This year we're posting "Contributor Notes": interviews and guest posts from the writers and artists of Versal 10. After a cucumber season hiatus, we're back with Tucson-based writer Eric Magrane, who recently visited the border wall between the US and Mexico and wrote about his experience there.
OF BORDER WALLS & LIGHTHOUSES
(photos by Adela C. Licona)
Recently I visited the U.S./Mexico border wall on a scouting trip for a Border Wall Poetry Sounding. Glenn Weyant, sound-artist provocateur, has been playing the border wall as an instrument for six years and this is the first time that I joined him. Along with Wendy Burk and Adela Licona, we left Tucson before sunrise on a Sunday early in July, and drove the seventy miles to the border in Sasabe for our first stop.
As we traveled toward Sasabe, the border patrol presence was ubiquitous. We saw at least ten border patrol vehicles to every one non-border patrol vehicle, and the non-border patrol vehicles were likely off-duty border patrol agents. Clearly, this is big business.
The wall along this section of the border cuts through desert and grasslands and has a sublime presence. Stretching out across the rolling terrain, the wall continues to the border of the Tohono O’odham Nation and then abruptly stops. (This has sent many migrants through the T.O. nation, which extends over both sides of the current U.S./Mexico boundary.)
The wall is a manifestation of a geopolitical climate where the far-right state legislature of Arizona passes draconian and xenophobic laws such as SB 1070 (of which the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down much, but left the “Show me Your Papers” provision intact), and a ban on Mexican-American studies complete with banned books (see one of our illustrious school board members discuss the Mexican-American studies ban on a piece from the Daily Show).
In the meantime, the number of deaths from border crossers trying to cross this terrain is staggering. As of the fourth week of July when I write this, the number of deaths since October 2011 stands at 94 (The humanitarian organization No More Deaths keeps a running tab on their website.) And the wall doesn’t just affect human migration; it keeps many other species from their natural crossings, threatening the biodiversity of the region.
With this backdrop, we are here to interact with the wall as something other than an embodiment of fear and divisiveness. Glenn describes it this way: “If it is accepted that the border wall can be repurposed as an instrument when played, then this symbol of fear and loathing is capable of producing beauty, encouraging listening, developing unity, engaging dialogue and presenting an alternative narrative.”
And now I’m thinking about lighthouses. In Megan Garr’s introduction to Versal Ten, she writes, “set at the boundary where sea and land converge, the lighthouse fixed itself in my young mind as my first metaphor, a personification of who I wanted to become and the site of where I thought the world’s honesty could be glanced.”
If we think of objects as metaphors and embodiments of ideas, the contrast between a lighthouse and a border wall couldn’t be more distinct. One is a beacon and the other is its opposite. What would it take to turn what divides us into something that brings us together? Or, in an object-oriented ontology, can we interact with this object and change it and how it thinks?
Along with Glenn’s musical equipment, we brought poetry along, some in the form of language on clear acrylic glass that could be reflected onto the wall. The language included the words “BRIDGE” and “MISERY” and the phrase “OPEN SESAME”. The video here shows the reflection of OPEN SESAME while Weyant and Burk play the wall.
What role does art have in the world? It may be solipsistic to think that playing the wall as an instrument and interacting with it as a location to practice poetics could be a form of alchemy and could shift deeply embedded social and geopolitical structures that are deleterious to our species and to the earth. However, I believe—and hope—that it may add to that “collective willpower of our humanity, of our art, and of our drive to protect both” that Garr also writes of in the Introduction to Versal Ten.