The Sealey Challenge: The Verging Cities

Natalie Scenters-Zapico's The Verging Cities, held in front of flowers and a sharp red brick wall
The Verging Cities

The border is a construct, no natural line but a man-made wound, and it is always violence. These twin realities race through Natalie Scenters-Zapico’s The Verging Cities, an exploration in poetry of Ciudad Juárez, El Paso, and the line that divides cities—and people—from each other.

The border is violence, and the land itself bleeds in The Verging Cities, becoming bleached-white bone or dying angels—or one Angel, sought by some violent border patrol agent. Don’t look away, Scenters-Zapico might as well say, and her words make it impossible to forget, as the violence of the border seeps into the weeping land, or turns up in broken bodies in the desert, or on a street, and Angel and the narrator alternately escape border patrol and are caught up in its violent web.

Poetry can be almost frightening prescient, timeless in its reach from past to present, and The Verging Cities pulls timeless with the best of them. Ciudad Juárez and El Paso are living, breathing, bleeding things, Juárez the more vital, El Paso the more dull; border patrol, in its casual brutality, is cut from the same cloth as George Floyd’s killers, or Breonna Taylor’s, and “Woman Found Near Sunland Park Mall (El Paso, Texas)”1 made me catch my breath and pause.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico writes a borderlands poetics, a fierce and angry and defiant song that Gloria Anzaldúa, to whom she dedicates “La Mariscal Ciudad Juárez, México,”2 would surely recognize. The Verging Cities is fierce and heartbreaking and infuriating, but it is also a love story—to Angel, yes, but also to those twin cities, Juárez and El Paso, and the people on either side of that imaginary line.

And, yes: I read Scenters-Zapico’s Lima :: Limón last year, also for the Sealey Challenge, and it is magnificent, too.

1 p. 25

2 p. 27

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