Never Surrender Your Heart to a Nuclear Power Plant
The bars are already closing.
From the window of the taxi taking me home, I see the city lights gleaming on the bay.
On my right, luxury apartments, completely empty.
No one dreams of living by the sea anymore.
The storm took out almost all the subway lines.
Long rows of tractors struggle in vain to dig out collapsed tunnels, but the salt doesn’t stop its own digging into the steel beams and rails.
Still, people keep on drinking and mingling and falling helplessly in love.
And to smoke unconcerned on balconies while, under the ashes, the urban grid collapses.
Many assure that there is nothing to fear, that events are overblown by the news and general anxiety.
It is four in the morning and I am moving through a river of the faithful, who carry banners of the Virgin Mary, hop on and off trucks and buses, then walk across the highway at two degrees below zero.
Who am I to question the norms of despair?
The taxi driver pushes on in suspicious silence, as if keeping a state secret.
As if he understood the purpose of the recent floods.
There’s always someone coming up to us, asking us to stay a little longer, don’t leave, the party’s just getting started.
But I can’t stop thinking of the arrogance of owning a house with an ocean view.
In the Middle Ages, inhabitants along the Fukushima coast placed stone tablets with clear warnings everywhere:
Do not build on this coast | Tsunami risk.
Today, radioactive currents have hit the beaches of California, Mexico, and Peru.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is already beginning to dissolve from the effect of the isotopes.
Hundreds of families line up at government offices, affected by the same radiation that makes the guts of fish glow.
The television in the waiting room shows images of a newly-open refinery built near the border.
The gas flares have been digitally erased, and now the refinery stands innocuously against a perfect blue sky.
No one notices the ambassador passing by, dragging a sack of yams covered with tar.
The taxi driver hits the gas, making the long night of crisis even darker.
I turn up the volume on my headphones to torment myself with the synthesizers and bass lines.
I don’t want to hear the groaning of my drunken belly.
No one dreams of waking up in front of the sea anymore.
I don’t mind carrying the parasite of melancholy in my gut.
The beaches will burn to bid us farewell.
In the Line of Fire
The city was a singular, noisy shanty town stretching from coast to coast, like an epidemic.
The state of emergency, originally meant to last for only a few weeks, had already lasted more than six months.
Exposure to sun and rain became inadvisable.
The news reported insurgent machines and crawling shadows heaving through the barracks.
Above the courthouses flew helicopters piloted by fearful telenovela stars. Dummy grenades landed on asphalt, causing no damage.
A commentator said—his voice breaking—that eighteen tanks had left the Presidential Palace amid a cloud of black smoke, one tank for each year of governance.
At any moment, it was rumored, the government would fall.
From neighboring countries we would watch public officials burn on live TV in a grand communal pyre.
We felt the earth rumbling, but mistook the tremors for the first tempests of the rainy season.
After the end of oil, we thought, society would transform into a fairer forcefield.
The water would be cleaner, the air purer.
None of this had happened.
The army took orders from an ever more bloodthirsty state.
It was impossible to calculate death tolls at the demonstrations.
We became used to hollow eyes, severed arteries, and projectiles lodged in the most tender parts of our bodies.
We lost the Judiciary, then Congress. Then all local government was dismantled.
Each sentence we uttered became a gray stain as soon as it left our lips.
Has the war started? We wouldn’t know.
It would take 100 terabytes of RAM to simulate all possible crisis outcomes.
After the first explosions, it all sounded the same.
The same undulating buzz holding up the city, its tireless timbre ringing from a recently suppressed past.
At night it would meld with the sound of ships sinking beneath the waves.
We got lost in the crowd.
Corpses piled outside the looted shops. Rivers of vinegar and salt flowed from mutilated bodies.
We recognized the patches left on my skin by the radiation. I was already half-decomposed.
I needed to hear you say: “We won’t win this battle because this isn’t how we win.”
You restrained me: “Don’t talk or move; ghosts loitering in the parks wait to return.”
We could not bear being so far from home, making excuses to claim that the recent reports were false.
We come from the underground, but our fear is pure.
We are the raw material of disaster, a primordial meat in the line of fire.
A great storm nears, an already fated ruin.
Dead Horse Bay
One morning I left home and took the Q35 down to Brooklyn.
On the phone the blue path showed me the way to Barren Island, a man-made peninsula that sits on an old landfill.
I got off just before the bridge that leads to the less popular shores of Queens.
The path to the bay was narrow and overgrown.
I was cold, but filled with desire.
A rounded stone stood out from the bushes as the only vestige of a wheat mill built by Dutch settlers in the seventeenth century.
The beach was a trove of objects sprouting out of the ground.
Countless bottles, frayed rags, shoe soles, toy parts, rusted frames covered in gulfweed.
What had I come to find within this garbage heap?
What was I doing in this place, grazing my fingers with the debris of another time?
Green bottles. Amber bottles. Crystalline bottles. Broken bottles.
Bleach bottles. Bottles from the nineteenth century. Bottles from the twentieth century.
Perfume bottles and bottles of nail polish. Medicine bottles. Bourbon bottles.
Bottles that belonged to artists and bottles that belonged to high school teachers.
Bottles of the Federal government. Bottles from displaced immigrants. Bottles of arsenic.
The entire afternoon I wandered the beach with collectors, photographers, and treasure hunters.
Shivering, I dug out from the rocks the miniature porcelain head of a woman and some marbles, worn down by the waves.
For a moment I was in a movie, the sole survivor of a mass extinction.
To my left, the sea. To my right, the highway. At my feet, the scene of an undeniable future.
With every storm, the sand spits out another layer of refuse.
The following days bring new waves of visitors who believe beach cleanup is honorable labor.
(Someone always has to keep in motion the cycle of objects.)
In the free circulation of commodities, there is no center or edge. We are all part of the same untraceable sludge.
Lead from discarded batteries seeps into the water in the same way that capital floods the landscapes of our childhood.
I want to be the first to digest this gigantic iceberg of nylon, glass and metal.
This world modifies us, we are just one of its painful mutations.
Before it was turned into a landfill, there used to be a glue factory here.
Bodies of horses arrived from all parts of the city, having collapsed in the street after years of slavery and exhaustion.
To extract collagen, they boiled bones, hooves, skin, tendons and cartilage. After repeating the procedure several times, a yellow paste was bottled and put on sale.
The rancid odor of the fumes generated caused illness in the nearby working-class neighborhoods and could be felt even in the eastern reaches of the city.
It was in those years that the area gained its name, Dead Horse Bay.
Even today you can find cut femurs, broken jaws, or hip bones bleached by the sun.
Bottles still intact under the sand and mud. Bottles covered in algae.
Bottles among the propellers of abandoned boats.
Bottles among the carcasses of manta rays. Bottles under the claws of horseshoe crabs.
The clink of bottles swaying in the tide.
This is the result of what we are, a land of glass shattering with each downpour.
“Never Surrender Your Heart to a Nuclear Power Plant,” “In the Line of Fire,” and “Dead Horse Bay” are three poems from The Coming Desert / El próximo desierto (Editorial Universidad de Guadalajara, 2019) translated into the English in a collective workshop which included poet and translator Tiffany Troy, the 4W International Women Collective Translation Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author. The bilingual edition of the collection is forthcoming from Alliteration Publishing. The 4W International Women Collective Translation Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison convenes scholars from across disciplines and institutions as part of a collaborative translation praxis. It aims to make texts and related ideas that are only available in Spanish also accessible in English—and vice versa—to benefit writers and readers around the world.