“Las Pulgas” in Hunger Mountain

Las Pulgas

by Erika L. Sánchez

Santiago Meza López, known as “el Pozolero”
in the Mexican news media, has confessed to
dissolving the remains of 300 people in acid while
working for a top drug trafficker.

—The New York Times

Even the trees here cringe— a heat
sticky like tamarind pulp.

The blindfolded bull is alone again,

walks in dusty circles around the block
and tries to lift the cloth
by blowing through his nose.

        Juárez: behind the Hollywood Club
        (Live Girls XXX),

        an elegant skeleton
        on the back of his silk shirt.

        A necklace of dried nipples
        lays on his chest.

        He lowers his head, eyelids
        tattooed with open eyes.
        In the name of the holy…

The town is named after fleas,
where the narcotraffickers have built

palaces bordered by concrete walls
embedded with broken Coca Colas.

Next door, Jovita washes shit

from the tripe. In the river she scrubs
until it’s bright as teeth,

until no excrement
is left in the honeycomb pattern.

Jovita’s son, the boy nicknamed Mal hecho,
badly made, runs along the river

chasing chickens, huaraches slapping
against cracked feet.

He knocks at every house,
collects slop

to feed the pigs. When he’s finished,
he climbs a ladder
to peer next door, careful

not to touch the broken glass, studies the macaws
spreading their wings, snickers
when they squawk ¡cabrón! ¡cabrón!

        In a Tijuana club a young woman straddles
        a man. He tugs her neon panties

        and she is not shaved, but he doesn’t care. Black
        lights flicker, illuminate his teeth,

        the acne pits on his cheeks. Everyone moving
        in slow motion, like an old filmstrip,

        like what is happening

        couldn’t possibly be true. There are mirrors
        at every angle, everyone multiplied
        by 6, 8, 10

        impossible to know
        whose body belongs to who. The woman
        turns around—

Mal hecho and other boys gather
in a burnt-yellow house

at the edge of town where they watch Lucha Libre
on a scrambled screen, cheer
as they steady the hanger antenna.

The walls are covered in newspaper—
headlines like Turismo Zapatista and
El ‘Pozolero’ pide disculpas.

          First, ass in face, then she lowers herself,
        lets him trace the spidery angel

        wings faded to green
             on her back. He drags his tongue
        along his teeth and remembers how easily

        a body dissolves in a vat
           of acid, how first, the flesh
        breaks away,

              how only the bones endure.



Interview with Hunger Mountain

by Claire Guyton, Art + Life Editor

What inspired your poems “Las Pulgas” and “Orchid”?

Manet’s Olympia, 1863

I began writing “Orchid” when my boyfriend briefly lived next to a motel in one of the seedier neighborhoods in Albuquerque. I became interested in the women who worked on his street and I began thinking of all the forms of prostitution that I had witnessed in the various cities I had lived in or traveled to. In Spain I had watched a documentary on the sex workers in Madrid, which continued to haunt me two years later. I conflated a few of the images from the film with images I encountered. Because I wanted to avoid telling anyone else’s story or othering/objectifying sex workers, I tried to write this poem as a series of snapshots rather than an analysis. I am particularly interested in the ways in which the female body communicates complex issues in contemporary society.

“Las Pulgas” was written after I researched narcocorridos (“drug ballads”) for a paper in my Chicano Studies class. I was drawn to the intersection of sex, violence, and economic exploitation, as well as the political contradictions of the musical genre. I also wanted to suggest the relationship between the poverty of a small Mexican town and the opulence and decadence of the narco-traffickers in the same town and in a metropolitan space.

Tell us about your writing process—either generally or specifically with regard to the birth and development of these poems.

Picture I took at Musée d’Orsay, where I saw Manet’s Olympia.

Sometimes I wish I were one of those writers who wakes up at 5:00 am every day to write for an hour. Unfortunately, I am not, and I tend to write in spurts. I can write every day for weeks, then hit a dry spell that can last another few weeks. Usually, however, I don’t go without at least scribbling notes in my journal, reading poetry, or obsessing over a word for more than a few days. Sometimes I make myself do writing exercises that generate interesting material, but typically, I get a word or image stuck in my head that I need to write out many times just to keep my sanity. I’ve had the end of an Emily Dickinson poem in my head since I was sixteen. It comes and goes, but boy, has it endured.

What’s the sound track to these poems?

I always think of this poem when I listen to “Me Llamam Calle” by Manu Chao. It’s also on the soundtrack for the Spanish movie, “Princesas,” which is also very relevant to the subject of the piece. “Las Pulgas” was born from narcocorridos, particularly those by the band Los Tigres del Norte. I’m fascinated by the way the genre both subverts and reinforces capitalist ideology.

Have your writing habits changed over time?

When I was younger, I used to rely on inspiration, but now I force myself to write even when it’s the last thing on earth I want to do. Writing and I have a love/hate relationship. As a friend once put it— “Writing: ‘Hey, do you want to get some dinner sometime?’ Me: ‘Yes. Wait, no. I hate you. Wait— ’ ” I think I also start crying in this imagined scenario, but I don’t remember. Either way, you get the idea.