The men in my mother’s family die before they turn forty. They
get confused when they iron out their lives. Count down:
they hold close their intimate memories. It’s not possible to miss
strangers. Young, tall, a swoop of wind
and they’re cadavers. How would you stop it?
You could mourn the agony of Joaquín Santiago, beside his
four petites. Pray hard during the execution
of Pedro Santiago, while his bones are ground
to mulch, 1938, Badajoz, body and origin. Caress
the forehead of Joaquín Santiago, rotting in a bed,
his back dry, sleeping,
dead before twenty.
She grew up with a black frock sticking to her ankles,
disguised with shadow so no one would see. Had she been born
a man, it would have been useless to say, for example, This is my
home, I will rest here.
Today I celebrate Fernando Navarro turning forty five. When I
wish him happy birthday, he takes a breath, inhales
as if he wanted to break his lungs, as if this
were normal; but I take his hand, we
smile, all of us celebrate
that he has just turned forty five.
We buried his mother eight days ago. I am ten years old then,
and we became intimate with her bookshelves, uncertain
what might come next.
As the years passed I thought: He won’t live past forty. At his funeral
I would read a poem about the country, the sun, that which
is above and is the future. And she would string together funerals,
funeral after funeral;
I would die at thirty, and she
would carry on, mourning us.
I am ten years old. I like to draw handsome princesses, biblical
mountains, ancestral trees. You like to collect
historic memory. And the things you’re told when you’re small
you never forget. I think about what we’ll never share.
In my mother’s family the men never turn
forty. And as for the women, lines
beginning in the palms of our hands crawl up our arms
and infect our face. Immediately our age is
declared, its nature open.
They will scissor open our hearts along the dotted line;
too early, we will mourn those who should
cry for us.
And we will be orphans, widows, asking what
to call ourselves when our children die, what
to call myself now that you’ve died.
Translated by Emily Vizzo and Curtis Bauer
You can read and listen to the poem in the original Spanish here.