Published on Academy of American Poets (

The Disappeared

translated by Rosa Alcalá

                          To bear another, to be a pair
                          To be torn apart

I heard it said,
“Evil was invented
to give us something
to talk about”

But how to speak
if each syllable
falls into the sea

The m of mother
                     drifting away
                                  other, other
                                            where have you gone?

The f of father
                     sinking further down
                                  ather, ather
                                            where have you gone?

They didn’t fall
                     They were thrown

to leave us
           without speech
           to drown our words.


Los desaparecidos

                          par han sido

Oí decir
“el mal se inventó
para tener de qué hablar”

Pero cómo hablar
si las sílabas
caen al mar?

La m de madre
                     se va
                                  adre, adre
                                                                         ¿dónde estás?

La p de padre
                     se hunde un poco más allá
                                                                         adre, adre
                                                                                                ¿dónde estás?

Los lanzaron
                     de adré
dejándonos sin hablar.


Copyright © 2021 by Cecilia Vicuña and Rosa Alcalá. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

In the early 70s, after the military coup in Chile, people were arbitrarily detained and disappeared. One of my uncles, a surgeon, disappeared in Santiago, so my heart was full of pain. The poem is focused on the effect of disappearing people on language, the fact that removing them forcefully without ever acknowledging they had been kidnapped felt like removing syllables and consonants from a phrase. To destroy the social fabric was to destroy our ability to speak the truth of our pain.
—Cecilia Vicuña


Cecilia Vicuña

Cecilia Vicuña is a Mestizo poet and the author of Cruz del Sur (Lumen, 2021). She lives between New York City and Santiago de Chile.

Date Published: 2021-09-15

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