Anna: Can you tell me a little bit about Antígona González?
Xochitl: Antígona González is a book of poetry from Mexican poet Sara Uribe and translated by John Pluecher that uses the classic Greek tragedy, Antigone by Sophocles, as a container to speak about the disappeared of Mexico. In the classic, Antigone is a princess that breaks her uncle’s edict in order to bury her brother Polynices after he has been declared a traitor and his dead body abandoned in the desert. In Antígona González, “Polynices is identified with the marginalized and disappeared,” while Antígona represents the sisters searching for their disappeared brothers: “I didn’t want to be Antigone / but it happened to me.”
Anna: Why did you select this particular poem to share?
Xochitl: I am the daughter of Mexican immigrants, and the immigrant journey and the dangers of the border are topics I write about. I wanted to honor work being written from Mexico and to honor work being written in Spanish. I picked this particular poem because it’s the opening piece, and it really gives you a sense of the collection. Also, the instruction to “Count them all” is so powerful. The Mexican and the US governments want us to look the other way and let the disappeared disappear, but it’s our job to count dead, to honor the them, and to say their names.
Anna: This poem left me shredded. Can you expand a little on the circumstances around Uribe’s work?
Xochitl: The work is about the job of honoring the dead and disappeared. In Mexico, men and women disappear everyday. According to this New York Times article, “at least 1,400 bodies were dug up from mass graves across the country between 2009 and 2014. And those are just a fraction of the 176,000 murders that police have counted here over the last decade.” It’s an every day reality and horror for many people in Mexico and even for some here in the US. Uribe uses the classic Antigone to speak about those left behind, those charged with with job of having to figure out a way to honor their missing family members. Antigone is a very power piece of work because it’s about breaking the law of the land in order to honor a higher law, which I might say is in itself a feminist act, and the same is true in Antígona González. Over a hundred thousand dead bodies and the government refuses to take responsibility for them, refuses to even acknowledge them or their families, so what does a sister, a mother, or a daughter do?
Anna: Is there a connection between this poem or the body of Uribe’s work and your own?
Xochitl: My first book, Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications 2016) was partially inspired by two weeks I spent volunteering with the Tucson-based humanitarian organization No More Deaths, so there are poems speaking to the deaths that occur along the border, but I don’t live with that fear and horror every day. In fact, I had to drive over 500 miles to the Tucson sector of the US-Mexico border to see it first hand. And when my two weeks were done, I got back in my 2008 Toyota Matrix and drove back to LA and back to my normal, everyday safe life. I think Uribe’s work is so important because it speaks to the pain and fear people go through every day in Mexico. It speaks to the dead. It forces the reader to look at the dead.
Anna: If you could draw some skill or idea from this work into your own, what would it be?
Xochitl: The way she speaks directly to the reader is intense. The collection is about the pain of searching for someone who has ceased existing. In Spanish they are called desaparecido, the disappeared, but the English translation doesn’t really have the same weight. Here in the US, we don’t really know this phenomenon. Between the drug cartels, the government, and the desert, thousands of people are disappearing, and there are no answers. We can’t really know what that’s like, but she asks us to know. She asks us to help her hold that weight, that body. I would like to be able to speak to the reader with authenticity the way she does.
Anna: If a student were to read this poem and notice only one thing, what should that be?
Xochitl: The humanity. Look how she says, “count both innocent and guilty… Count them all… Name them all as to say: this body could be mine.” There is something in that. All the people involved are losing something. All of them are apart of this. I think she’s saying find the humanity. If it’s a student of poetry, I would encourage them to look at who their “enemy” is and try to find the humanity in them. I once took a poetry class with Juan Felipe Herrera, and he encouraged me and the other poets to do just this. Very few people are pure evil, and what is there to learn from pure evil anyway? Humanity is much more honest and interesting.
Anna: And finally, tell me more about your work? Where can I find it? And what is something you’d want me to see in your work?
Xochitl: My fist collection, Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications 2016) shares my witness of the US-Mexico border as a volunteer of No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes and how that reflects on families’ immigrant journeys from Mexico to California in the 40s and 50s and then how that reflects back on me as a single, educated woman living in Los Angeles today. What I want readers to see is the real tragedies happening on our own soil every day and to hopefully experience some empathy. At the core, we are all the same, and the most any of us want is a safe place to call home, and there is nothing bad in that.
Anna: Thank you so much for being a part of Lyric Essentials, Xochitl. This is powerful, incredible work, and I’m honored you drew our attention to it, here.
Sara Uribe’s book, Antígona González
From the Interpreter over at Queen Mob’s
Sara Uribe at Poetry Foundation
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, a first-generation Chicana and the author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications, 2016). Bermejo is a Steinbeck Fellow, Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange winner and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grantee. She’s received residencies from Hedgebrook, Ragdale, National Parks Arts Foundation and Poetry Foundation. Her work appears in Acentos Review, CALYX, crazyhorse, and American Poetry Review among others. A dramatization of her poem “Our Lady of the Water Gallons,” directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño, can be viewed at Latinopia. She is a cofounder of Women Who Submit and a member of Macondo Writers’ Workshop.
Anna Lys Black serves as the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.