In her collection The Verging Cities, Natalie Scenters-Zapico sets out to document what life is like on the border of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. Through the speaker’s relationship with her undocumented lover, as well as everyday images that capture the terror and complexity of living within these two worlds, this collection is bold in its depiction of the border. Scenters-Zapico shows no limits, capturing everything from dive bars to border control, sex to the highly political topic of immigration. The Verging Cities is a necessary read, as it tears down the stereotypes we assign to this issue, giving readers a personal examination of these two cities.
From the beginning, the collection introduces us to the character of Angel, who also acts as a motif. The first poem, “Crossing,” shows us the two lovers entering the city of Ciudad Juarez for the first time in five years. Angel purchases a fake passport, while the speaker acknowledges “Border agents wave us across – // I’m too white to tell and Angel looks clean enough, but one of us is illegal” (lines 14-15). Despite the tension and fear, the poem manages to be playful in its depiction of these two people. Readers get a sense that they are close, and Scenters-Zapico does a great job capturing their nervousness but staying balanced: “Cameras every ten feet-we smile // and kiss for them” (lines 12-13). I felt that this was a great poem to begin this collection.
Because of the desperation, crime, and poverty that is depicted in The Verging Cities, many of these poems are heartbreaking. In the poem “The Verging Cities” the speaker is personified as Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas. The description in this poem is harrowing: “I am the city that’s come to swallow / the plastic bags of your body” (lines 11-12). One of the reasons I love this collection is for Scenters-Zapico’s use of surrealism in so many of her images: “Your hands // leave broken bottles and receipts behind my ears” (lines 42-43). The poems are beautiful and daring, and took me by surprise again and again.
The Verging Cities is split into four sections: Con/Verge, Di/Verge, Re/Merge, and Verge. It’s a breathtaking collection, not just because it breaks stereotypes and makes a powerful political statement, but because Scenters-Zapico’s writing is really freaking good.
Buy The Verging Cities here.
*As part of my goal to promote small presses, here is some information about the University Press of Colorado: “Founded in 1965, the University Press of Colorado is a nonprofit cooperative publishing enterprise supported, in part, by Adams State University, Colorado State University, Fort Lewis College, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Regis University, University of Colorado, University of Northern Colorado, Utah State University, and Western State Colorado University. In 2012, University Press of Colorado merged with Utah State University Press, which was established in 1972. (For more on this merger, you can see a press release here.) USU Press titles are managed as an active imprint of University Press of Colorado, and we maintain offices in both Boulder, Colorado, and Logan, Utah.”
(Cover of The Verging Cities courtesy of the University Press of Colorado)