Bearing the Mask: Southwestern Persona Poems
Scott Wiggerman and Cindy Huyser
Dos Gatos Press
I was drawn to Bearing the Mask, Southwestern Persona Poems for two reasons. The first is that I feel a reverent love for the Southwest. I spend many days each year exploring its canyons, rivers, and wild lands and have had the honor of hearing stories from many of its residents—white, Latina, indigenous. The second is that I feel personally activated by the movement at Standing Rock. It feels both timely and revolutionary to give light to a body of work that illustrates the relationship between people and their homeland with all its beauty and complexity.
This book arrived in my hands at the right time, and I have spent hours sifting through its sandy pages to the great delay of this review. Allowing the roots of these stories to grow through me as I read, to give my best shot at feeling them, I found was not an easy task in the rush of my day-to-day life. Bringing the desert home to the Bay has never been easy, and this book was no different.
I recommend that everyone who wants a first-rate look at what history—and herstory—actually is in this region of the United States and its borderlands should read this book. While its stories begin from the dawn of time and take us to the present, it is not merely a timeline or a synopsis of events. The authors of these stories looked and listened. An operating definition of “community” that I have utilized in my work as a facilitator is “a place where everyone is seen and heard”. By “everyone” I also mean the animals and plants, the wind, the stone, and the waves. With that, the community of the Southwest comes alive in these pages, from the anole and the moth to the Conquistador and the Indian; from the Alamo to the Wing Walker (p. 110) to Wyatt Earp (p. 116).
I had the sensation that I was reading a collection of photographs, each poem a snapshot of a moment in someone’s life. The authors of the poems were like the photographers, projecting the images through their own hands and standing aside to cast the light on their imagined subjects. It is the first book of its kind I have read and the only one of its kind I am aware of.
On page 54, the Chiricahua Apache chief, Cochise, speaks through the poem of Elina Petrova:
I signed this treaty,
yet my heart is not at peace.
I wanted my people to ride free,
straight as lances
where rocks and trees talk with us -
not to crouch like coyotes
cornered in a corral.
I trust general Howard,
but others, whose word
is like paper, come soon
for our silver and copper.
In these stories, I was reminded that we are still telling one, still bearing the mask. This isn’t history—it’s now. There are still the wars, the struggles, and the dire need for basic rights and resources such as water, that defined the people of the Southwest. Will the same greed, fear, and betrayal that murdered a peacemaker like Cochise prevail to define more lives, or can another choice be made? In this book, every individual, regardless of race, religion, or any other form of status are all connected by one thing: the land. Perhaps we should listen to it.
Coccia is an educator, kite-flier, beachcomber, belly laughter,