translated by Sasha Pimentel

The girls in Perth Amboy
add to the wind
their small tears
to loosen the torment.

I remember 
the first time
on these grounds,
the mailbox, the snow,
your coupon book,
English class,
the smell of neglect
in the hallways.

the liminal sickness
of sidewalks.
The cold
at the corners of lips,
above the machines,
the counter
and vital signs,

the deep root of rage,
sowing what is solid
into the lawn,
heightening the rose’s stem,
and from your own kindness.

But I think,
dear Beth,
it must be true
that before us
was another tribe of wanderers,
shepherds of loss

these girls
in Perth Amboy
shaking the bedsheet,
cursing the weather,
their many errands,
and climbing regularly
the erect hill
of ire,
daily goddess,
the first language
we learned here,
our great, unexpected possession.

I ask myself
dear Beth,
is this bright, 
hard, polished stone of rage
the land that we were promised?


Querida Beth


Las muchachas en Perth Amboy
agregan al viento
sus minúsculas lágrimas
para desatar la tormenta.

la primera vez de todo
en este predio:
el buzón, la nieve
tu libro de cupones
la clase de inglés,
el olor a desamparo
en los pasillos.

el Invierno,
la enfermedad liminal 
de las aceras.
El frío,
en la comisura de los labios,
arriba de las máquinas,
del mostrador
y de los signos vitales,

El frío 
La raíz profunda de la rabia,
sembrando lo sólido en la grama
arreciando el tallo de la rosa
y de tu propia bondad.

Pero pienso, 
querida Beth,
que debe ser cierto 
que antes de nosotras
hubo otra peregrina tribu 
pastora de la pérdida

esas muchachas 
en Perth Amboy
sacudiendo la sábana
desdiciendo del clima,
de sus muchos oficios 
y subiendo regularmente 
la colina erguida
de la ira,
diosa matutina, 
la primera lengua que 
aprendimos aquí, 
nuestra gran posesión inesperada.

Yo me pregunto
querida Beth 
¿es esta recia
lustrosa piedra pulida de la rabia 
la tierra que nos prometieron?

Copyright © 2021 by Andrea Cote-Botero. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 11, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

These are times when judicial proceedings would do well to include a linguist, a forensic linguist...
            —El País, Catalan Edition, 27 March 2018

A foreigner, I walk Barcelona breathless, marveling
at files of school children laughing, chatting as teachers
shepherd them in Catalan, at street signs in the same
language, at elderly men and elderly women on benches
or peering down from balconies, once shamed or worse
for speaking this, their heart language, gossiping now
in short words ending in plosives, in fricative zh´s
and sh´s not found in Spanish,

all in my lifetime, and I think how
language is fragile, how a breath
could leave a sentence and not return,

because this morning I scrolled down the news,
past the headlines of politicians imprisoned,
of the ex-president detained, no violence needed,
behind him the bloody wipe of fingers
on the gold shield that is the Catalan flag,
scrolled past the photos of multitudes in the streets,
on the highways, the students, the grandmothers,
the professionals, of baton-swinging police,

down to the bottom, to the story of the last
professor of Phoenician language in Spain.
She’s 67, has taught at the University of Barcelona
for 43 years, since Franco died. Phoenicians
settled the coast of Catalonia, wrote early pages
of the Catalan story, and when she retires,
their words will dissipate back out to sea.

An empty desk the final straw,
but where does the death of a language begin?
            A law?              A jail?               A baton?

When I began Catalan, I didn’t know
learning a language is a political act.
How can I not be changed once I'm able to speak
of rauxa and seny, words of Catalan character,
no equivalent in the language of Cervantes,
of my Southern mother, my Midwestern father?
Maybe I had always been waiting
to hear these words, waiting since Casals´
cello sang Bach to me, waiting since, as a child,
Dali shocked me, The Persistence of Memory,
not knowing those golden cliffs were the coast
of Catalonia, not knowing the other language,
before art, before sonatas or oils, was Catalan.

Who is waiting today, waiting without knowing
they are waiting, to hear a word in Phoenician,
a word now lost forever, drifted back to sea?

Copyright © 2021 by Sandra Gustin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 22, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.