Breaking the Silence. Taos, New Mexico.
The Prayer for Juarez continues. Thanks to your vision and call for artists, I began a project which is growing into a substantial understanding of the roots of violence in our own community of Taos, New Mexico, and along with the understanding, a means of healing and continued dialogue.
When I first received Pilar’s email about Prayer for Juarez and the amazing events being organized around the world, I decided my artistic response would be to simply gather the names of the missing/murdered women in our small rural area and read them aloud in a ceremony of honoring. What I did not bargain for was the enormity of the list: 444 names, from newborns to 82 years of age. This list covered the last 20 years, from 1990 to now.
As I gathered more information, the trail grew longer of the immense domestic abuse in our area, of the long trail of tears that fingers up from Juarez into New Mexico—the fifth state in the nation for domestic violence; a trail that is intertwined with drug runners moving their wares from Mexico into New Mexico and northward to Denver.
The picture grew larger, more insidious. I was told it was dangerous to uncover such facts and a public memorial was out of the question—it would be torn down. To mention the warring inside our town, to remember those women lost in the culture of violence, the culture of silence, would create perhaps more violence, this time toward those who dared name the names.
I wanted to do more than commemorate the dead; I wanted to create a vibrant future for the women in our community. How? I wondered, knowing the answer: Break the silence.
I began to talk openly about these things and found a powerhouse of energy waiting to happen. Artists, writers, sisterhoods, brotherhoods, priests, community members, local radio, the library and even a garden came to the fore. Two exciting possibilities are under negotiation: a memorial sculpture/totem next to the library, and a private donor who may contribute his plot of land for a community garden/public art space where 444 seeds will be sown for each name.
Next week, three memorial masses will be said for the women, at the Catholic and Episcopal churches in our area. Two will take place on April 29, the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, one of the few women doctors of the church; the third mass will be on Sunday, May 2.
On May 2 also, a group of women artists and writers will gather at my home, with the intention of wedding art, healing and dialogue in the form of a traveling shrine.
I found a wonderful hand-painted retablo of the Virgin of Guadalupe by Peruvian artist Alexandro Chavez. I chose Guadalupe as the embodiment of feminine power, protection, fertility and creation. We added a hollow base to the retablo: a letter box (the empty cover of Ann Carson’s new book of poetry, Nox, courtesy of Nancy Ryan). The base contains the list of names of the 444 women. We will pass Guadalupe from house to house, woman to woman, carrying the missing in a continued vision of remembrance -- and we shall see how far the Virgin goes. Anyone may add names to it, poems, thoughts as the shrine passes from woman to woman. Sunday will be the initial ceremony where she will begin her travels.
Many thanks to poet Nancy Ryan, host of the radio show Woman Speak and longtime friend of Pilar Rodriguez, for bringing the Prayer of Juarez to our town. Look what it has wrought! In May, I will be Nancy’s guest on Women Speak to discuss these series of events. May all our efforts continue with ever widening grace and healing.
P.S. I also chose Guadalupe because of a dream/vision I had of her on her feast day several years ago. My poem of that dream seems appropriate for all the Sisters of Juarez.
I want to say: I am not that girl,
frightened broken down girl
pretends she is me.
I tell the Virgin of Guadalupe, as she
shines in my face, enormous, golden,
yes, like the pictures. Those yellow tongues
of fire an aura around her – a woman
bold as the sun. Yes, she shines
at me in the dark sleep, and tells me….
I look down at my feet,
they are bare as the snow on the ground.
A light dusting over the sage.
She is pasted to El Salto Mountain,
she is there big as that dome,
round and sure. I watch her, trembling,
for this is no ordinary dream.
I watch her and ask what to do.
Her mouth does not move, only those tongues
lapping at the night all around her.
The profound dark.
The silence of that moonless night.
I am moving toward her, though I don’t want to.
I want simply to stare and stare more.
I want to hold the vision in my embrace.
There are fields between us.
A distance as ripe as the world.
A distance both infinite and ordinary.
She tells me…
(Why can’t I remember what she told me?)
She draws me to her.
I don’t know it.
I think I am standing still.
When I look at my feet,
whizzing over sage
over the dusty
I worry I will stumble,
I am moving so fast
the ground is a blur,
no sense of movement
only that huge Virgin
A vision that might swallow me.
I head toward her womb,
her infinite womb
that has shined for centuries.
She waits for me,
her arms open
I am terrified.
Think: I should love this.
Instead, I grovel,
ready to fall
in the dirt.
She says, and this time
I hear it, this time
She says: Look at me.
look at the ground. Hold
your head up. Keep
your eyes on me. The rest
will take care of itself.
It is a prayer, I thought, some kind of
wonder, the way she told me just so,
secret to life.
Taos, New Mexico