- Sensory Borderland
Norma Elia Cantú
The University of Arizona Press
129 Pages; Print, $16.95
Sense memory is when a recollection is evoked by one or more of the senses. When we voluntarily or involuntarily experience a memory triggered by a sight, smell, sound, touch, or taste, we are encountering sense memory. Smell and taste are particularly powerful catalysts in this regard. In fact, evoking sense memory is a technique used in method acting to convincingly reproduce the original emotion in order to deliver a more realistic performance. Sense memory is a way that we experience emotional recall.
Norma Elia Cantú's documentation of the sensory world of the US-Mexico border turns her memories into our own. In Meditación Fronteriza, Cantú records a changing world of beauty, humanity, violence, and art. Through Cantú's chronicling of border spaces, people, and body politics, we experience her deep sense of what is lost over time and geography. It is in the celebration of the beauty of this landscape, its people and traditions, many now lost to violence, that the author also celebrates freedom and the possibilities of art.
This collection of poetry and occasional prose is divided into six sections, the last of which is a collection of prose in three short, reflective episodes. In the last section, Cantú writes "En esta frontera estoy atrapada. No, situada. No, desplegada. No, estacionada. No, aparcada. No, parqueada. No nada de atrapada o parqueada estoy como el río, siempre y nunca el mismo." The translation is "I am trapped on this border. No, I am situated. No, deployed. No, stationed. No, parked. No, parked (slang). No none of this trapped or parked, I am like the river, always and never the same." The autobiographical collection of works of "love, life, and labor" feels deeply politically, artfully, and geographically charged with reverence, longing, and anger.
The collection's first section, SONG OF THE BORDERLANDS, launches the poems "CANTO A LA TIERRA" and "SONG OF THE BORDERLAND," its translation. Many of the poems in this section have Spanish and English versions translated by the author. We see from these first pages that these are indeed poems of love, but
not just among people. Cantú expresses love of history, country, tierra, topography, and ancestry, among others. Embedded in these works are also sentiments of love toward family and language. The flow between Spanish and English gives these pieces depth and fluidity.
This peaceful contemplation is followed up by the shocking "SHE WAS A BOBOLO GRANDMOTHER," documenting the self-immolation of a grieving grandmother in the 1700s. The poem marks the death of the Bobolo grandmother, just as the end proclaims, "No marker honors her death / and no one knows her name, / but the historian chronicled her death, / and thereby she lives." This piece and the two that follow serve as critical histories of border violence that pay homage to those lost.
Likewise, "SOUTH TEXAS—JULY 2014" records two terrible deaths—one of the narrator's friend's father, "He was sixty-five. A loving father. / A businessman. / A husband. / An uncle" and
The eleven- or fourteen-year-old boy from Honduras,wearing Angry Birds pants, had his uncle's telephone number on his belt. The uncle in Chicago They found the boy's decomposing body in the brush.Alone. He wandered off away from the others.Lost. To die. Alone. [End Page 10]
As with the Bobolo grandmother, this chronicling of senseless deaths brings awareness and thus life to their stories.
Section IV, MIEL DE MESQUITE, includes mediations on food, celebrations, and vignettes of life. In particular, "LA LLORONA CONSIDERS THE STATE OF TORTILLAS" stands out for its mix of mythology and modern concerns. The poem begins "She knows they sell them in neat packages / Cellophaned and counted." The visual is immediate and familiar. The reader is deeply immersed in the sense memory of flour tortillas, "The familiar smell of dough cooking on the comal / The puffing up one must, simply must, pat down / To hear the pooof [sic] of air escaping / The...