FOLIO : : Excavation // R Goring

Curator's Note:

Given the complex nature of R Goring's relationship across places and cultures, and her desire to participate in just and equitable representation, I asked her if I could share some of her personal story for the sake of context and clarity:

R Goring's parents became missionaries and moved her and the rest of their children from Kansas to Colombia when she was six. She lived for most of her schooling years in a strange but rich in-betweenness: homeschooled or taking correspondence courses with US texts, reading voraciously in English, but forming close friendships and having adventures with Colombian peers, including first boyfriends, and learning to sing and play Latin American pop and folk songs after she was given a guitar for her fifteenth birthday.

She adopted her first child from Colombia but has lived her adult life in the US, working mostly as a book and magazine editor. Some great antiracism training during her years of campus ministry primed her for an opportunity to return to Colombia for a few months in 2003, giving protective international accompaniment to two mostly Afro-Colombian communities. Since then she has continued to construct the mobile home of friendship with Colombians, both there and in Chicago, and to learn the history of violence, racism, and social struggle in both her countries.

Now, hear a little more from R Goring's experience through her artistic expression. 


Wall of a lean-to kitchen in Palenque de San Basilio, Colombia, established by escaped Africans--the first free settlement in South America.



: : Arrival

September 1960

Maybe we could crack the coconut by bouncing it
on the sidewalk. Those Miami palms
so tall, this day so hot: we were starting
to learn south. Chrissie’s new front teeth
showed when she laughed. Later,
fresh-braided, we clambered
onto a plane and watched
its propellers spin us through a storm.
Lightning convulsed the night,
our kitten bodies restless and rooting—
but at last I slept, awaking
to climb down wheeled stairs
into the viscous air of Cali: adobe arches,
tiled roofs, horns and motors, horse carts,
fountains. I tasted banana ice cream
and gave the cone to a lame beggar
who flailed and cried out,
“Limosna! For love of the Virgin,
help me!” It was translated for me,
this first ardent shout, a language
that would become mine with its heat,
succulence, entreaties,
its rainstorms and terrible hunger.



These members of an organization for displaced women in the Aguablanca sector of Cali, Colombia, had to flee their homes on the Pacific coast due to threats of violence. Colombia has the highest number of internally displaced people (IDPs) in the world: more than 7 million.


Displaced brothers who have come to live with their uncle in a barrio of Quibdó, Colombia.


: : Shrine

Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared
Medellín, Colombia

Libia has left Angel’s briefs
and shirts in the bottom dresser drawer.
She is used to waking up alone
now, eating her arepa with the radio
for company. The corner store
where she sells pastries and coffee
is populated with neighbors,
and when her daughter calls—
Angel’s daughter—
she holds the phone carefully
like a rosary or a
loaded gun.

Six years ago
she propped an Angel photo
inside the front-hall recess
next to the Virgin’s white skirts.
Coming and going, Libia brushes
fingers against them both.

It was dangerous to be a Quintero:
over the years eight of Angel’s clan—
uncles, cousins, brother—
had vanished. Police
detained them, filed
no record of arrest. At protests
he cried out their names,
and to the high commissioner.

Families of the disappeared
are family to each other, holding
each other’s daily emptiness—one
October night in a restaurant,
with sancocho and dark jokes.
Leaving with Claudia to see her home,
Angel flashed his smile, hugged everyone.
A white car stopped, they
were snatched by shadows.

If he comes back, says Libia, he will need
these shoes.


 Ramira, who had to flee violence in her hometown, San Bernardo del Viento, Colombia, contemplates a ship in Cartagena harbor, modeled after the galleons on which her ancestors made the Middle Passage.


: : Excavation


That last week at home I chewed
inside my cheek—salt stung
almost unbearably.

Once here, I wore a coat
every day for months,
sticking my arms into puffs
of pillowed fabric and moving
down cold streets, detached
as the Virgin of Las Lajas.

For six months I also wore a smile
but now sometimes my skin collapses.
The consul is collecting names.

My welcomers found a car for me.
They do not remember
that in my country gravel
under the pipeline is mixed
with shards of human bone.

My dreams are still full
of ants and wasps,
country buses with rice bags
and chickens and room for one more
perspiring human. Helicopters,
girls waving white towels.
I always visit the same office
crowded with certificates:
an oily man says all is well,
we have put down the disturbance.

There is a miner in my brain
prodding deep strata with a pick.
My mother’s forearm
emerges like a vein of coal,
steady and dark, resting after laundry
against her stomach. I twist
myself in her skirts.

Asilo means refuge
but in my new language it is asylum.