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  • Karla Cabrera

ARCHIVES | Puerto del Pasado—Artifacts from the Archives: Sheila Black's "Nobody's Girl

As the Archives and Media Intern, I am excited to inaugurate our new archives blog series: Puerto del Pasado—Artifacts from the Archives. Featuring replays of exciting work from our past issues stretching back to our first issue in 1960, we will curate andwhen possibleoffer new insights from the authors themselves.

I chose Sheila Black's poem "Nobody's Girl" from the Summer 2005 issue for our first post. This poem is a stark "opening" and opportunity to commemorate speaking up about women's struggles. I am intrigued and fascinated by how the poem boldly addresses abuse while juxtaposing the way Mexico praises the Mexican mafia and narcorridos while ignoring the abuse women suffer behind by these patrons or “organizations.” Their

suffering shouldn’t be forgotten by society. Sheila Black, reflecting on writing the poem, states:

When I wrote “Nobody’s Girl” I worked for an organization called The Colonias Development Council – a wonderful organization that still exists—and does community organizing in colonias – or unincorporated township communities in Southern New Mexico. The chapbook this poem comes from grew out of from my experiences in those years and conversations I had with many women in the colonias. These woman tended to be the activists in their communities – planting gardens, working to get wastewater systems, and forming economic collectives. This was when women were disappearing and being murdered in large numbers just across the border in Ciudad Juarez. The women being disappeared mostly worked in the maquiladoras, where many of the women I worked with had also worked at one time. Their stories taught me about the struggles these women face and how often their stories are only told in private, behind closed doors; I was continually amazed by their will to start over and build things—do things for their communities. I don’t know if that is in the poem, but I would like it to be.

Though this poem was published 15 years ago, I think that its message is still powerful and relevant today. Not much has changed. Women's struggles have not been fully recognized, and women continue to speak out and march for their rights and for all of us. Let us hope for a better future. — Karla Cabrera


Nobody's Girl

It is not the story the Tigres of Tijuana sing

but it is hers—the bus from Sinaloa,

aqua peeling to white beside the dying

banana trees and an ocean wind

rushing through the night, the smell

like grass, something wholesome,

a child's Sunday dress all lace and white and

yellow-eyed daisies. Behind her eyelids

girls bleed in shuttered rooms, a cockroach

spins on its back on a plate full of water.

He says, You are beautiful. He says,

I will take you there. She doesn't ask. He

presses the cut fruit to her

lips. The slippery black seed of the

papaya, the mangos stringy as

the skin of aging women. Sweetness,

sweetness. Nothing lives on sugar

she tells him. Even flies ignore the white

powder heaped in the thin china bowl.

Mix it with water, though, and they all come,

the tiny red ants, the moths,

the butterflies opening and closing

like delicate shellfish. The Tigres of

Tijuana call him a hero when he is dead,

black around the eyes and the lips,

but she is missing an eyetooth by then,

swollen veins bisect her thighs.

He is the man who punched her in the stomach,

and when she crossed her arms over it,

tore open her fingers. She remembers the

squares of concrete, the places he

never noticed. The cooler in the motel,

a door dripping water.​

Sheila Black is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Iron, Ardent (Educe Press, 2017). A fifth collection Vivisection is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. She is a co-editor of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos Press, 2011). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Spectacle, The New York Times and other places. She currently divides her time between San Antonio, TX, and Washington, D.C., where she works at AWP.

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