Elevation of a Port (an excerpt)

A stream in Veracruz.
A stream in Pico de Orizaba, Veracruz. Photo by Anwar Vazquez/Flickr


Then they landed in large pastures, light aircrafts
of gringo registration
from which somber blonde men descended
armed with hypodermic needles
And in gloved assault they inoculated
foot-and-mouth disease in the cattle that grazed
peacefully there
or drank noisily from creeks and springs
filled with acamayas
and fish flashing showy scales 
Back when the whole expanse of incense
was called Rancho El Copalar
And water from the hills circulated
straight into the cistern
through the channel or from the eaves’ moldy gargoyles
perched on the roof at the height of the loft 
from which sprouted each evening – like spit
from a dirty blowpipe – 
black bats
that had slept all day
hanging headlong off the beams
And with courage they found their way in the navy blue sky
dodging by chirping
the tangled branches of a rough
purple-fruited caimito palm
risen up by the house covered with clay
Windmills and a great racket of voices
celebrated in the trapiches
where cahuayotes, grapes of the beach,
cocoaplums and coyol palms grew
And yokes were pulled by oxen
and enormous moos moved the trapiches
all through the day and the whole blessed week
And cane juice spurted
pressed by men squinting
And the bustle was viscous like the gum rendered
after boiling large vats of cane syrup
And the hall was always surrounded by clay molds
where the panela took its form – those whole-cane brown sugar cakes
my sister and I ate
with slices of queso fresco
up in the lofts – 
oh thieves of delight! 

Translation from the Spanish
By Carolyn González & Keith Cartwright

Translators’ note: Acamayas are a type of crawfish native to the state of Veracruz. 

José Luis Rivas (b. 1950, Tuxpan, Veracruz) was elected to the Mexican Academy of Language in 2013. A prolifically published poet, translator, and essayist, he has been awarded many national literary prizes for his books of poetry and for his translations of major poets from Europe, the US, and the Caribbean. The poem above is taken from Por mor del mar (2002).

Carolyn González is an assistant professor of Spanish at the College of Idaho focusing on the study of Mexican and US Latino/a literature. She earned her PhD in Hispanic languages and literatures from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Keith Cartwright teaches at the University of North Florida and is currently the Fulbright–García Robles US Studies Chair at Universidad de las Américas Puebla. He has published two scholarly monographs and two collections of poetry. His next book—with Dolores Flores-Silva—is titled Cornbread, Quimbombó y Barbacoa: Mexico and the Gulf Shores of Our Souths.