PAYNE | BorderSenses vol. 17 11


Air Force Artist

Wendy Tronrud

My father was in the air force and he is a painter. By day he wore his triangular hat to work as an officer, and by night and weekends, he meticulously worked on his abstract paintings. He worked with acrylics on a fairly large scale. His work is best described as geometric. He painstakingly created geometric shapes and painted them in to form abstract patterns on canvas. When I tell people my father was in the air force and he was a painter, they seem surprised. I imagine that they think he paints portraits of planes or aerial landscapes. Nostalgic streaming blue paintings of war plane lore. Patriotic art for the hero. Although I suppose geometric painting is not a far cry from military stereotypes either. The man who maps out clean lines and shapes and neatly organizes his paints to fit with precision in the exact, designated spots. Like seeing my father salute other officers when I would visit him on the base. A quick click of the heels and a sharp right triangle of the arm meeting the hat. All blues and right angles. The air force has an art program and my father would submit his paintings as a part of art shows and competitions on the base. He won a number of prizes. He had the ribbons and trophies to prove it. I always wondered what the people there in these shows thought of my father’s paintings. As if my father, in the air force art world, was something of a renegade—painting large, technically refined, abstract work in a land of representational art. I imagine that he broke barriers, that he created a new school of air force art. Maybe he was a military conceptualist—a Sol Lewitt breaking things down to the grid. 12 BorderSenses vol. 17 | TRONRUD


To this day the smell of acrylic paint reminds me of my father. When I was little, I would watch him paint and eventually I began to paint with him. I did my first painting at age 8 and I still have it. A geometric face painted in the decidedly 80’s colors of pink and blue. One side of the face is happy and pink; the other side is sad and blue. We had a few of his paintings hanging around the house. When my parents divorced, he took his paintings with him. I continued to paint through my college years and always with acrylics. I never painted with my father again nor did I ever see him paint. The incongruity of the story of my father with the story of my father as a painter has always been an interesting one to tell. I have always liked that my father was an abstract painter although I have not always liked my father.

TRONRUD | BorderSenses vol. 17 13


The Pink Shoes

Yasmin Ramirez

For my grandma’s third fifty-fourth birthday her ex-husband Réno took us out to celebrate. My grandma and he had been separated as long as I could remember but they remained friends. In fact, my grandma had remained friends with some of the other men she had been married to. I imagined that she was a bright light that they couldn’t stay far away from, but like any other light she sometimes shined too brightly. She took extra care getting ready that day, and paired a beautiful pink angora sweater with black pants and small black wedges. I was very excited as we got ready and left the house. For the celebration we were being taken to dinner at a well-known seafood restaurant, Villa del Mar, which my grandma loved. We drove down to the Bridge of the Americas and parked her big Buick. We walked over to Juarez and met Réno in front of the restaurant. Réno had been my grandma’s fourth husband, and at the time, I hadn’t known why they had gotten a divorce. He had black hair he always combed into a pompadour. He stood waiting for us wearing black pants and a black jacket with a white button-down and wayfarer sunglasses. My grandma waved as we got close, and he walked over to us with a big smile on his face, as he began to tell us that he wanted to take my grandma to the store next door first. Downtown Juarez is an interesting place that is unexpectedly urban with retail stores next to nice restaurants, next to dive taquerías, and next to a bar that plays mariachi music so loud you can hear it on the street. My grandma didn’t want to at first but gave in because he looked so happy, and we had been excited all day about going too. As we walked 14 BorderSenses vol. 17 | RAMIREZ


over and caught our first glance at the window, I realized why he wanted to take my grandma there. My grandma was so busy talking that she almost didn’t notice, but when she saw them she let out a tiny gasp. There they were, pink sling back marabou heels, sitting on a metal display pedestal waiting for her. Réno threw his head back, let out a big laugh, and clapped his hands together. “¿Qué te dije mamita?” We walked in and walked out with the shoes in my grandma’s tiny size five. The shoes made the day even better. When we got to the restaurant we laughed and Réno told jokes that had us laughing even louder. We started with calamari appetizers and salads. Each time the waiter came back Réno ordered another drink. When it was time for us to order our food he insisted that we order the most expensive things and I looked to my grandma to make sure it was ok. She ordered for me instead even though Réno protested gesturing with the drink in his hand. By the time our food came I was so caught up in the laughter I hadn’t realized that my grandma wasn’t laughing as loudly. The next time the waiter came by Réno asked for a drink. “Cálmate, ¿no? Todavía es temprano y…” she rolled her eyes towards me as I pretended not to notice. “Estoy bien. Estoy bien mamita. ¡Es tu cumpleaños! ¡Debemos celebrar!” he said while he still ordered another drink. I noticed his speech had begun to slur and his voice had gotten too loud. People were staring at us. My grandma no longer ate her trout and I felt uncomfortable and stared at the large shrimp cocktail in front of me. I put my hand on my grandma’s leg beneath the table, and she squeezed it tight before letting go. The bill came with the next drink even though we hadn’t asked for it, and he gulped it down as my grandma stood. We walked out, my grandma clasping my hand while I held the bag with the shoes. “¿A dónde vamos mamita?” he asked as he threw his arm around her waist. “Ya nos vamos a la casa. Es tarde. Gracias por la comida y los zaptatos. No tenías que,” she said, still holding onto my hand. RAMIREZ | BorderSenses vol. 17 15


“¿Cómo que a la casa?” he pulled my grandma toward him and buried his face in her neck. She pulled away as he laughed. Her hand squeezed mine tighter, and I stood there not knowing what to do and trying to understand exactly what was happening. “¡Cálmate tu pedo, eh!” I could tell she was really angry and didn’t understand why he was still smiling. “Ándale mamita,” the laughter had begun to leave his voice as he took in the way she stood a foot away from him holding onto my hand and glaring at him. The plastic handle on the bag of shoes was beginning to get sweaty in my hand. “Ya, se acabó Réno,” she motioned from right to left cutting the air with her hand. I stared at her hand as it stood stiff in the air. We turned and walked away as he stood on the dirty sidewalk. My grandma walked quickly, and I had to take faster steps to keep up. The shoe bag kept bumping against my leg. I turned once and saw him in the same position. We turned the corner and walked several more blocks. “Ita?” I asked out of breath. She turned and looked at me as if just realizing I was with her. She looked down and saw that I was out of breath, and the hand she was clasping was red. She smoothed her hand against her pants and looked down. I expected tears, but her eyes were dry. The look in them made me want to cry, and I felt the burn in my throat knowing that I couldn’t though. The hollow expression on her face as she looked down at me told me it wasn’t the first time Réno had acted that way either. I didn’t understand why my grandma still tried to be his friend, and why he didn’t seem to understand. We were quiet on the drive home except for the murmur of the radio. The sun was setting as we reached the house. That night, I watched Wheel of Fortune with my head on my grandma’s lap. The shoes sat next to the door where I had set them, the handle wrinkled and stretched. The light from the lamp shone brightly on the two of us as she ran her fingers through my hair.

16 BorderSenses vol. 17 | RAMIREZ


La pasante

Pablo Izmirlian

Trabajo en un diario, en la sección de espectáculos, pero en los últimos meses me ha tocado escribir de cualquier cosa. Cubrí Parlamento un día que el periodista que cubre Parlamento se enfermó, estuve en una final de básquetbol (durante la crisis despidieron al que entendía del tema) y también hice varias notas de sociales, además de escribir cartas del lector bajo nombres falsos y el relato minuto a minuto de un clásico para nuestra página en Internet. Entre los despidos de la crisis y la gente que se ha ido yendo y que no ha sido reemplazada, la redacción es ya hace tiempo un lugar semivacío y silencioso, casi agradable. Los que hace más tiempo que trabajan acá dicen que es un milagro que el diario siga saliendo. Quizá para acallar esos rumores es que el jefe de mi jefa nos vino a comentar que se está planeando una reestructura importante, que se van a traer nuevas computadoras, que en el mediano plazo se va a contratar más gente, y que ahora, para darnos una mano en el día a día y aliviarnos un poco el trabajo, van a contratar a un pasante. La semana siguiente mi jefa pasó horas encerrada en la oficina de los editores mirando papeles que, supongo, eran currículums de los candidatos, hasta que el viernes, cuando me estaba despidiendo después del cierre, se puso seria para decirme que el lunes llegara temprano porque ella no iba a estar y venía la pasante. Se llama Sonja. ¿Está buena?, le pregunté, pero no le hizo gracia. Como respuesta me entregó el currículum con su foto: lentes, cerquillo, sonrisa, tercer año de periodismo, “música, cine y televisión” en el apartado “intereses”. No estaba nada mal, pero la foto no dejaba ver del todo si estaba buena o no. Escribe muy bien y sí, es linda, IZMIRLIAN | BorderSenses vol. 17 17


dijo mi jefa cuando me estaba yendo, y volvió a insistir con que llegara en hora, y que me hiciera tiempo para ayudarla y explicarle lo que tenía que hacer. El lunes hice mi mayor esfuerzo y a las diez en punto estaba ahí. La redacción estaba desierta, salvo por una muchacha de limpieza que vaciaba papeleras en una gran bolsa de plástico negra. A los cinco minutos apareció Sonja. Tenía la misma sonrisa de la foto y los mismos lentes, pero faltaba el cerquillo y tenía la piel bronceada. El vestido le dejaba ver los hombros, que se le estaban pelando, y un tatuaje en la espalda, un hada que va encima de una mariposa, como cabalgando, o algo así. El vestido tenía f lores azules y blancas, y le llegaba hasta las rodillas. En los pies tenía unas sandalias de esas que engañan al ojo, parecía descalza, los dedos perfectos y brillantes como si los estuviera estrenando, y tenía las uñas pintadas de azul. Linda era poco. Después de la presentación y de ubicarla en su escritorio, le hice un recorrido rápido por la redacción, le mostré el comedor, los baños, y le conté muy por arriba cómo era un día típico en la sección, que demostró conocer bastante como lectora. Ahí fue cuando pasamos a ver el programa de autoedición, y estar tan cerca de ella me puso un poco nervioso y torpe. Rozarle la mano o el brazo cuando le explicaba era casi inevitable, lo mismo desviar la vista a su escote. Ella no hacía más que sonreir, y decía que entendía perfecto lo que le estaba diciendo. Yo no estaba tan seguro de eso, y trataba de seguir con la explicación mientras el perfume que salía de su cuello me dejaba todavía más abombado. Estábamos en eso cuando llegó mi jefa, que se adueñó de Sonja y terminó de redondear la bienvenida. Después se hizo la hora de almorzar, pedimos por teléfono unas empanadas y comimos los tres juntos. Ya ahí la redacción estaba funcionando a un ritmo más o menos normal, y el rumor de que había una nueva pasante, y que además estaba buena, había llegado hasta la administración, en el piso de arriba. Mientras comíamos aparecieron los tiburones. Todos los tipos que trabajan en el diario, y algunas mujeres curiosas también, buscaron alguna excusa para ir a la cocina, o adelantaron su almuerzo. Todos reclamaban que se les presentara a la nueva 18 BorderSenses vol. 17 | IZMIRLIAN


compañera, a lo que nosotros accedíamos con amabilidad y cortesía, y Sonja hacía su parte con la sonrisa de la foto inalterable en su cara. Yo la miraba comer, estudiando cómo hacía para masticar la empanada sin que cayera una sola miga en el plato, sin que se le desarmara la carne picada o que un resto de cebolla aterrizara sobre su vestido inmaculado. Con la misma delicadeza encaró la de cuatro quesos, y el olor del roquefort se mezclaba con su perfume, y yo ya casi no escuchaba a mi jefa, ni las pavadas de los que entraban al comedor. Yo la miraba como idiotizado, tanto que no noté que una gota de aceite se escurrió desde el relleno de jamón y queso de mi empanada y me manchó la camisa en tres lugares distintos. La tarde pasó rápido, cerramos nuestras páginas a una hora razonable y mi jefa se despidió sin mucha ceremonia porque tenía que pasar a buscar a su hija. Tomaba un taxi y se ofreció a arrimarnos. Sonja dijo que muchas gracias pero que ella iba para otro lado. Ahí yo dudé un instante, mi jefa insistió que me dejaba muy cerca de mi casa, y terminé por aceptar el viaje. Cuando nos alejábamos en el taxi todavía era de día, y pude ver cómo el vestido de Sonja se sacudía con el viento, mientras ella caminaba hacia la parada del ómnibus. Las semanas fueron pasando y Sonja, era cierto, escribía muy bien y con un mínimo de orientación entregaba notas excelentes. La editaba mi jefa, pero yo me las ingeniaba para que Sonja me pasara sus notas antes, y le corregía alguna pavada de estilo –“no usar norteamericano como sinónimo de estadounidense”, “filme en vez de film”, los números escritos en letra hasta el once, cosas así–, o le sugería cerrar con un párrafo que ella había puesto un poco más arriba. Ella lo agradecía siempre con esa sonrisa enorme. Después del incidente del taxi descubrí que en realidad tomábamos ómnibus en paradas diferentes, así que nuestra interacción se reducía a lo que pasaba dentro de la redacción, a almorzar juntos (siempre con mi jefa en el medio), y a la despedida en la puerta del diario. Ahí había logrado entablar alguna conversación algo más personal, pero nunca pasaba de algún comentario sobre facultad, intercambios sobre películas o lo que daban en el cable. Después de eso, cada uno enfilaba en dirección opuesta. Pensé alguna vez en mentir y fingir que IZMIRLIAN | BorderSenses vol. 17 19


ese día no iba a mi casa, acompañarla hasta su parada, tomar el mismo ómnibus que ella y bajarme en cualquier lado. Más de una vez lo pensé, pero me paralizaba la idea de que lo notara, que desarmara mi truco con una mirada. La pasantía tenía una duración de tres meses, y al final mi jefa tenía que escribir un informe sobre el desempeño de Sonja. También existía la posibilidad de que la contrataran, lo que me podía dar más tiempo para actuar, pero eso, decía mi jefa, había que conversarlo con el director del diario. Cuando llegó la última semana de Sonja, yo estaba dispuesto a hacer algo, pero no sabía qué. No tenía claro cuál podía ser la mejor estrategia: si tomarla por sorpresa el último día con una invitación a salir (la mejor opción, pero no me daba la cara), comentarle al pasar que por qué no íbamos a tomar algo como despedida (muy forzado), o que me pasara su teléfono o su mail, para seguir en contacto (una ridiculez), y llamarla o escribirle para ir al cine (mejor escribirle). Mi jefa me comentó que finalmente no la iban a contratar, y que Sonja lo sabía y se lo había tomado a bien, porque quería concentrarse en los exámenes de facultad que tenía que dar a fin del semestre. La semana se iba, el viernes era su último día y yo todavía no me definía. La verdad es que tenía miedo a rebotar como con tantas otras, a escuchar otro no maquillado de declaración de profunda amistad. Y si estaba inseguro, el comentario de Sandra, la encargada del archivo, me terminó de desacomodar. Mucha arena para tu camioncito, me dijo por lo bajo y adelante de ella, una vez que acompañé a Sonja a hacer unas fotocopias. Y era así, Sonja era mucho para mí. Pero tampoco podía dejar que se fuera sin decirle algo. El jueves llegué al diario temprano y resuelto: le iba a hablar apenas llegara, en ese momento en que no había casi nadie en la redacción, antes de que apareciera mi jefa. Pero cuando Sonja llegó, atrás venía mi jefa. Oportunidad perdida. Tenía todavía el almuerzo, y el viernes. En el comedor fue imposible, porque entraba y salía gente todo el tiempo. Ese día, al salir, estaba tan nervioso que ni siquiera pude entablar la conversación normal que teníamos habitualmente. Creo que ella se dio cuenta, y con la sonrisa de siempre se despidió y empezó a caminar en dirección opuesta a la mía. Sonja se me iba. 20 BorderSenses vol. 17 | IZMIRLIAN


Camino a casa se me ocurrieron cosas como pasearme por la puerta de su facultad todos los días hasta que me la encontrara por casualidad (una taradez total, pero no impracticable), pedir la carpeta de currículums al jefe de mi jefa para sacar su dirección y teléfono (tímido sí, acosador no), y la opción que llegué a considerar más seriamente: escribirle una carta y guardársela en la cartera (la escribí, pero no llegué a ponerla en ningún lado porque recién ese día me di cuenta que Sonja nunca usaba cartera). El viernes, en la puerta del diario, ya casi sin aliento, nos dimos un abrazo cortito. Bueno Sonja, le dije, la verdad que fue muy lindo conocerte y trabajar contigo. Ella me sonrió. Le pregunté por sus exámenes una vez más, me contestó que estaba confiada en que podía salvarlos, aunque le quedaba mucho por estudiar, y ya de despedida le dije que iba a escuchar el disco de Verbatim Rouge que me había recomendado y que después le contaba qué me había parecido. Y ahí fue que vi la chance, la oportunidad que estaba necesitando, y le dije: en realidad, no sé cómo hago para decirte qué me pareció el disco, porque ya no nos vamos a ver. Y me sonrió y dijo que seguramente nos íbamos a cruzar en alguna parte, mientras arrancaba la media vuelta para irse. Pasame tu mail y te escribo, insistí, y toda la ternura de su cara desapareció de golpe, como si se hubiera salido del personaje de la pasante simpática, y sin sonar muy convencida dijo que sí, que claro, que ella después me escribía y que había sido muy lindo trabajar en la sección, y que muchas gracias por la ayuda con las notas. Sonrió por última vez, y arrancó a caminar, como todos los días de los últimos tres meses, en dirección opuesta a la mía, hacia la parada de su ómnibus. Sonja, le grité con toda mi fuerza, a lo que frenó de golpe y se dio vuelta a mirarme, ahora sí, con una cara horrible, no de enojo sino de desagrado. Ninguna gracia le había hecho el llamado, así que sacudí la cabeza mirando al piso y levantando la mano en señal de disculpa, como diciendo nada, nada, disculpame, no era nada. Me miró con una mezcla de indignación y lástima, sin borrar del todo su mueca de asco, y siguió su camino hasta que dobló en la esquina y, por suerte, desapareció.

IZMIRLIAN | BorderSenses vol. 17 21


Music Under the Stars

Richard Yañez

After a few days apart because of different work schedules, Raul and Elena decided to do something together on a Sunday. He suggested a couple of movies listed in the paper. She glanced at them and said she didn’t like anything that was playing. He hid his disappointment and kept looking through the Calendar section. When he read a listing for an event called “Music Under the Stars,” he saw her get excited about the outdoor concert series, which was held every summer at the Chamizal National Park near the Cordova Bridge. He’d always heard about it, but it was nothing he’d ever known his family to do. Not like their trips to Western Playland Amusement Park or drives to Carlsbad Caverns. “I’m not sure I like Tex-Mex,” he told her when she read the description of the musical act that night. “C’mon, it’s something different. Let’s check it out, cariño.” She nestled next to him. He wanted to think of some kind of excuse, but he was too distracted by her tight T-shirt and gym shorts. “No, no,” she said as he slipped a hand underneath her shirt, “If we start that, we’ll never leave.” “We have time,” he insisted by pushing his way up to her breasts. For a second, he thought there’d be a quick, intimate matinee, but she slipped away. “I’m getting in the shower. Grab a book or something.” She said this in an encouraging tone more than meaning it as a punishment. He distracted himself by looking through her bookshelves. Skipping over many hardback and paperback books, he picked through her rows of cassettes and cds. She knew 22 BorderSenses vol. 17 | YAÑEZ


of way more bands than he did and liked making mix tapes. Picking some bands with cool names like rem, Simple Minds, 10,000 Maniacs, he made a stack on her desk. Looking for a piece of paper to write down some songs he wanted on a new mix, he pulled out one of her spiral notebooks. From the first page to almost the end, it was filled with her distinct handwriting. The neat, cursive letters looked as if they were printed in a schoolbook. He leafed through the notebook and skimmed over a list of words. She had written them down along with their definitions. Instead of reading them, he started counting them but stopped after more than one hundred. The length of the vocabulary list tired him almost as much as the thought of reading them all in books. He was lucky if he recognized two words on each page. A world of words crammed together. He wanted to put the notebook back and pretend like he’d never seen it, but he began running his fingertips over the notebook paper instead. Her pen (mostly black ink, some purple) had pressed tiny indentations into the paper. He didn’t know Braille but imagined this was something like it. If only he could take in all the new words by simply running his hands over them. No such luck. When he heard her coming out of the shower into the room, he didn’t have a chance to close the notebook. She didn’t mind that he had gone through her stuff. When he asked about the notebook of words, he was surprised that she thought it was no big deal. ‘There’s so many,” he told her. “Yeah, I know,” she offered, “I’m a big word-nerd.” He confessed that he hardly knew any of the words. She said she didn’t use most of them. It was really a way to help her when she was reading for her classes. At the mention of schoolwork, his stomach clenched, like right before he farted. The months since he’d finished high school felt like an even longer period when he thought of how much more Elena knew than he did. As if she’d read one book for every word on her vocabulary list. While getting dressed, she handed him books from her shelves. For each one, she mentioned something about it, whether it was sad or happy, where she had bought it, what YAÑEZ | BorderSenses vol. 17 23


professor had assigned it, things like that, not necessarily what it was about. He was so overwhelmed that he didn’t have a chance to interrupt her going from towel to naked to bra & panties to shorts & T-shirt. The last book she handed him before she went back into the bathroom to finish getting ready had a cool-sounding title. The Metamorphosis. He repeated the title several more times in his head before he even tried to pronounce the author’s name. He didn’t need a dictionary to tell him it was probably translated from another language he surely didn’t know. Although “Franz” was close to “Francisco,” his dad’s name (although everyone called him “Pancho”), “Kafka” didn’t exactly sound Mexican, so he guessed that it wasn’t translated from the Spanish. Without asking her, he slipped the paperback into his pocket. He liked that the book fit like a wallet and wasn’t too thick. Who knew how long it would take him to read it, but he would try. He might even begin his own vocabulary notebook. The first word he’d define, he already knew, would be the title. If they hadn’t been in a hurry to catch the outdoor concert, he would’ve looked up metamorphosis in Elena’s thick dictionary that also served as a bookend. The other side was held in place by another thick book called Our Bodies Our Selves. Chamizal National Park was divided almost evenly between this side and el otro lado. A little bit before he was born, the nation of his grandparents and his birthplace had signed a document that settled the boundaries for this land. Up until then, he continued to tell Elena, there were lots of arguments about which country owned what part. And the river didn’t help since it shifted around so much, that’s why someone got the idea to put concrete around it. Now the river just sat there like a dead snake on the side of the road. This last detail was the only one he hadn’t heard from family members. He wished the visitor’s center were open so he wouldn’t have to rely on his hazy knowledge of Chamizal Park. When Elena nodded and appeared interested, he thought that maybe he’d sounded smart enough. He worried at moments like 24 BorderSenses vol. 17 | YAÑEZ


this that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with her. She was already a year ahead of him in college, and if he stuck to his plan to continue to work full-time and not attend classes in the coming semester, then she would continue to get further ahead of him. “So, what’s that?” Elena pointed to an open area beyond the outdoor amphitheater. “I think a gift shop or something.” “Can we go see?” She took his hand and led him through the Chamizal Park grounds. “It’s probably closed.” The gift shop was closed, so they walked around the outside of the building. Murals covered each of the walls. Unlike the ones of La Virgen and César Chávez in Segundo Barrio, these murals portrayed the faces of light-skinned and blue-eyed men mounted on horses. The Conquistadores, as they were supposed to take from the story of the mural, settled “El Paso del Río del Norte.” Elena pointed out the few Indians in the background and asked if he knew who they were. He didn’t know their names, but he also found their existence a mystery. When he said murals seemed a great way to learn about History, he wasn’t surprised when she reminded him that reading was also important. Maybe they could research the Indians at the library, she suggested. All he offered was a weak nod. When he’d read in the paper that it was The Best of Tex-Mex Night, many memories of relatives playing old records surfaced. Nothing cool like he listened to on Elena’s mixes. Since he’d been on his own after graduating from high school, his taste in music was geared more toward what videos they played on the cable music channel. “We’d better get a spot.” He led the way with a blanket and bags of snacks. She carried the bug spray and small cooler. “There’s some room over there.” They walked through the throngs of people who’d also come out to enjoy the free concert. By the way the crowd was enjoying themselves, they seemed like some of the happiest families in El Paso. And while their brown faces and dark YAÑEZ | BorderSenses vol. 17 25

BorderSenses Journal Vol 17  

BorderSenses Journal Vol 17

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