In the four sections of her first poetry collection, Posada- Offerings of Witness and Refuge, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo takes us with her through the multiple, imaginative and too real border spaces of migration, language and belonging. In the first part, she goes on a journey of remembering, collecting and reconstructing her family’s history. Starting with the stolen metate they brought from Teocaltiche, Bermejo connects the memories and stories of her family, from Uncle Manny’s recollections of his tía Susana and her remedies to Bermejo’s mother who was “never gifted the story of her birth,” presenting in her work the “Pieces I’ve Gathered so Far.”
Part 2 demonstrates the way in which Bermejo draws inspiration from Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and others and appropriately explores gender roles and the relationships of the women in her family, from mothers and daughters in “Frida’s Monkey Nurse:”
I tie her to this world never knowing where the other will spit her out, never knowing when it will finally swallow her whole
to her relationship with her grandmother, to whom this collection is dedicated, in “This Poem is for Nopales:”
Grandma, in the hospital room, when I kissed the fade of your cheek to say goodbye, crisscrossing chin hairs caught my attention. Now, when I look in the mirror and And hairs have bloomed overnight, I think of roots. I think of you. I hope I can be a nopal woman too.
In part 3, “Things to Know for Compañer@s. A No More Deaths Volunteer Guide,” Bermejo draws on her work with the humanitarian organization No More Deaths, which gives medical aid and support along the border. Her poems bear witness to life and death on the migrant trail peppered with resilient cacti.
Did you know? When barrel cacti become tombstones and their yellow starburst blooms offerings for the dead, you won’t be too cool to belt Katy Perry songs.
Did you know? Migrants are hurried over trails at night and without light. Their blisters are caused by continuous friction, muscle cramping by dehydration, vomiting by drinking bacteria ridden cow pond water, and those who move too slow are left behind.
In the last part, Bermejo pays witness to other/s’ stories of refuge and migration, connecting and piecing together similar and interrelated struggles from Arizona to Chavez Ravine to Gaza. She bears witness to tales of desperation, of refuge and migration and gives names and faces to those who too often remain just numbers to us. Posada is a fantastic, visceral debut collection of social justice poetry, not only exploring the different meanings of borders, but also providing safe spaces and comfort for those straddling them.
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is a first generation Chicana. She is a 2016-2017 Steinbeck fellow and has received residencies with Hedgebrook, the Ragdale Foundation, and is a proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. In Los Angeles, she is a cofounder of Women Who Submit, a literary organization using social media and community events to empower women authors to submit work for publication, and curates the quarterly reading series HITCHED.
Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is out today! Go get it here.
Disclaimer: I was given an e-copy of this book by the publisher, Sundress Publications, but never fear I remain my opinionated self!