7 Lyrical Books About the Language of the Border

Poetry about living in the divide

Photo by Nils Huenerfuerst on Unsplash

Even data migrates now. Data migration and regular migration—all searching for a new home, hoping to remain useful but also hidden. Who brings you, reader, back home? Who do you leave home for a better life each day? Crossers left behind deserts and jungles— no sweat, even though you sweat a lot in the desert, in the jungle. Even laughing you sweat. 

In my book The Border Simulator I explore the border complex as a type of hydra (there’s a hydration pun but I saved that for the book). The border mimics hydra because it’s a changeling, it morphs the second you turn your back even if the fence stays static. Mighty, morphing, purveyors of power, the border rangers survey their fleet and their fleet includes the crossers along with customs. Without crossers, they wouldn’t have much to do at the port of entry.

The Border Simulator knows the passage between Mexico/Central/South America and the United States so well, and here’s something the book also knows and uses: the language of the border to explore our lives on screens, our cultural division, the migrating of our data in the data hoard. The Border Simulator is an algorithmic story, it was chosen for me (it was art historian Sister Wendy that said “Never trust what an artist says about their work”), told through twins Primitivo and Primitiva’s attempts at crossing the real and the digital borders of our lives. My hope is to place the reader in the role of a “customs” agent, and the book challenges and gamifies our suspicions and distrust. So, my list of books about borders is a capoeira, sorry, capirotada, of poetry that crosses borders in the literal and the metaphorical because it’s getting hard to tell what’s real and what’s fake through our screens. (Sidebar: Have you heard the new Oasis AI album? Aises? It’s fine but it’s sort of the same two types of Oasis songs repeated.) 

*In the voice of detective Colombo*: “One more thing”—my collaborator and translator Natasha Tiniacos has created a gorgeous version of the book in Spanish and this is included as a side by side translation so you the reader can saddle up back and forth in two languages–enjoy the ride.

Scryers of the border just now, I’m told, became cryers because they caught a glimpse of the future border but what kind of tears, we’re not sure yet. Here are seven books that will help you see the past and present of the border. The future will cost you a subscription fee and it’s these same scryers who you’ll be paying for this peak into the future. Oh look, they’re ready to tell and it seems as if the scryer’s tears flood the dry desert canals. Don’t look now, but crossers will have to traverse this river of seer’s tears.

Here are seven books about the border where you’ll discover the border is a sentient being, and it’s fed up with being a political/cultural football.

Here are seven books about the border that will make you say ahhhhhhhhhh…

Here are seven books about the border that will turn you into a talking saguaro, thirsting for justice.

Here are seven books about the border that will make you say “Who do you think you are? I am!”

Here are seven books that will tell you absolutely nothing about the border.

Here are seven books about the border that will make you want to run through the desert and drip like jungles wet with rain.

Here are seven books about the border that perfectly simulate the border:

A Small Story about the Sky by Alberto Rios

Born on the border, Rios understands profoundly the complexities and nuances of this world, complexities that often get left out of news coverage. Here’s one of the ironies that Rios lays out so well: without the border we wouldn’t have this wonderful mix of cultures; it divides but it also brings communities together. Something else A Small Story About the Sky highlights: Border peeps come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and beliefs. We are not a monolith and we can think for ourselves. The poem The Border: A Double Sonnet captures many of the same themes I explore in The Border Simulator and I think there’s room for more!

In the Murmurs of The Rotten Carcass Economy by Daniel Borzutsky

Somehow horrific and funny at the same time, a note hit that’s hard to pull off. Borzutsky is a major influence on my work because these two disparate elements (humor + horror) are part of the border I know. El Paso/Juarez is the passage to a better life and sometimes it’s one step into tier drop after tier drop of unlucky bureaucratic hell. Despite this reality, life goes on, life finds a way and then life finds death. They shake hands and kiss; I think they’re in love. It’s pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Repetition Nineteen by Mónica De La Torre

Lost false friends are found in this Bach and forth (back!) between Spanish/English and other various forms of translation. De La Torre’s wit and smarts and playfulness is unmatched.

Neighbor by Rachel Levitsky

Neighbor is a type of border relationship but my first encounter with Neighbor is where the real El Paso Juarez border exists. I first read this book as part of poetry class at The University of Texas at El Paso and it was through the class’s lens and relationship with Juarez that all my fellow classmates (all fronterizos) viewed this wonderful book. It was impossible not to read Neighbor into our daily interactions with Juarez, our neighbor city and thus every poem unveiled itself as a poem about negotiations between a wall, whispers through a fence in the middle of the night. “Wilson, what are you up to?” Also the first book of contemporary poetry I contended with and has been an influence ever since. Also also, a perfect title.

Undocumentaries by Rosa Alcalá

My mentor Rosa Alcalá’s book Undocumentaries lives in the shadow of factory work. This book’s contemporary style was (and still is) exhilarating and helped me early on, figure out how my own work should sound. The book’s explorations of the factory is a beautiful metaphor for unpacking where the self begins and the factory ends. The poem from The Border Simulator “People Who Work Here Don’t Work Here” is indebted to Undocumentaries.

Explosion Rocks Springfield by Rodrigo Toscano

Zap! Bang! Repeat! There is a cycling and repetition in The Border Simulator that Rodrigo has impressed upon me. I admire Rodrigo’s outlook so much. He recently tweeted this quote from Bertolt Brecht that influences my chasing of friction in my work: “Are you in the stream of happening? Do you accept all that develops? Each possible misunderstanding is *your* responsibility. Are you too unambiguous–taking the contradiction out of things? (If so, what you say is useless. Your thing has no life)” I am constantly chasing the friction of contradiction. I want to challenge my beliefs and I want to challenge the beliefs of others. I think this is how art can move forward and continue to evolve and Explosion Rocks Springfield is a constant bubbling of new poetic forms. 

The Supplicants by Elfriede Jelinek, translated by Gitta Honegger 

A play by Elfriede Jelinek about migrants crossing the mediterranean that reads like poetry; lyric and language play. Here she takes on the international migrant crisis. Told through the voice of the chorus of crossers, Jelinek’s style is unmistakable: punny, dark, funny—she constantly upends our expectations of what a story should be and this work is a pile of crosser’s voices. It’s our job as readers to pick them apart. Or, you could just let the language wash over you in all its energetic glory. The Border Simulator is an homage to Jelinek; I write in her shadow.

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