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by Francisco Alvarez-Higareda 4 months ago in Nature

Cycle of free verse poems contemplating the folk traditions of the denizens from the Guadalajara Metro Area (historically, the Valley of Atejamac) amid contemporary pressures from urbanization, environmental exploitation, and climate change.

Nahual, a mythological creature from tonalteca folk traditions, is portrayed as a feline-like creature with a anthropomorphized face on traditional pottery from the State of Jalisco in México.

I. Jalisco en Technicolor

Long before Jalisco’s long forgotten favorite son

Popularized color television with his chromoscopic adapter

Jalisco was a realm cast in technicolor:

Our darling sky an eternally azure mantle stretching overhead, fastened from one mountaintop to the next

Our rich soils, the namesake for our land, juxtaposed in striking ochre against the sky

A bolt of lightning emerging from that soil as turquoise agave

Obsidian, the black crystal progeny of our long dormant volcanoes,

The bronzed skin of masons who have built pyramids and homes generation after generation,

Well before the Hispanic encounter

Silver in the embroidery of the handsome uniform of the charro,

Red and gold tiles that checkerboard our walkways since the days of Nueva Galicia

Yellow and purple in the flowers and shrubs that are privy to neighborhood gossip.

But lately Jalisco’s colors have given way to duller tones.

Obscured by an oppressive grey:

In impermeable pavement that plasters our city streets wholesale,

In smog that greedily seeks to suffuse our pristine sky,

And in dust that seems to creep everywhere –

Dust that was once rich soil, its nutrients exhausted by monocultures, uprooted by trees felled for industry, fecund soil discarded into the wind.

White foam from industrial runoff suffocates Don Santiago, a river we have shackled and squandered.

Impersonal navy blue suits copied from gringos now adorn those who claim to lead us to ‘progress’ –

Progress for whom and at what cost?

Have we in Jalisco given up on life in technicolor?

Not yet I think, as new colors give me hope:

Green on the faces of the women who demand ‘¡Justicia, Justicia!’ for their missing sisters, cousins, neighbors

And all the striking colors of Jalisco find new life in the rainbow

Of that colorful flag

That each year seems to unfurl with more pride celebrating the diversity of its people.

Jalisco in Technicolor has not been lost yet,

But we must be willing to fight for it.

II. ¿Adónde fueron los nahuales?

The ancestors say nahuales used to roam our hillsides and live among my people.

Shapeshifting creatures, appearing as birds or felines with the faces of shamans or the departed

Nahuales watched over our homes

And chastised us when we needed reminding to protect the forests and rivers.

Tonalteca artisans have honored nahuales in their pottery and paintings longer than anyone can remember,

But now our artisans say they haven’t seen a nahual in five, ten years or more

At least in my lifetime.

Papá, if no one has seen the nahuales in years, why do you still paint them?’ I implore,

In a heartbeat father brushes his clay-dusted hands, responding:

‘Your grandfather painted nahuales thanking them for their protection,

I paint them to remember.’

The ancestors say nahuales were spiritual guides,

A duality of animal spirits and tonal, divine reason.

Realizing this, so the ancestors say, Oñate sought to root out suspected nahuales living among us as shamans, midwives, and healers,

Severing our people’s ties to the spirits so we could become civilized.

Eventually our people began to hunt the nahuales as well.

We cleared forests for cattle, we squandered rivers to hold waste from factories.

But this time the nahuales were not there to chastise us

When we had gone too far.

Our artisans remind us of what we lost.

III. Cielo Sin Lluvia // Sky Without Rain

‘¡Guadalajara, Guadalajara

Sabes a pura tierra mojada!’

So rings our city’s anthem

But excuse me while my memory fails me

I cannot remember a morning in the past year or more

When through the air wafted the scent of petrichor

When the soles of my feet were cushioned by moist soil

I’m inclined to blame the infernal canícula that becomes more oppressive each summer

But I’ve also read that climate change is more than just heat waves.

It’s about extremes –

Droughts become more suffocating and prolonged

And the occasional rain soon swells into chubascos

Downpours as ephemeral as they are devastating.

Floods do not moisten the soil,

Leave it glimmering with morning dew but wash it away

As if Lord Tlaloc himself were lashing out in diluvial wrath

Furious that we humans have desecrated his rivers and lakes with pavement.

Now that our forests burn over amid unprecedented drought

Lord Tlaloc withholds his gift of rain.

I’m not one for the traditions of the ancestors,

But perhaps tomorrow I should pay my respects at the mountain shrine.

It rained this morning

A tender rain, droplets still glistening on leaves

Peering through the window my dog was transfixed

As if this natural phenomenon was completely novel

But based on the deluge of ecstatic dispatches from friends and neighbors,

I suppose it is

Gazing at the sky each day hoping for the mercy of rain has become second nature,

We have forgotten the scent of wet soil after the rain here in Atemajac.

Tlaloc tlazocamati

Lord of the mountains and rain,

Thank you.

IV. Anoche soñé con Jalisco // Last night I dreamt of Jalisco

At first glance, I mistook the expanse of distant lights for stars

But the sight of familiar mountains on the horizon surrounding me

Were a hint that the lights belonged to the sprawling metropolis nestled in the Valley of Atemajac.

I attempted to run but there was no ground for my feet to land

Instead my body propelled itself forward through the usual clear skies

Arriving at a familiar canyon, my trajectory began tracing its contours.

I could hear the whispers of trees and shrubs nestled among boulders and cliffs

And the crisp breath of nopales stirring to keep watch at night.

But I also caught wind of the obstructed cough of Don Santiago,

Ruthlessly choked by industrial runoff and wastewater in his old age,

“Tell them not to kill me, go and tell them not to kill me!”

I could almost hear the river quoting Rulfo, sputtering amid the stench of water spoiled by human neglect.

Emerging from Huentitán Canyon, I turned towards the lights of the city.

Arriving over teeming neighborhoods and plazas,

I basked in the mundane radiance of the people repeating their nightly rituals:

Lovers walking hand-in-hand or huddled on a bench,

Vendors offering every course à la carte and fried in some form,

Street performers dazzling spectators with dances and pantomime,

Folk traditions made flesh again each night.

Pushing ahead through dimly lit streets I come upon my own ancestral abode.

As in every Catholic Mexican home, bittersweet echoes linger in the eaves of my childhood address,

But memories of hummingbirds visiting flower boughs along the block rouse my nostalgia most.

Gone is the flicker of iridescent hummingbird feathers, those messengers exchanging divine whispers with fuschia bugambilia trees,

Replaced by glare from polarized windshields dappling lane after lane of new highways that bisect the city in the name of jobs, progress, and someone else’s convenience.

But I digress.

Changing course towards the colonial heart of La Perla Tapatía

I breeze past many landmarks from our genteel past for a view of La Minerva,

A Greco-Roman symbol of my city’s industrious people and especially our women,

But tonight our protector Athena is in mourning again.

Draped in a green shawl, she laments through gritted teeth and stifled anger

In solidarity with the tapatía women targeted by violence each day.

I ascend again and steer towards a mountain on the periphery for a view of the Valley

Atop the cerro where the Lady of the Tonaltecas once held court,

I see the garish urban lights that have robbed the night of its slumber.

My eyes begin to burn only to realize these are cinders,

The forest around me is ablaze.

Heavy smoke obscuring my view, I can make out teams of men in the background

Avarice in their eyes, opportunists seeking to cash in on global demand for avocados,

Or to erect another luxury high-rise to indulge the scions of Jalisco’s business class –

Finally the conflagration is too much and I rapidly descend.

Regaining consciousness among rows of agave, I contemplate:

Dreaming costs you nothing, only time.

Meanwhile the world around you only spins forward.

As dawn rays clamber over the mountain sentinel of Tequila and reveal an expansive azure sky above,

Rulfo’s words come to mind:

‘On balance, there is hope. There is hope for us, despite our regrets.’

Last night I dreamt of Jalisco and choose to cast my lot for hope.


Francisco Alvarez-Higareda

American mind, Mexican heart 🥑 Feminist, runner, cyclist, #TapatíoEnDC. Advocate for #CleanEconomy & #PressFreedom.

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