Elena Medel



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.