GUEST POET BY HANNAH REGO
OF BORDERS AND THE POWER OF STORIES
by Hannah Rego
If you’re reading this you probably already know something. About “The Border,” I mean. You probably use the words colonialism, neocolonialism, systematic, oppression, state violence. Maybe you even say imperialism. Maybe you even say empire.
The best thing you can do is look at the links at the end of this post.
But if you want to read my thoughts:
The whole lucky problem of our summer together, us field studies program participants, was that we didn’t go to the border because we are able to stay safe. From COVID-19, by staying home, but also most other things. Unless I throw myself between a cage and an officer, I’m safe from everything.
None of us wanted, really, to write about facts. To do journalism. I tried to, a little. I wrote about Breonna Taylor. I wrote about the internet. I wrote the journalism of scrolling Twitter.
As a poet I can get trapped in information, even in my attempts to write against it. What’s seedy about the border, other than everything? What do those seeds look like in my palms? These are gross questions. I’m over it all. I can get trapped by language, its meaning, its shadow meanings, its sound. Most music isn’t full of harps and violins and that’s why I never listen to music, because it belongs in the background, like scrolling Twitter, which I feel still is an important witnessing. But a lot of poets think witnessing is doing, and I’m trying to get over it.
What isn’t the border, when the state is invested in protecting white property, white wealth, by keeping as many people out, by which I mean in prisons, or forced out of their neighborhoods, or dead, or incapacitated by a lack of resources that make illness livable, or preoccupied creating wealth through labor trafficking and wage theft, as possible?
I live in Tucson, but my home is Louisville, Kentucky. I wanted to write about Breonna Taylor and media portrayals and media gaps and my friends on the ground in Louisville, and I tried to, and right now it all rings hollow. Like still waiting for the investigation into Breonna’s death to be over, for an announcement to be made, like why do we need to keep pretending we don’t know what we know? Not even these questions are new, or news.
(Though I guess I’ll add: please read about the gentrification project that led to the murder of Breonna Taylor, as I think you might not know about this. And if you didn’t hear, the Attorney General of Kentucky, Daniel Cameron, might be appointed as a Supreme Court Justice).
Lately I’ve been reminded of the power of stories, and I’ve remembered that stories are remembering, and I’ve remembered this by reading stories, sometimes in the forms of poems, and also in reading the text Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, which holds many stories about stories in its pages, as well as the repeated assertion that in stories we can live in the imaginative space of future-memory, which Indigenous peoples have been keeping alive despite everything.
I promised a friend I would write about Quitobaquito. That I would write about how the wall is slicing up O’odham lands. O’odham lifeways. And draining the sacred Quitobaquito springs to mix concrete. I repeat this fact to the people I know all around the country. But I know it’s just a bit of information.
Today, September 10th, 2020, two land protectors wait in the Central Arizona Detention Center to return to the fight for their land, and, by way of all land and all life, to fight for you. People calling for their release are being hung up on by the complicit pig answering the phone. You can fight alongside O’odham land protectors by listening, sharing, and responding to calls for support at @defendoodhamjewed on Instagram.
I don’t want to resist the voice in my head telling me it isn’t the time for writing, and also acknowledge that for many people it is. And should be. Writing and more. Writing and doing. Or, I’ve been writing all summer, but it’s the kind of writing that matters later, after I’ve fought without so many words.
The imaginative power of stories exists mostly outside of them. Or, the stories exist mostly outside of a single brain process. A story, like everything else, is not as livable in isolation.
Fellow Field Studies participant and MFA pal Katerina Ivanov’s story “Thin Place” begs you to do something else. To want something else. To let desire be something different from the ache for a life in a white sitcom, even if you can’t stop dreaming in TV tones.
“Thin Place” knows that painting and fishing are the same, and that we need to paint and fish our way past basic survival, past comfort even, despite the painting and fishing so often being in service of that survival, and against our will, especially for immigrants and especially for brown immigrants and especially for undocumented people.
During the phone interview of which there is somehow no record, Kat told me if she could do any job and have all of her needs met, and live comfortably, as in, there’s a doctor! there’s a house! she would work as a server. She’d bring you a plate of something! I hope it wouldn’t be at a restaurant. I think I said that in reply, and that I would be a cook, but it would be an open community dining place because restaurants would be abolished. Kat and I were both sitting in our respective childhood bedrooms, in Florida and Kentucky, and Kat also told me about a painting of Mary in her room her mom tried to bully her into bringing to college, and how she’d drawn and written all over her bedroom door, now painted over.
It’s so interesting from a writerly perspective that we had to figure out how to do field research during a global pandemic, and in thinking about memory and consciousness and how memory fails and how blah blah blah it’s so fascinating that after repeated attempts to talk with each other on the phone I somehow must have not recorded the conversation we had, Kat and I. We rescheduled so many times around doctors’ appointments and bad days and flat tires in the middle of Texas and the call dropped during a hurricane or a pre-hurricane and then, you know, somehow I only recorded 2 minutes of our conversation, the part in which I asked when she’d be returning to the desert, the part with the obvious information, that there were hurricanes coming, so everything is planned and also everything depends.
The interview was a lot of fun and we talked about memory and stories, which makes sense, because Kat decided to write a story based in her own memories, and there’s something freeing about that, and it’s also a classic move, and genre isn’t real. But stories are. So read “Thin Place” and plant a fruit-bearing tree and harvest it with your family and Venmo your local fishmongers.
I encourage you to look up the ICE facilities in your area and consider the addresses with your communities. To get involved with and donate to mutual aid or direct-action movements that assist people who have been or are currently detained, in immigrant detention facilities or in any jail or prison. To listen to protestors who make you uncomfortable. To Venmo people you’ll never meet, or donate to people feeding their own communities.
Below: some people working hard–in Southern Arizona, as and on behalf of Indigenous peoples and immigrants; as well as in Louisville, Kentucky, as and on behalf of Black residents–who I hope you’ll support, and to most of whom I donated the stipend I received to write this blog post:
(note: I have confirmed the needs & uses of the funds collected here are active & ongoing, despite no recent updates on the site).
If you’re reading this, I love you. I hope we meet, out there and soon.
Hannah Rego is a writer from Louisville, Kentucky. They are an MFA candidate at the University of Arizona and a founding editor of ctrl+v, a journal of collage. Their work appears or is forthcoming in Bettering American Poetry Vol. 3, Best Small Fictions 2020, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere.
blog, border, creative writing, Southwest Field Studies in Writing, UA MFA, University of Arizona