José Emilio Pacheco

Badland: arid, desertlike, inhospitable land: without water or vegetation;

commonly covered by lava.

Francisco J. Santamaria, Dictionary of Mexicanisms


Yesterday the air cleared suddenly

and the mountains were reborn.

Centuries without seeing them. Too long,

only knowing that they were there,

    surrounding us.

Iztacíhuatl—caravan of snow.

    Our Popocatépetl,

    frozen cupola

or crucible of lava in the cavern of a dream.


This was the city of mountains.

From any corner you could see the mountains.

They were so visible you didn’t

notice them. We only truly realized

the mountains existed when

the dust of the dead lake,

industrial wastes, the cruel toxin

from the incessant millions of vehicles,

    the shit in atoms

of the many more millions of the exploited,

brought down an unbreathable curtain

    and the mountains were no more.


can you see the huge blue Ajusco.

It still reigns over the valley

but housing developments, wreckers, and what’s worse


    are doing away with it.

    For a long time

we thought it invulnerable. Now we know

our immense destructive capacity.


When there is no one tree left,

when everything is asphalt or asphyxiation

or badland, stony lifeless ground,

this will once again be the capital of death.


In that instant the volcanoes will born again.

The great cortege of lava will descend from above.

The inert air will be covered by ash.

The sea of fire will wash away the ignominy

and soon become stone.

A plant will sprout among rocks.

When it blooms, perhaps in the desert

od death new life will begin.


Eternally invincible, there they will be fixed—

suns of lava, stars of rage,

impassive deities,

centers of everything in the frightening silence—

axes of the world, the horrible volcanoes.




Pacheco, José Emilio. "Badland." Trans. Linda Scheer. Selected Poems. Eds. George McWhirter and José Emilio Pacheco. New York: New Directions, 1987. pp. 181-82.

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