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.
New Year’s Eve
Two sisters side by side,
benched at the gleaming fin
of the living room’s out-of-tune baby grand,
work out a mash-up, Adele’s “Hello”
& Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights,”
Hello, it’s me. . . , Heathcliff, it’s me, it’s Cathy,
voices by turns treble, then cemetery-dusked,
meandering, & hungry
as the sinew-tracks of moles
sponging December’s yard,
painted mouths of iced puddles,
branchless leaves snaring the window
with inhuman gale.
One swallows this heavy beauty,
rolls the mordent perfume
back to bloom as the other slips out
of autumn’s whalebone stave, descant.
They sing as if still girls. As if before
love’s scarlet evidence, & not, like the year,
the trees, already moved, moved through.
From Orexia. Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Russ Spaar. Reprinted with the permission of Persea Books, Inc. (New York), www.perseabooks.com.
The beauty of one sister
who loved them so
she smuggled the woodlice
into her pockets & then into
the house, after a day’s work
of digging in the yard,
& after the older ones of us
had fed her & washed,
she carried them into
the bed with her, to mother
them, so that they would have
two blankets & be warm, for
this is what she knew of love,
& the beloveds emerged one
by one from their defenses, unfolding
themselves across the bed’s white sheet
like they did over 400 years ago, carried
from that other moonlight,
accidentally, or by children, into
the ship’s dark hold, slowly
adapting to the new rooms
of cloths, then fields, & we,
the elders to that sister,
we, having seen strangers
in our house before, we, being
older, being more ugly & afraid,
we began, then, to teach her the lessons
of dirt & fear.
Copyright © 2015 by Aracelis Girmay. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 28, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
you who once ached
with your own growing larger
absorbed by your own
When I danced,
When you broke,
And so it was lying down,
climbing the tiring stairs.
Your jaws. My bread.
what is left of you,
will be flensed of this marriage.
Angular wristbone's arthritis,
cracked harp of ribcage,
blunt of heel,
opened bowl of the skull,
twin platters of pelvis—
each of you will leave me behind,
at last serene.
What did I know of your days,
I who held you all my life
inside my hands
and thought they were empty?
You who held me all my life
inside your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.
Copyright © 2013 by Jane Hirshfield. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 14, 2013.
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.
Vast and gray, the sky
is a simulacrum
to all but him whose days
are vast and gray, and—
In the tall, dried grasses
a goat stirs
with nozzle searching the ground.
—my head is in the air
but who am I…?
And amazed my heart leaps
at the thought of love
vast and gray
yearning silently over me.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 5, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.
I follow it, the snail of thought
I leave the track, turn off this trail
I crouch in shadows, under ferns
I refuse to answer every bird
I see the liquid glister in its shell
I taste the wind
I smell the smoke of fire in the woods
I hear the crackle of a thousand thorns
I feel the temperature rising
I consider every option valid
I attend each phase
I crumble into wet, black ground
I lose my place in sand and gravel
I listen for the clash of weeds
I wonder where the snail will go today
From New and Collected Poems: 1975-2015 by Jay Parini (Beacon Press, 2016). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.
What remains of my childhood
are the fragmentary visions
of large patios
like an oceanic green mist over the afternoon.
Then, crickets would forge in the wind
their deep music of centuries
and the purple fragrances of Grandmother
always would receive without questions
our return home.
The hammock shivering in the breeze
like the trembling voice of light at dusk,
the unforeseeable future
that would never exist without Mother,
the Tall tales that filled
with their most engaging lunar weight our days
—all those unchangeable things—
were the morning constellations
that we would recognize daily without sadness.
In the tropical days we had no intuition of the winter
nor of autumn, that often returns with pain
in the shadows of this new territory
—like the cold moving through our shivering hands—
that I have learned to accept
in the same way you welcome
the uncertainty of a false and cordial smile.
Those were the days of the solstice
when the wind pushed the smoke from the clay ovens
through the zinc kitchens
and the ancient stone stoves
of the secrets of our barefooted and wise Indian ancestors.
The beautiful, unformed rocks in our hands
that served as detailed toys
seemed to give us the illusion
of fantastic events
that invaded our joyful chants
with infinite color.
It was a life without seasonal pains,
a life without unredeemable time
a life without the somber dark shadows
that have intently translated my life
that slowly move today through my soul.
Todos volvemos al lugar donde nacimos
De mi infancia solo quedan
las visiones fragmentarias
de los patios tendidos
como un naval terciopelo sobre la tarde.
Entonces, los grillos cuajaban sobre el aire
su profunda música de siglos
y las fragancias empurpuradas de la abuela
meciéndose en la noche
siempre recibían sin preguntas nuestra vuelta al hogar.
La hamaca temblando con la brisa,
como la voz trémula del sol en el ocaso;
el futuro imprevisible
que jamás existiría sin la madre;
cargadas de su peso lunar más devorador;
—todas esas cosas inalterables—
eran las constelaciones diurnas que reconocíamos sin tristeza.
Entonces no se intuía el invierno,
ni el otoño que retoña con dolor
entre las sombras de este territorio
—como el frío entre las manos doblegadas—
que hoy he aprendido
de la misma forma en que se acepta
la incertidumbre de una falsa sonrisa.
Eran los días en que el solsticio
acarreaba humaredas polvorientas
por las ventanas de las cocinas de zinc
donde el fogón de barro milenario
el secreto de nuestros ancestros sabios y descalzos.
Las rocas deformes en nuestras manos
la ilusión de eventos fabulosos
que invadían nuestras gargantas de aromas desmedidos.
Era una vida sin dolores estacionales
Vida sin tiempos irredimibles:
Vida sin las puras formas sombrías
que se resbalan hoy lentamente por mi pecho.
From Central America in My Heart / Centroamérica en el corazón. Copyright © 2007, Bilingual Press / Editorial Bilingüe, Arizona State University.
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.
In Greek, amphibian means
“on both sides of life.”
As in: amphibians live
on land and in water.
As in: immigrants leave
lands and cross waters.
While amphibians lay
immigrants give birth
In water, gilled tadpoles
sprout limbs. On land
amphibians develop lungs.
Immigrants develop lungs.
Breathe in pine, fuel
and cold atmosphere.
and slumber deathly.
Their colors brighten.
They’ve been known to fall
out of the sky.
Completely at home
in the rain.
Copyright © 2014 by Joseph O. Legaspi. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.
We travel carrying our words.
We arrive at the ocean.
With our words we are able to speak
of the sounds of thunderous waves.
We speak of how majestic it is,
of the ocean power that gifts us songs.
We sing of our respect
and call it our relative.
Translated into English from O’odham by the poet.
’U’a g T-ñi’okı˘
T-ñi’okı˘ ’att ’an o ’u’akc o hihi
Am ka:ck wui dada.
S-ap ‘am o ’a: mo has ma:s g kiod.
mat ’am ’ed.a betank ’i-gei.
’Am o ’a: mo he’es ’i-ge’ej,
mo hascu wud. i:da gewkdagaj
mac ’ab amjed. behě g ñe’i.
Hemhoa s-ap ‘am o ’a: mac si has elid, mo d. ’i:mig.
Used with the permission of the author.
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.
You only watch the news to find out
where the fires are burning, which way
the wind is blowing, and whether
it will rain. Forecast ahead but first:
A mother’s boy laid out
in the street for hours.
These facts don’t wash away.
Copyright © 2016 D. A. Powell. Used with permission of the author.
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
This poem originally appeared in Waxwing, Issue 10, in June 2016. Used with permission of the author.