Animal de Salvia: Dream to Conjure the Soul.
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Final Essay: "Howling the Border" by Karen Moe
English Translation of the Poem by Karen Moe and Habacuc Morales
Dream to Conjure the Soul
by Cynthia Franco.
The earth germinates us
As I dance to the rhythm of your sun
Come back animal
With my plexus I hug your barefoot belly
I rain, I elevate myself, I rain, I elevate myself
I walk, I pick up songs,
I sing air’s memories
It sprouts a flower crown on my belly button
And you bark in every pore of my roots
You bark for all of my she-ancestors: “be quiet”-they say
You bark, female-guard tree, I come back
I invoke you
Come, wolf me in your fire
Come, roar me in your roar
Come, balsam-me with your silent sap
Come, mist on my mountain range
Come, vibrate in my breast
Come, pinch the tip of my flower, spread your hand between my legs
Come, instinct, here you are, I know
Remembering my desires that do not hinder hunger
Look at me
I get thirsty drawing your canines
Coil me as you growl in a tongue without words
Dance me on your water, undulate inside of my neck
I wait, open to you, the path, open to you, the mouth
Here, here you are, with your siren hair
Laying down over my thighs
Ancient mother, jungle, igneous.
Photo by Alejandro De La Rosa
Howling the Border: Cynthia Franco's Manifestos of the Body
by Karen Moe.
Those who have lived on the frontlines of violence and exploitation know the truth about the lie. Mexican poet and performance artist Cynthia Franco’s birthplace is the Tijuana border zone. The shadow economy of the United States, Tijuana is an inversion of its progenitor to the north, the birthplace of the opportunity that it is deprived of. Its B-Side.
Both from Tijuana, poet/performer Cynthia Franco and activist/intellectual Sayak Valenia show us how the border, la frontera, transgresses its imaginary line: the border is a zone, an (anti)community, a trickster that dresses an open wound as opportunity—a perpetually impeded threshold.
“The happy world of disenchantment,” Valencia writes. “That gives birth to migrants every day,” adds Franco. “Tijuana is nowhere,” Franco states as Valencia’s “frontera-woman looks like death and walks with one hand on her revolver. The syringe-man unsuccessfully attempts to fly along the middle of the metal serpent. The transparent and the true. The piercing.” 
“In dollars you talk, you ask, you dance,” Franco told me. Brutality fuels the la-la land above that is able to play the soulless game of utopia by feeding on its manufactured other beneath.
“They had nothing until we came here,” the Gringos say.
“Come back child”
“Come back animal” 
Franco calls at the beginning of the final poem of Animal de Salvia, “Dream to Conjure the Soul.” Come back to the child, the little girl with her ill-mannered body  that precedes patriarchal silencing; the animal that we all still are even after we have crossed into the anthropocentric West that is governed by corporate psychopaths.  A civilization where:
“Indigenous men are hanging from bridges or their bodies are strewn on the banks of the canal. Drugs on every corner. For everyone. Viagra for gringos and mexigringos … Tijuas  of sixth street and drugs and weed and Zacazonapan  and carte blanche. Tj, tj in rituali, tía juana,  La Maguana,  cathedral, first street of my north soul. Coahuila  without borders. Cantadito  the accent I sing to you,” Franco writes her hometown. “Tijuas, chola.” 
“They had nothing until we came here,” the corporate psychopaths state as they have the audacity to hold up maquiladoras as philanthropy when “the conditions are deplorable, racist and violent and the employees live to work and only sleep a couple of hours.”  Las maquilas, North America’s sweat shops, teeter on the edge of the border, just enough still-in-Mexico so that no papers are needed to make it into the underside of the American economy, neoliberal swindlerism at its best. As far as most migrants ever get. Las maquilas, those no-man’s lands made by white men where none go except to reap the rewards of their egocentric charity, a liminal-land of predominantly Third World woman where small fingers make for faster work. The space of almost-there-and-never-will-be.
“You go home with your few dollars,”  says Franco, “Like my mother, my aunts, my grandmother, the ones who came before me and the ones with me now.”
“Migrants are the slaves of the maquilas,” Franco told me. “Who would work in these factories? Try to support a family. That’s it. Perhaps it’s another way to exterminate the migrant.”
“You would be nothing without us,” the corporation/psychopath defends. “You belong to us.” [15 ]
“Tijuana makes me crazy….
Cynthia Franco: “We live between hills. … the horizon crosses nowhere.” Between Mexico and the U.S, the Spanish frontera and the English frontier etymologically overlap as they semantically separate. The English frontier is a wide-open space of opportunity, typified by the ‘wild’ west of colonial times where European imperialists exterminated and corralled the Indigenous in order to create their white supremacist nation-state. On the other side, both linguistically and literally, the Spanish frontera denotes a world where opportunity is chopped in half by its imaginary line.
Sayak Valencia: “La línea never frees itself from the metallic serpent on either side. [Tijuana is] a leaving and a staying at the same time.” As the frontier and la frontera speak to one another in a language of inequality at the rate of over 200,000 people per day —the border is connected by its divisiveness.
With over 3,000 predominantly foreign owned maquiladoras lining the Mexican/US border, la frontera is a factory of institutionalized separation. Since the signing of NAFTA in 1994 and the deregulation of trade between Canada, the US and Mexico, the global economy has flowed freely back and forth across the line, from the Mexican production to the First World consumer making the Third World what Valencia calls “Spare-Part-Factory-Countries.”  Ironically, the south manufactures the consumer goods that hack up human connection and empathy in the industrialized north. Inversions of dismemberment: in the Third World, chopped up bodies; in the First, chopped up emotional lives.  The ferocious logic of neoliberalism isn’t good for anyone. Rooted in decades of integrated division between the have/have-not/have-not/have ad infinitum, the cross-border relationship is as interwoven into the culture/s as the fabric that many of the maquiladoras produce. And, as in all contexts of exploitation, women are the most vulnerable. Race, gender and access to opportunity divides and femicide sears along the border as Mexican and migrant women workers, going to and from the factories early in the morning and late at night, are literally separated from their own lives. 
And yet, Cynthia Franco sings, “a cold mist … reminds us of our strength.”
Salvia is a Mexican plant that is known as the sage of the diviners. It has transient psychoactive properties and the leaves contain opioid-like compounds that induce hallucinations. In Cynthia Franco’s rituals of Animal of the Salvia, the poet/performer re-imagines transience not as a migration made of fraudulent hope, but rather as an infinite interaction between the interconnectedness of plant/animal/human/body/soul. For Franco, the economic back and forth across the border inscribes the surface with injustice, but it will never reach deep enough to truly scathe the divinity that is, through our ancestors, “long, as our sorrows and rivers/ long, as our ancient souls.” Re-imagining the world, her work confronts the Tijuana where “[e]verything that enters or leaves the city comes from two parts [and] everything leaves in two parts.”  Franco’s poetry/performance transgresses the fronteras by re-connecting what has been chopped a part. “Tijuana makes me crazy,” Franco told me. “It makes me want to join languages, to connect borders.”
In the first line of Vulva Me in Your Desert, the poet summons: “Little garambullo  leaf, give me a spike.” With this prick from an indigenous cactus, the boundary between inside and outside are broken through. The poet/diviner is climbed as a mountain by the garambullo spike that is her initiation and, as in a hallucination that is birthed by a transforming reality, she is “your river mist and you are her citrus nest.” It becomes blurred as to which you is which—and this is precisely the point—as “rosemary smudges and liberates the secrets.” Dream to Conjure the Soul is the concluding ritual of this series of three, an ending that has initiated a new language where it is possible for “you [to] bark in every pore of my roots.” Dream knitters all; rationalism is defied and the poet is carried by her poems that “carry [us] into the uncertainty,” the light, that has always been with her. And us.
In 1975, at the peak of the Feminist Second Wave, French feminist Hélène Cixous wrote: “[w]omen must write for her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies.”  In 2020, in a culture where gender violence is an epidemic, “the construction of the Mexican nation [is] based on machismo and the violence implied by that connection.”  Cynthia Franco told me how women’s sexuality as the sexuality of women for women that exists outside of the patriarchal pre-requisites of pleasing the male is very oppressed. “It is taboo,” she said. In Mexico, female sexuality is under siege by a culture of extreme sexism that is a direct product of what Valencia calls “damaged machos looking to avenge their honor and protect their territory.”  This male has been disempowered by having been born on the exploited side of the border and he “utilize[s] violence as a tool of empowerment” resulting in what Sayak Valencia calls necro-empowerment.  There is no absolute individualism; everything is connected. From neoliberal predation to male disempowerment to gender violence—separations breed what doesn’t have to be true.
Like the feminists of the Second Wave in France who wrote through their bodies as acts of différence, Franco’s poetic performances are continuations of this need, one that is particularly acute in a nation where approximately twelve women a day are murdered by their male partners.  Franco’s writing through her body subverts in order to transcend gender and confound the binaric language of patriarchy. Writing from a culture where machismo defines the national identity,  her erotic rituals are not only acts of gender revolution, but also of nation.
Franco’s performative rituals overflow the self. Cixous called for women to write erotogeneity, eroticism that generates, produces and yields. Franco’s calling builds upon the desire of the Second Wave Feminists as she writes through an eros that “open[s] yourself, labia by labia, [to] vulva’s spring.” It matters not who is the ‘you’ as the calling “fructif[ies] what you touch like my hand on your ridges.” The plurality of ‘your’ touch and ‘mine’ are interwoven and fruit is borne from topography enfleshed “phalangeal,” as the joints of fingers “slip … solar away in each plexus of your shadow.” Touch, never still, is light that travels through a network of nerves, blood vessels and back again—from without, below and beyond culture.
This practice, writes Cixous, extraordinarily rich and inventive, in particular concerns masturbation. Franco, the poet as masturbator, celebrates the “Supercunt! Stoked vulva of light, water and honey.” This practice is prolonged and accompanied by a production of forms. Franco “sing[s] air’s memories” and births a menstrual mountain that “salivate[s] between my legs.” A veritable aesthetic activity, each stage of rapture inscribing a resonant vision. Franco fuses her soul/flesh. Unlike the Christian soul that is separate from the body and will be united only after death, after the disappearance of the flesh, Franco writes her soul as the seed of her childbirth, her true voice, the life breath that is implanted within her living, sexual, being.  She calls upon her Soul: “Come, balsam-me with your silent sap/ Come, mist me on my mountain range/ Come, vibrate in my breast/ Come, pinch the tip of my flower, spread your hand between my legs.” The soul is the body; the body is the soul, a writing/living caesura that is immersed in one another until otherness ceases to exist. Beauty will no longer be forbidden, proclaims Cixous. “[A]nd, ah, the way you swing me,” Franco sings.
As the poet coils between her lines and around her stanzas, Valencia’s metal serpent of la frontera is liberated; as the performer dreams to conjure the soul, she writes in a language beyond lexical speech. “Coil me as you growl in a tongue without words,” she opens herself and writes language as non, one that subverts the patriarchal rationalism that is able to make exploitation reasonable. In 1975, in The Laugh of the Medusa, Cixous “wished that women would write and proclaim: I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires.” In 2020, Franco fulfills Cixous’ wish: she writhes a beyond and before language, “spread[ing] your sweetness over labia majora” and the ancestors “speak a language mixed with/ tears in salsa macha/ rage in molajete/ drowned howls in chiles poblanos.” “Come, instinct, here you are, I know,” declares Franco and her body knows unheard of songs, echoes Cixous.
But don’t get me wrong. All is not bliss. How could it be when the quest for individual/consumer happiness is the reason the world is in such a mess? As Franco writes women intertwined with the All of existence, the inevitability of grief and survival is a part of eroticism: pain is never separate from joy. The ancestors are “[p]ure, without pretense, and with crest-fallen eyes,” their purity is a part of melancholy’s immanence. In “Dream to Conjure the Soul,” the poet “remember[s] [her] desires that do not hinder hunger.” Desire is alive in the impossibility of ever being fully satisfied as “[a] vine … moves among my moles at the infinite hour of the whimper” and “we eroticize ourselves, bewitched by the heat of the full moon/ our hair grows as melancholy braids.”
Cixous writes: “She alone dares and wishes to know from within, where she, as outcast, has never ceased to hear the resonance of fore-language. She lets the other language speak—the language of 1,000 tongues which knows neither enclosures nor death. To life she refuses nothing. Her language does not contain, it carries; it does not hold back, it makes possible.” 
Franco told me: “Women, Trans women and men are visionaries through suffering. Through their Third World subjectivity, there is a double pain: pain from economic deprivation and pain from the violence of machismo that is a result of an uneven distribution of well-being in a now firmly globalized world.” Ironically, there is wisdom that comes with lived knowledge of grief, with being acquainted with the void. The experiences of the edge takes the knowledge derived from oppression into a “Third-Worldized”  realm of wisdom.
For those who know the edges of exploitation, for those who are not put to sleep by the ability to have what they are promised and be paralysed by that privilege, for those who know that greed is not the only way because it’s “the way it has always been” and there is nothing I can do but lick my lips with the insatiable lust of never enough, reality is obvious. When you do not have the “freedom that is constituted as the power to deprive the other,” the exploited are literate in the ferocious logic of neoliberalism. 
“They had nothing before we came here,” the language of reason insists.
“Tijuana is nothing,” repeats Franco. But when one has experienced nothing, when one has skimmed the void and not fully fallen, there is wisdom. We speak for those who have, for those who are yet to, in a language that defies the taker. The void is filled with everything. 
We come back to the beginning: “here we are: made of a volcano wrapped in hoja de aguacate … [l]ittle black vulva, giver of life… Ancient mother, jungle, igneous/ Alma … Since morras”—the foundation of resistance and life. 
At the end of our interview, I asked Cynthia Franco how the lived experiences of her ancestors both affect and motivate her work:
My mother and aunts and grandmother’s affect my performance and poetry because it is the wound that is my inspiration. My body is in my memory. When I recite, I try to be the bodies and the pain of my ancestors. I want to heal them with my poetry and maybe they will heal me. When I perform, my stanzas howl the border. I scream the disappearances. This is how I make art.
“We resist and, because of that, we are beautiful—we are still human.” Álvaro Enrigue.
 Sayak Valencia Gore Capitalism. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e) Intervention Series 24, 2018: 24.
 Ibid: 15;16.
 If not otherwise noted, all quotes are from the series of poems by Cynthia Franco published in Vigilance: Fierce Feminisms Magazine in 2020, Animal de Salvia.
 In Hélène Cixous’ landmark feminist essay “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975), she writes: “Now women from afar, from always: from ‘without,’ from the heath where witches are kept alive; from below, from beyond ‘culture’; from their childhood which men have been trying desperately to make them forget, condemning it to ‘eternal rest.’ The little girls and their ‘ill-mannered’ bodies immured …. Frigidified. But are they ever seething underneath.” Quoted in Modern Feminisms: Political Literary Cultural. Maggie Human, editor. New York: Columbia University Press: 1992, 198.
 In The New Corporation: An Unfortunately Necessary Sequel (2020), directors Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan build on their first documentary, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power (2004) where a corporation is shown to have the power of a person. The film asks, what kind of person is the corporation? Basing their research on the World Health Organization ICD-10 Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-1V, the film goes through the personality diagnostic checklist for a psychopath: 1. A callous unconcern for the feelings of others. 2. An incapacity to maintain enduring relationships; a reckless disregard for the safety of others. 3. Deceitfulness, repeated lying and conning of others for profit. 4. An incapacity to experience guilt. 5. A failure to conform to societal norms with respect to lawful behaviours. In the sequel, unfortunately, the corporation, having achieved a horrifying level of deregulation of the global market over the last 21 years, has more power than national governments. Ironically, in keeping with the development of the corporations control of the world, another personality trait has been added to the World Health Organization Checklist: the use of seduction, charm, glibness, to ingratiation to achieve ones ends.”
 Tijuas/TJ: the people of Tijuana.
 Zacazonapan: a bar where artists and activists gather.
 Urban legend … states that in the mid-19th Century, Tía Juana, which means Aunt Jane in Spanish, was a real person whose inn provided food and lodging to travelers. There is however no record of such an inn; in fact the first building in the area was built by Argüello in any case, after naming his ranch Rancho Tía Juana. http://184.108.40.206/poi/29772/Tijuana.html
 Coahuila: the name of a street in the north of the Tijuana (the closest part to the US border) which is the main prostitute stroll in red zone.
 Cantadito: the Tijuana dialect.
 Chola: in some parts of Latin America, a woman of Indigenous or partly Indigenous ancestry. Informal in the US: a young woman belonging to a Mexican American urban subculture who is associated with drug gangs.
 Cynthia Franco and Karen Moe interview November 2020 about the experiences of her mother, aunts and grandmother working in the maquiladoras on the Mexican/US border.
 “Until 2019, maquiladora workers earned the legal minimum wage in Mexico of the equivalent U.S. $4-5 per day. After Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manual López Obrador, took office in late 2018, he met his campaign promise to double the legal minimum wage to U.S. $9 per day. As is no doubt clear, there is structured violence that impoverishes women (and men).” It is painfully obvious that, even though the wage for a 10-12 hour work-day was raised from $4-5 to $9 U.S. per day, the fact that any factory owner who claims to be a human being could commit such an economic atrocity is a reality that is virtually unthinkable. And, to add to this horrifying example of exploitation of the third world by the first, “[w]ith such low wages, workers barely make enough money to make ends meet, leaving them without any savings or hopes of leaving the maquila one day. Generally the salary of one person is not enough to sustain a family of 2-3, thus many children are forced to enter the maquila sector to help out their families. While child labor is outlawed, children as young as 11-12 still make their way into the maquila with false identification.” The “more than one million Mexicans working in over 3,000 maquiladora manufacturing or export assembly plants in northern Mexico,” are inter-generationally trapped in the neoliberal cycle of abuse. https://whistleblower.org/in-the-news/hiplatina-murder-at-the-border-how-the-u-s-mexico-turn-a-blind-eye-to-femicide;
https://whistleblower.org/in-the-news/hiplatina-murder-at-the-border-how-the-u-s-mexico-turn-a-blind-eye-to-femicide/; https://maquiladoras-educateyourself.weebly.com/wages.html; https://www.thoughtco.com/maquiladoras-in-mexico-1435789
 Based on the experiences of her female relatives, Cynthia Franco told me how: from the point of view of the First World owned Maquiladoras there is the idea of “you belong to us.”
 Valencia: 84
 “In the industrialized world, except in severe cases of neglect or dire poverty, the baseline nutritional and shelter needs are usually satisfied. The third prime necessity [for healthy brain development]—emotional nurture—is the one most likely to be disrupted in Western societies. Dr Gabor Maté In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Toronto: Penguin Random House Canada/ Vintage Canada, 2008; 2018: 185.
In the US, the dismantling of the extended family in the 1950s with the rise of consumer capitalism is the direct cause of “[p]eople with an individualistic mind-set [who] tend to be less willing to sacrifice self for family”—not to mention anyone else. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-nuclear-family-was-a-mistake/605536/
 Valencia: 17.
 A cactus leaf
 Cixous: 196.
 Valencia: 54.
 Ibid: 55.
 Ibid: 134; Valencia uses the term ‘necro-empowerment’ throughout her book Gore Capitalism when analysing the psyche of the endriago subject.
 See my article: “A Life of a Woman is more Important than an Historical Monument” for a detailed account of the femicide epidemic in Mexico. https://www.vigilancemagazine.com/post/life-of-a-woman
 Valencia: 54-55.
 Interview between Cynthia Franco and Karen Moe November 2020.
 Cixous: 197.
 Ibid: 202.
 Valencia: 37.
 Ibid: 106.
 Even though I am a privileged member of the first world, as a survivor and victim of abduction and sexual assaults, I am including myself in this ‘we’—and the paradoxical wisdom, ferocity and resistance I paradoxically gained from these experiences. My forth-coming book, Victim: A Manifesto, focuses on these personal experiences and revolutionary phenomenon.
About the artists:
Cynthia Franco was born in Tijuana. Migrant. Magician. Poet. Performer. Major in Communication. Teacher and maker of Spoken Word. Manager and Master of Ceremonies. Member of the Association of Writers of Mexico, National Poetry Slam MX and Centro Transdisciplinario Poesía y Trayecto AC. She has worked with children, youth, women and new creators. She published her book Hatsi at Astrolabio Ediciones y Libros del Cardo de Chile in 2017. She has presented her work throughout Mexico and in Havana, Cuba. She coordinated community projects such as Haz un libro y haz barrio, Lleve sus poemas por kilo y calientitos, Petra la Barriobocina, among others. She is part of the Rapquimia project: Feminist Rap together with Masta Quba and Marie V. She coordinates the projects with a gender focus, exploration of the voice, dance and multidisciplinary transits: Combative Voices and Calendulas Canela.
Karen Moe is a writer, visual and performance artist and a feminist activist. She has been published in such magazines as Border Crossings, ArtSpace, WhiteHot and Revista 192. She is the editor and founder of the magazine Vigilance: Fierce Feminisms. Karen has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico and has just finished her first book, Victim: a Manifesto that will be published in Fall 2021. Karen lives in Mexico City. http://www.karenmoe.net/