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December 30, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Caminante 3: Sumidero

Walls of the Sumidero Canyon, Chiapas.

“The good traveller doesn’t know where he’s going; the perfect traveller doesn’t know where he’s been.”

—travelers’ log-book at gringo backpackers’ cheap hostel Oscars in then Arab-controlled East Jerusalem, early 1967

Here’s the deal with my writing from Latin America. The Road to Iguazú (Cros=by & Hope homage), my mostly unpublished overland trek 1995-96, as recounted by watercolors and travel-poet monologue prose, which reached the equator onlineat Quito, Ecuador, a couple of posts back, now has to wait for all the little poems of Caminante to come traispsing after.

Hurry up and wait: that’s the first rule of travel. we’re back all the way in Chiapas.

Caminante was published,  I continue to note, .by Creative Arts Book Company (Berkeley, 2002, prestige end, now defunct)as a book of 131 octaves and comentarios.  I have a few copies of Caminante still available at $10 — when I get down to 5 the price will go way up.

It’s all a big rehearsal, as Juan Gelman, the foremost living poet of Argentina, once proclaimed. after receiving a medal from the city of and gigging in with a tanguero on bandeneón.

Juan Gelman finally found his nieta! His son and pregnant dsaughter-in-law were disappeared by the militares, tortured and killed, the wife after giving birth. His granddaughter was 23 when he found her after searching for years. She had been raised as Vivián Taurino by a police family but has changed her name to Macarena Gelman. She’s a firebrand in the cause of the children of the disappeared — and she does remain close to the adoptive mamá who raised her. But that’s way another story, and geographically far ahead of even the prose.

So after a retreat of sorts and in between work I will get reasonably busy sawing off chunks of Caminante, like icebergs off Antarctica, and setting them out to sea in cyberspace. Here goes! All aboard for Caminahte 3!

This poem is from a boat up the Sumidero, a fjord-like narrow reservoir flooded by a muddy rain-forest river, the Grijalva, between cliffs that beetle up forever, a canyon deep as Yosemite in black limestone, expropriated for a dam by a corrupt Mexican version of TVA. The Viurgin of Guadalupe, above the waterline of an echoing limestone cave, is an Indian girl in the blue cape of the stars. On her it looks good.


3                     SUMIDERO


Once it was a river. You could go down all the way

into the crotch of the canyon: butterflies scissoring

thinner than origami, monkeys leaping branches,

guacamayas squawking. Every year the villagers

paint themselves as women, some falling drunk,

skirts and all, in the raging water, to end up in

entrails of some crocodile. Now oil bottles bob

in the cavern shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Cañón del Sumidero




Comentario: el Cañón del Sumidero is a thousand-meter sheer gorge above the Río Grijalva, from whose cliffs the Chiapa warriors hurled themselves in 1528 after defeat at the hands of Pedro de Alvarado. The dam supplies 25% of the electric power of Mexico, yet nearby highland villages lack electricity. The reservoir buried an entire village. Down under those turbid waters, on the third block from the plaza, in a green-painted room, under one naked bulb, Juan Rulfo leans over an old Underwood typewriter.

Overwiew: This poem goes up el canón del Sumidero by rented motorboat with the Mexican poets participating in the festival in Tuxtla, Gaby Balderas, Javier Huerta, others.a jolly bunch. The poets quipped in Spanish, for example, that all the stations of the Mexico City Metro were represented among the particiipants at the conference, including the Niños Héroes, the hapless high-school students who’d been bused in to give us a Potemkin audience.

Juan Rulfo, all-time greatest master if Mexican prose, has just one thin novel, Pedro Páramo, and a single book of short storiles, El llano en llamas (the plane aflame). I once almost met Rulfo in a bookstore once, but the young poets and I decided not to intrude. I can live with that.


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