rio grande

Pig Iron on the Edge: Border Signs are a Poetic Dare

Sohrab Haghverdi is among the UArts/MFA students who traveled to the Southern border in March of 2019 to observe the edges of America and the people that live their lives there. Below, he describes confronting the physical border and in turn, his own fear.

At some point in the last year I decided to sit with my fears eye to eye, listen to them, ask them questions, and convince them that the level of adrenaline in my blood or traumatic scars from past experiences can no longer dictate the scale of the possibilities that life offers me. If I remember correctly this self-dialogue happened in the first 30 seconds that I had ever gotten to stand on my hands. Since then looking at the world upside down is the mental checkpoint I remind myself of whenever I encounter fear.

Ten of us are walking up the trail that someone had found on a biking website. A few minutes into our journey, there is a big, red warning sign prohibiting any trespassers. Perhaps for most people a big, red sign stating “violators will be prosecuted” is the last and only sign they need to stop their journey or at least find a less threatening detour. For me and my co-travelers, however, it is a poetic dare.  Red signs and roadblocks are no strangers to artists who every week are tasked to create theatre from scratch. I have learned moments of inspiration require the artist a fee. The price that one should be willing to pay if one desires such authentic experience that eventually allows for a rigorous creation journey.

We continue marching up the trail, past the sign, and even though each step carried with it an amount of adrenaline infused excitement the bike-tire traces on the ground kept us convinced that perhaps we should continue. It was about 20 minutes into our journey that we encountered an even more serious warning sign, a metal gate with the sign “state patrol only- DON’T ENTER”. We continue walking as now warning signs are feeding our curiosity even more and inadvertently giving us all the reasons to keep moving forward. After all we came all the way down here to explore a more tangible dimension of what it means to cross whether the border solely exists intellectually in our mind or it has found a way into the material reality. And so in this case the US border patrol had given us all the motivation a theatre artist needs to keep going, to explore what fear will ask you not to touch.

The risk of crossing borders, visible or invisible include many things you could lose. Perhaps at times logic defies every reason to take a step further ahead. But honestly if you don’t learn to cross, how will you come to realize somewhere in Laredo, TX there is a biking trail that if you walk into, after just about 30 minutes, if you get lucky and don’t lose the battle to all the fear red, big, warning signs invoke, you will get to see the most incredible view of the Rio Grande river, and listen to the most magical silence, louder than the shrieking anxiety alerts your mind and body senses at every encounter with fear.