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Arts & Culture

'Rebozos' weaves women's stories from two languages

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SA Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla

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Rebozos By Carmen Tafolla, Illustrations by Catalina Garate García, Wings Press, $19.95, 44 pages

In an era when books are being banned, hers included, San Antonio's poet laureate Carmen Tafolla is mindfully doing what she does best: documenting the lives of those whose hard work and fierce spirit offer the preceding generations shoulders upon which we unwaveringly, if not consciously, stand. Hers is a voice of persistence, of righteousness, of sacred history — and in her most recent book, Rebozos, of women. Woven together within its pages, 16 of her poems accompanied by 16 paintings by Catalina Gárate García, offer readers an evocative glimpse into the lives of Mexican women now and from generations before.

Each poem arrives on the page with its Spanish-language sister poem, one language weaving, at times, in and out of the other, confirming the solidarity that is found in the text. The mix of Spanish and English are appropriately representative of Latino/a-based communities in the United States, including ours. In a country adamant to eliminate itself as a refuge for our family on the other side of the border, these two languages subversively dance on the page — and only those who welcome two tongues such as these can see how one might accommodate the other

These are not translations, Tafolla notes in her acknowledgements, but individual poems composed of their own volition: "I wrote each poem authentically in its own language, and insisted … that each poem should have its freedom to be unique, even from its counterpart in the other language." Once again, Tafolla has created a space where many can exist — as she does in both the community and on the page. She uses the rebozo as a metaphor for that which weaves us together. "The rebozo itself carries our history and our sometimes-undocumented stories," Tafolla said. "And so many of the people whose stories it carries were illiterate or had no access to make their stories known. So there is a special responsibility to let those many, many generations of human voices speak out."

One of the great gifts of this book is that you can't stop staring — which is to say, opening this book is like walking into a room with a striking, complex, wise, and powerful woman. The cover image alone, Soldadera: Homenaje a Casasola, provokes a deeply visceral response. A red rebozo whipping around a woman whose body seems contained by a two-dimensional leaf, the look of resistance and persistence, the sweeping red, the shadows and the light across the woman's face provoking what can only be called muscle memory as the heart recognizes itself. Gárate's paintings, each with a haunting sense of urgency, explore with broad strokes the contrast between shadow and light, movement and stillness, a woman's strength within the community and without it, strung together with the various rebozos of each depiction.

Rebozos creates a sacred space for all women where many languages are spoken, all ages are represented, all kinds of women are welcome: soldaderas, curanderas, lovers, brujas, mothers of children and of the land. Gárate's images, together with Tafolla's poems, tell the story of women who carry their stories in and on their bodies: "The rebozo of a Mexican woman will always be… a symbol of her strength against the hardships of life…a protective mantle that accompanies her throughout her existence" (Gárate).

You can tell we're related, Madre
I wrap the shroud around my dead
to warm them, care for them, memorize them
see them in each feature of the newborn's yawn
and know you will wrap me too, some sun-filled day,
envelop me in the sky blue rebozo
of your loving shroud
lay me in the terca soft brown earth
of your still-growing

Se nos nota que somos parientes, Madre
Yo envuelvo mis muertes en el sudario
los caliento, los cuido, los memorizo
los veo en cada facción del bostezo de un recién-nacido
Y sé que tu también me envolverás algún día
en el rebozo celeste de tu amoroso sudario
y en la suave tierra terca
de tu corazón color café
que todavía crece y todavía
se transforma

(from "You Can Tell We're Related / "Se Nos Nota Que Somos Parientes")

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