From the Permian Basin to the Sound of Campeche

March 14, 2016 in Autotranslation, Crossgenre, Non Fiction by mjdelgad


Oil boom. Farewell, boom.

The Permian basin has abruptly sinkholed a large chunk of caky earth in Wink, Texas. Gooey gold,

gooey eyes. It was in 1980, says the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG), when the basin, a large

thick grueso depósito de rocas—langbeinite, sylvite, halite, potash—had to finish some unfinished


Last year the sheriff of Winkler County warned of two winking sinkholes expanding. If you come

here, I’ll arrest you. I don’t want to be here myself. Wink Sink #2 is killing it, trespassing the roads,

breaking the asphalt, stopping oil tanks, making the calicheros kalichear la zona, and angering the

sheriff who doesn’t want the curiosos to wonder if the hole can take you to China, Campeche or the

Bakken plateau of North Dakota.

Someone at the Bureau murmured in a paper that those sinkholes occurred because of some

extractions in the 30s.


barren land rocks sedimentary basin piled anthracite depleted air salted water injected completed

action let decision makers know, wink wink.


most prolific oil producing area in america. increase from 850,000 barrels per day (2007) to

1,350,000 (2013). best formations 4ever (justkidding oilisnot4ever): Spraberry, Wolfcamp, Bone

Spring, Glorieta, Yeso, and Delaware. highly productive. better than Gulf of Mexico. Full stop.


So far, the user elundetakergearsofwar has posted two videos on youtube, one titled “El Chupa se

cae” in which a dark-skinned Campeche boy is lightly pushed by an adult and falls

precipitosamente onto the ground, and starts rolling down the street. The palimphested asphalt

disintegrates into a hole of pixels as the boy seems to be unrolled from a large tongue of warm air: a

digital hole devoid of meaning until a boy falls inside for a second.

The other video “The Sad Life in the Oil Rigs of the Sound of Campeche, México” appears to be a

romantic one. It’s a show-and-tell of life and work. A set of texts such as always smile you never

know who is going to fall in love with your smile or live life fully because you are not coming out of

life alive, fill in the gaps between photographs. Apparent platitudes, these lines insinuate a story that

nobody can decipher, except that group of workers photographed in the blueness of the Gulf of

Mexico. Images of orange-overalled workers, men and women, eating, sitting, talking, posing.

Many love stories evolve and implode in the already dangerous Pemex oil rigs.

Workers can spend more than 20 days in the plateauforms.

¡Saludos a toda la banda plataformera de los akales, jupiter, safe regency, litoral, cantarell y


The dormitories in the oil rig have six or seven beds, sometimes a bathroom, but usually the

workers have to walk a narrow corridor to get to one. At night, a warm body quickly jumps from the

top bed: a slight noise in the middle of the ocean, a tap, a small tepid wave of sound. An innocuous

wave: a woman’s body waking up above the Gulf of Mexico to pee, while a drill extracts thousands

of black liquid years from the ground.

A solitary wave has sent a message to his peers about not falling asleep while working, because it

can cost you the job, about not trusting the bosses, not falling for power and money, and a word of

caution about falling crazy in love with the guy or woman next to you.


i called José Gómez, inhabitant of Mexico City, to ask him about his days at the mineral. His father

and the entire family worked as miners in Tequila, Jalisco. He used to joke about playing with big

pieces of gold and silver the size of his head, the patrones trusted him so much, the little slave. He

was a black black, he said once, the only visible shining thing in his body the pieces of metal that he

tossed around outside the mine. He didn’t want to get sick as the others so he left for the capital. i

wanted to ask him more about that time, but he is 100 years old, and the only thing he could tell me

over the phone was that he remembered when i gave him dólares for his birthday—or dolores, as he

would joke. It is very hard not to see him as a repository of stories, as the result of so many policies

and historical circumstances, and it is very easy to forget his deeply machista view of the world.


How does an oil rig speak to the ocean? In the language of money, production, accumulation,

desire, in the language of capitalism and technology. It writes in the air with fire and spits on the

working and living bodies around it.

Is a machine a non-human entity or rather a human appendix for expanding his, not her, power? A

transducer, a translator of many fantasies.

Science is political, and science is corporate. Companies can sue countries.

A text may or may not do anything.


There’s a cumbia of the petrolero, in fact two. One is sung by children at schools, mainly in

Campeche, and tells the official and heroic story of the oil expropriation of 1938. Lázaro Cárdenas,

the president at that time, managed to kick out foreign companies from Mexico, and the oro negro

came back to the hands of the Mexican people, at that point the majority of whom lived and worked

in rural communities. In the social imaginary that moment represents a twofold retrofantasy: a

president stood up to foreign interests and Mexicans became the true “owners” of their economic


They say that in order to be able to work for Pemex, the state owned company (almost not), you

need to have connections or you need to be the daughter or son of some high mando.

The other cumbia is more a laborcumbia. It talks about the everyday life of oil rig workers, orange

and red overalled workers, on a platform, in la sonda de Campeche. The theme’s music video was

actually shot by the workers themselves on the oil rig. It is a song about a hard and felt relationship

with a machine: an enormous structure of metal and salt.


Lorena Gómez Mostajo (Mexico City) is an editor, writer, and photographer. She studied at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recently, she founded Taller Salón, an independent publishing and printing house that serves the Tijuana-San Diego community.

On autotranslation: The tongue touches the paladar, the teeth, the lips; air comes out: a clasp, a noise, a sound that exists since childhood that gets twisted into a new one. When the tongue travels to perform the sounds of English, it traverses a field of random memories and images. For example, an English teacher in elementary school that gave candy away if the class pronounced “tree” and “three” well; the songs that, as kids, we pretended to understand and sing in a deformed English; hundreds of films; the political candidate who insisted that the future of success was learning “inglés y computación”; the security officers at airports and at the San Ysidro border; technology and its endless iterations; the promise that by way of speaking the “new esperanto,” one will be more connected to the advanced world.

I am enchanted by accents. By that sonorous declaration of having or having had another life somewhere else. The same way, when I write in English, the history of my intimacy with Spanish, created also by writing in it, gets to be transformed, revisited, altered. I twist my thoughts, the same way I twist my tongue, to find the rhythms that can have echoes in both languages.


by sciston


December 18, 2014 in Non Fiction by sciston


This text was transcribed from this picture of a wall near the famous parador of Oropesa in the Province of Toledo in Spain. It describes the origin of the word Oropesa in folkloric terms; in Spanish oro means gold and pesa refers to its weight.

It is said that long ago
a Muslim captain kidnapped a princess
in the lands of Oropesa,
and that later the Moor
demanded ransom for her release:
“I’ll set her free if you all give me
what she weighs in gold.”
Because of this on the shield of the town,
in memory of the incident,
there appears a woman
who is holding a weight.
In the name of this place
the tale is encapsulated.
Was it a lie, was it true?
As they tell it, I tell it.

Photograph and translation, from the Spanish, by Jonathan Piskor


Jonathan Piskor has worked as a freelance translator for clients in the US and Europe. He graduated from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY with a bachelor´s degree in Hispanic Studies. His undergraduate thesis examined the role of personal integrity in Medieval Spain.


by sciston

Are You Happy?

December 18, 2014 in Non Fiction by sciston

Rebekah Olson

The last four months of my life were spent in the magical Northern city of Saint Petersburg. Everyday, on my way to the metro station nearest my house, I passed this small but useful market — a stark white, concrete building. Often times, there would be Petersburgers standing just outside of it — dark, unkempt men lying on the cold concrete, resting from their previous night’s shenanigans, or the working women out smoking on their lunch break, or couples holding hands as they bade farewell while getting into taxis or onto buses. The market became a sort of symbol for me — it marked not only the exact half way point on my half mile route, but also, it represented an array of the Russian people, a people I fell in love with throughout my too-short time spent in their native land.

On November 27th, three hastening weeks before my departure, when the days had grown shorter and the nights had grown colder, something about my beloved marker changed. What some may have seen as vandalism, or a symbol of the rebellious, disrespectful youth, I saw as a precise description of Russia today. The graffiti isn’t much, to be sure; it is simple and to the point. But then again, Russian people also tend to be simple and to the point.

The words read:
“–Are you happy? –I don’t know yet, I haven’t quite decided.”
“–Ty shchastliv? –Eshchë ne znaiu, eshchë ne reshil.”

Photograph and translation, from the Russian, by Rebekah Mae Olson


Rebekah Mae Olson is trying to travel as much as possible — learn languages and meet people. She currently lives in south England where she is earning her masters in Russian translation. In the past four years, she’s called South Africa, Jordan, New Hampshire, Seattle, St. Petersburg, Ethiopia, and England home.


Book Review: All the Garbage of the World Unite

May 24, 2012 in Non Fiction by rkennedy

All the Garbage of the World Unite

Written by Kim Hyesoon. Translated, from the Korean, by Don Mee Choi.

“Therefore as woman, as poet, I dance and rescue the things that have fallen into the coil of magnificent silence; I wake the present, and let the dead things be dead.”
-Kim Hyesoon

All the Garbage of the World Unite is Kim Hyesoon’s second full-length book, translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi. Hyesoon and Choi create a world that is full of sacred filth, an experience that is beautifully ugly. It is a world where mountains copulate, where pigs are gods, where people peel like onions. All the Garbage of the World Unite contains a collection of work called Your First (2008) and the nineteen page poem Manhole Humanity (2009) –and as you make your way through, each poem is a little more delightfully terrifying and disgusting than the one before it. It’s gold. Or it’s garbage. Either way, it exemplifies what contemporary poetry should be: fresh, exciting, and unpredictable.

Hyesoon’s writes nature poetry in a way we have never seen. In the poem, Seoul, Kora, the mountains are transformed into wild creatures:

“…The mountain gives birth
The mountain licks a mountain
The mountain’s litter sucks on its nipples
The mountain cold-heartedly discards all of its litter
The young mountains copulate in broad daylight, the stench
The mountain roams like the pack of dogs inside a maze…”

What we might believe to be peaceful and sacred is turned rabid and for some reason it feels very right. It is strange, but it is also exciting and fresh. It makes language feel new. Hyesoon also introduces us to characters and situations that at first we think we know: “that woman who walks out of the gynecology clinic” with her “legs […] like scissors” and with “blood scented dusk flooding out from between her legs.” People and places are suddenly grotesque but not completely unfamiliar as in Onion:

       “Under the faucet a man peeled a woman’s skin
The woman cacklecackled and peeled easily like an onion
As a layer of dark night peeled off transparent day soared
Blood draindrained down a pipe
like the mushy inside of a fresh egg…”

This strange moment between man and woman both sickens and fascinates me. The images stick to the insides of my eyelids and won’t let go. In Choi’s translation of Hyesoon, the work dances in and out of intimacy in a way that the same force that pushes us away actually sucks us back in.

Something that I was very drawn to in the title poem, All the Garbage of the World Unite, was its pace. Hyesoon’s lines are long and full of heavy consonants. However, they are lines that demand to be read aloud at a strong pace. There are literally no spaces to breathe. This poem does not apologize. This poem is a force that challenges not only poetry, but also the potential of translation. In this piece, Don Mee Choi seamlessly navigates the space between English and Korean. This poem reads as if it were originally written in English:

“…Do you know?
Eyesnavelgod. Forearmsearflapgod.
Sweetpotatokneesappleseedgod. Pigstoenailschickgod.
Dreamingdivingbeetlesashtreegod. Lovelygirlsheelstoenailgod.
Antsghostscatseyeballgod. Ratholescatsrottingwatergod.
Mrsdustingarmselephantgod. Salivadropexplodeslikefreongas.
Do you know all the dearest gods that are hanging onto our limbs?”

At this point, words become jumbled and become something entirely new bringing us to a place where poetry transcends language. Several words become one new word. These new words become gods, complete entities.

The book, All the Garbage of the World Unite, opens with an essay that Hyesoon had presented at the American Literary Translators Association in 2006. She compares poetry to a maze and “as the maze grows more complex, it contains the flexible logic of non-alignment. This logic of non-alignment demands from me a new experience with language.” This is certainly what Hyesoon is demanding of us in her book. The poems dance and create new experiences by celebrating garbage and pigs, by transforming mountains and turning people inside out. We have new experiences with language and through those experiences, we develop a new understanding of the potential of poetry and poetry in translation. What Choi has created here in this English version of Hyesoon’s work is a beautiful beast of a book.

Written by Kim Hyesoon. Translated, from the Korean, by Don Mee Choi.
Published by Action Books (November 2011).

Reviewer Allie Moreno recently received her MFA in Poetry from the University of California, San Diego.