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Emerging: The Poetry of Dr. Rosa Sierra

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

by Dr. Rosa Sierra

"Nepantlera - those of us living in the borderlands of different cultures and locations, of events and realities"

Dr. Rosa Sierra is a disabled Chicana psychotherapist living in Canada who has written and taught in the academic and clinical worlds for about 15 years. She comes from a place of generational and childhood trauma and poverty rooted in family and societal dysfunction, and adds that "the writings I've done that are closer to the heart of my lived experiences have been much harder for me to share".

Close-up of a cicada emerging from it's browned shed skin as a fresh green insect. In the background, past the ledge, iis a light brown brick wall and a black metal decorative mount of a 2D moose.
Exoskeleton (2017, Rosa Sierra)

Exoskeleton is a photo of an emerging cicada I took in 2017 at one of my former homes in rural Texas. These suckers are everywhere and they provide the cyclic background hum of searing hot southern summers. They're both comforting and unnerving.

They wait 17 years to emerge and spend their short lifespans screaming, screwing, and consuming. Then they leave a mess of empty shells behind. I think of cicadas a lot when I think of Texas, Texans, and Americans in general. The metal moose, which comes apart in fragments, and the webs are also infused with meaning.


Cuentame sobre tu papa...

A tiny mountain village in Michoacán

Where steep cliffside roads have no guardrails

A boy's spirit twisted by machismo, drink,

and unfathomable horror visited upon an innocent heart

Sad hope soaring high above in notes of corridos

Sinking down, inhaled deep

as the hot, heavy air of pulquerias


Exhaled hundreds of miles north

as the choking stench of beer breath

Fueling the generational transmission

of colonial destruction

Mama sleeping with one eye open

The gun under your pillow

The guns smuggled across

Your coyote career

Your stint in Leavenworth

Watching you fade to white on the offenders’ list

My own dark eyes gaze back.

On a frozen night in a Valdez pub

My friend asks, "Sierra Leone,

Are you running to something or away from it?"

All melts into a sickening swirl

Of blinding sun and snow

Voices shrink into a soft, unified whisper

A life away, I hear myself answer


¿Por que no los dos?

As I caress the dead boy's hand


Cuentame is a reflection on a few of the recollections, family stories, and lived experiences that I revisit often as I make meaning of my existence as a nepantlera, the term queer Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldua used to refer to those of us living in and guiding others through the borderlands of "overlapping and layered spaces of different cultures and social and geographic locations, of events and realities--psychological, sociological, political, spiritual, historical, creative, imagined." This space resists the jingoistic white supremacy of American exceptionalism and hypercapitalism and thus confronts nepantleras with continuous arrebatos (earthquakes) revealing ruptures between surface and depth, indigeneity and colonialism, healer and destroyer - all held within.

Cuentame is one expression of my countless efforts to piece together Coyolxauhqui - create new meaning and home from the pieces scattered about post-quake - in light of the layered colonialist abuses creating and maintaining poverty, addiction, machismo, and mental agony on both sides of the US/Mexican border and stretching to Canada where I now seek repose.



My inheritance is a body

Electrified with multitudes of softly radiating neon sorrows

A comforting beacon for sad ghosts y almas afines

In need of understanding and expression

Who am I to refuse this privilege?

I wake and feel them wrapped around my bones

Filling my lungs, overflowing my eyes

Soft blankets and smoke

Black coffee and ocean rain


F33.3/296.34 is along these same lines but more centered on my own experience as a psychotherapist with what our healthcare system calls major depressive disorder compelled to frame psychological struggles to make sense of the world in pathologizing terms in service of the profit-driven US healthcare system.

F33.3 is the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) billing code for Major Depressive Disorder, Severe, Recurrent with Psychotic Symptoms and 296.34 is, likewise, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Ed. (DSM-5) diagnostic code for the same constellation of symptoms. It's a brief meditation on ableism, reductionism, and the systematic pathologization of indigenous ways of knowing in the form of seemingly-innocuous medical billing codes.


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