To Misunderstand Mariachi Music
The first mistake is to try to understand.
If you must, remember first the land
and then the people.
Breathe the dryness of its sand.
A top-soil of rock and the stingy wisp
of volcanic earth declare
why Tlaloc, the rain god, is supreme:
cough from the dust of the land
gives birth to its songs.
El díos viejito, the old little god,
lurches and staggers, humpbacked,
toothless, lame and drunk;
another scorpion darting along the desert
struggling to survive under the sun
and among the cholla. His walk
gives rhythms to the music.
The mariachis romance a past and do not live their music.
The charro costumes with curlicues of embroidery
on black felt and their tight tight fit
give the lie to these vaqueros who finger violins
but cannot cinch saddles or fling lariats.
These counterfeits have mounted only caballos
that chew pesos and guzzle Petrolina.
They cheer for the Lakers or the Spurs
and do not know a Gila monster from a yucca plant.
Singing corridos waves away the smog
of modern-day Tenochtitlán in the Valley of the Sun;
sequins and silver buckles replace
the weary white of the compesinos, those peónes
who dream of fondling the breasts of the patrón's daughters,
and instead clutch splinters and hoes, hunched over
under the sun to scrape false promises on the barren ejidos.
The stout musicians in La Zona Rosa,
those with the soft fingers of priests,
have never wielded a machete
and have never worn huaraches.
Their compañeros, the urban tuberculars
with el SIDA, have never labored on a hacienda;
their acquaintance with the land, with glyphs,
the Other World and tigres remains,
like their command of ancestral Nahuatl,
and, like their myths, buried beneath
the smoking mountain of Popocatepetl.
The music is loud always,
as the pain of living Mexicano,
cannot be smothered into silence
nor even coerced toward temperance;
and, ¡claro que sí!, that wail struggles against
the red, white and green birth-caul
that suffocates the life that it itself delivers.
The wordless male falsetto tone ascends high
(the highness of pitch as revered as virginity in a young woman)
and with an astounding purity, such purity
to cause time to halt and sorrow to drown,
like the last cry of a tortured angel,
as clarín (always louder), violins and tenor fight
with each other for supremacy, all wishing to displace
the magüey worm from its divine preservative
and the cause of its demise.
The intonation at any one time,
like the promise of death
and the wealth of narcos, is certain;
like a mescal dream, like the politics of pistoleros
also fierce, demanding, urgent.
The struggle among the parties
makes it approximate, unpredictable, contested;
like the ensemble, never agreed upon,
indeterminate, each time different,
varying according to custom, quirk,
marijuana, inspiration, madness,
degree of deafness or desperation.