- Raven Eye
As a journalist in Berkeley, California, I came to know Margo Tamez as an Apache activist resisting the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, a multibillion dollar project that has been approved for construction by Congress. The pair of steel walls with a paved road between, complete with surveillance cameras and floodlights, is intended to prevent immigrants from hiking across the southern border into the United States. Evidence that such walls are effective in preventing illegal immigration is shaky, and the wall would have negative effects on border communities and wildlife, yet the plan is for the fence to run 700 miles, in five segments. Opposition has come from leaders of Latin American nations and U.S.-Mexico border towns as well as cities across the U.S. (such as Berkeley, whose City Council passed a No Border Wall Resolution).
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“It is our ancestors who worked these lands prior to the first contact between the Spanish and the indigenous,” Tamez said of the issue. “And since that time, for the last four centuries, our ancestors have suffered much and they and the memories of our hardships are buried in these lands. It is only fitting that the indigenous now stand up in a call for unity and justice.”
As I discovered when reading her work, the activism Tamez lives is an integral part of her poetry: she writes as an indigenous woman of this contested desert borderland. Her poetic world reflects the modern realities facing women across the globe who struggle against poverty, racism, environmental injustice and sexual violence. Her writing explores the borderlands, the interstitial—that space between in political, emotional and spiritual realms.
In Raven Eye, her second book of poetry, Tamez deconstructs stereotypes of indigenous identity and confronts modern themes of marginalization. She looks into fractured relationships (between men and women and among family members) that reflect the violence enacted upon the native community. Of Lipan/Jumano Apache and Spanish Land Grant heritage, her parents met in the Rio Grande Valley on the U.S.-Mexico border. She was raised in San Antonio, Texas in the Civil Rights era, which, she has said, deeply influenced her identity and political perspective.
The work collected in Raven Eye was written from thirteen years of journals and brings elements of oral storytelling and prayer to the written poem. The poems are written from the realms of experience, deep, and often disturbing. Yet through it a light of humor, pride, and redemption sparkles—the hope on the other side of despair that renders the work transcendent. The toxicity of modern life “on [End Page 141] the rez,” the Indian reservations where many of the poems are set, is tempered by connecting to the wisdom of ancestors.
There exists A hand-carved boat With a way to go Up the long length Of river Clogged By invasive species Toxic sludge
The river calls In any case Contaminated or not
Calls a song moony waxing waft Heart of a silverhair Grandma calling with instructions(“Hanging from Red Cord,” p. 24)
Tamez resists the continuing forces of colonization and environmental degradation, both through the stand she makes with her political activism and the imaginative world of her poetry. Though she expresses the despair and rage of an oppressed people, she finds solace and meaning in her connection with nature and in the rhythms of her feminine body. That embodied experience of the stages of womanhood, from menstruation to first sex to miscarriage to birth, becomes central to Tamez’s revolution.
My body and three sacred openings three sacred sisters Smooth velvet vulva pink and wrecked My own and my children’s bodies trumpet the horrific Against the will of violation I plant a garden I take it all infliction and bounty(“Smooth Pink Blossoms,” p. 46).
In the poem “Take this Medicine,” she writes about an Apache Chicana midwife’s prophecy:
When women return to letting their blood flow Back onto soil Wars on earth will cease but as long as men and women Shed blood of death on...