translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
I’ve spent a whole afternoon looking at photographs.
I’ve accumulated so many in my life—
but there are two in particular that interest me.
Both are sepia by now, I don’t know where
they were taken, and I’m not in either of them.
The first is a classic composition
of nine people. My mother’s family.
My grandparents, two uncles, four aunts,
and a woman I don’t know or have forgotten.
The women sit on the ground,
the men stand behind them
except for my Aunt Aura, who holds onto
my grandfather with one hand and with the other
caresses my uncle’s shoulder.
Even in this photo of her when she was young—caramel skin,
dark eyes, dark hair, even more beautiful through the sepia,
and wearing a two-piece bathing suit:
the same as a bikini in the 1940s—
one could guess at her boldness.
They’re all in bathing suits and most
try their best smiles.
I don’t know who took this picture,
and studying their faces, I try to see
what they were thinking, what they hoped for from their lives.
My grandmother, despite her twelve children
(or perhaps because of them), smiles
from right to left, like a giant sunflower.
My grandfather seems to contemplate the infinite, as handsome
as a gray ox; and my Aunt Emilia in her braids
seems to sense the sadness of life.
I’m sure I wasn’t born yet.
But even if I were already an adult,
could I have helped them with what I know now
about their lives? Could I have predicted their successes,
their failures—could I have prophesied their deaths?
Their slender, healthy bodies.
the men with the look of swordsmen—
I feel nostalgia when I look at this photograph.
So much energy in their stance!
When did they stop boxing with life?
In which round did they concede defeat?
When did the sound of the bell make them sense the immutable?
There’s no way to take them out of the snapshot,
to know what they were thinking just then.
This is my past, these are my roots,
but as I look at it again on this rainy afternoon,
why can’t I arrange everything into a coherent scene?
He estado toda una tarde estudiando las fotos.
He acumulado tantas en mi vida—
pero hay dos particularmente que me interesan.
Ambas son ahora color sepia, y no sé dónde
fueron tomadas y yo no estoy en ninguna de ellas.
La primera foto es una composición clásica
de nueve personas. Esta es la familia de mi madre.
Mis abuelos, dos tíos, cuatro tías
y una mujer que desconozco o he olvidado.
Las mujeres están sentadas en el suelo,
los hombres de pies detrás de ellas
excepto por mi tía Aura, quien con una mano
agarra a mi abuelo y con la otra
acaricia el hombro de mi tío.
Ya en esta foto de juventud—piel color caramelo,
ojos y cabellos oscuros, más hermosos sobre el sepia—
(vestida con traje de baño de dos piezas:
el equivalente de un bikini en los años cuarenta)
uno podría deducir su naturaleza intrépida.
Todos están en trajes de baño y la mayoría
trata de sonreír de la mejor manera.
Yo no sé quién tomó esta foto,
y escrutando estos rostros, trato de averiguar
qué pensaban ellos, qué esperaban de sus existencias.
Mi abuela, a pesar de sus doce hijos
(o tal vez a causa de ello), sonríe
de derecha a izquierda, como un girasol gigante.
Mi abuelo parece escrutar al infinito, hermoso
como un buey gris; y mi tía Emilia, con sus trenzas,
parece intuir la tristeza de la vida.
Estoy seguro que para esa época yo no había nacido.
Pero aún si ya hubiera sido adulto,
¿podría ayudarlos con el conocimiento que ahora tengo
de sus vidas? ¿Podría haberlos prevenido de sus éxitos,
de sus fracasos—podría haber profetizado sus muertes?
De cuerpos esbeltos y sanos,
los hombres con sus figuras de esgrimistas—
siento nostalgia al mirar esta foto.
¡Cuánta energía irradia de sus poses!
¿En qué momento dejaron de boxear con la vida?
¿En qué asalto se dieron por vencidos;
en cuál campanada intuyeron lo inmutable?
No hay nada qué pueda hacer para sacarlos de esta foto,
ni para saber qué pensaban ellos en ese instante.
Éste es mi pasado, éstas mis raíces,
pero al revisarlo en esta tarde lluviosa
¿por qué no logro organizarlo en una escena coherente?
From My Night with / Mi noche con Federíco García Lorca by Jaime Manrique. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2003 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved.
me and you be sisters.
we be the same.
me and you
coming from the same place.
me and you
be greasing our legs
touching up our edges.
me and you
be scared of rats
be stepping on roaches.
me and you
come running high down purdy street one time
and mama laugh and shake her head at
me and you.
me and you
let our hair go back
be loving ourselves
be loving ourselves
only where you sing,
From Next: New Poems by Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1989 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with permission of BOA Editions Ltd. All rights reserved.
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
“Remember.” Copyright © 1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
The river is famous to the fish. The loud voice is famous to silence, which knew it would inherit the earth before anybody said so. The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds watching him from the birdhouse. The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek. The idea you carry close to your bosom is famous to your bosom. The boot is famous to the earth, more famous than the dress shoe, which is famous only to floors. The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it and not at all famous to the one who is pictured. I want to be famous to shuffling men who smile while crossing streets, sticky children in grocery lines, famous as the one who smiled back. I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.
From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. Copyright © 1995. Reprinted with permission of Far Corner Books, Portland, OR.
This is the word that is always bleeding.
You didn't think this
until your country changes and when it thunders
you search your own body
for a missing hand or leg.
In one country, there are no bodies shown,
lies are told
and they keep hidden the weeping children on dusty streets.
But I do remember once
a woman and a child in beautiful blue clothing
walking over a dune, spreading a green cloth,
drinking nectar with mint and laughing
beneath a sky of clouds from the river
near the true garden of Eden.
Now another country is breaking
this holy vessel
where stone has old stories
and the fire creates clarity in the eyes of a child
who will turn it to hate one day.
We are so used to it now,
this country where we do not love enough,
that country where they do not love enough,
We do not need a god by any name
nor do we need to fall to our knees or cover ourselves,
enter a church or a river,
only do we need to remember what we do
to one another, it is so fierce
what any of our fathers may do to a child
what any of our brothers or sisters do to nonbelievers,
how we try to discover who is guilty
by becoming guilty,
because history has continued
to open the veins of the world
more and more
always in its search
for something gold.
Copyright © 2016 by Linda Hogan. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
This poem is in the public domain.