Ricardo Blanco's Blog

Journal of the Plague Year (iii)

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Reading over the third set of entries, from May, the events described already appear distant, dreamlike, as though they happened in an adjacent or parallel world. Did Trump really suggest we inject ourselves with detergent? It seems like the kind of thing that would happen in only the most abject of dreams, but then again, much of what has happened these past few months would have been unthinkable last New Year’s Eve. I don’t know whether I will continue my journal. Like everyone else I’m pretty sick of the whole damn thing now. And whether we ‘return to normality’ in any recognisable way is another question engaging media pundits. I offer only the merest commentary on that.

 

5 May

The pandemic in the USA takes a dive to new depths of absurdity when Donald Trump, the World’s Most Important Human, recommends injecting detergent as a cure for COVID-19. We are all aghast at the stupendous ignorance of this claim. Here in the UK, George Monbiot’s tweet summed it up: ‘Two million years of hominid evolution, and it comes to this.’ Trump continues to blame China for the virus, whether it came from their nasty chiroptophagia, or else the nasty people in the famed research facility in Wuhan. ‘Nasty’ — a word infrequently used by English speakers above the age of eight —remains the President’s favourite descriptor for anything he does not like.

Whatever its source of COVID-19, the market in Wuhan does sound like a grim place, reminiscent of the public market in Las Animas bay, in Love in the Time of Cholera, where ‘. . . the offal from the adjoining slaughterhouse was . . . thrown away there — severed heads, rotting viscera, animal refuse that floated, in sunshine and starshine, in a swamp of blood.’

But China-hating and the bullying of Sino-American journalists won’t get Trump through this disaster, however hard he tries to shift the blame. The laggardly way in which the US government, and its counterpart in the UK, came to respond to the pandemic will no doubt be exposed to scrutiny, although I do wonder whether those responsible will ever be held to account. Despite plenty of warning, the UK government, under its floundering buffoon of a Prime Minister, refused to take the advice of the WHO, and put business invests before people’s lives.

Yesterday, in Parliament, the new leader of the Labour opposition, Keir Starmer, questioned the Prime Minister’s claim that ‘many people were looking at the “apparent success” of the Government’s approach only to learn that, tragically, at least 29,427* people in the UK have now lost their lives to this dreadful virus. That is now the highest death toll in Europe and the second highest in the world. That is not success, or apparent success, so can the Prime Minister tell us: how on earth did it come to this?’ Johnson replied that it was not straightforward comparing death statistics and added that there will be a time to look at what went wrong.  Starmer replied that ‘many people are concluding that the answer to my question is that the UK was slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on tracing and slow on the supply of protective equipment.’ Johnson blustered in non-response; he had clearly found the floundering and intellectually challenged Jeremy Corbyn a much easier opponent that Starmer, an internationally acclaimed human rights lawyer. Starmer then asked why has it taken so long to improve the situation in care homes? Johnson responded that there had been a ‘palpable improvement’. But there has been nothing of the kind; and if the number of deaths has fallen, it is because in many care homes most of the residents have died.

A local effect of the COVID Pandemic is that hostilities between the Scottish and Welsh governments on the one side, and the English administration on the other, have become increasingly perilous. It has emerged that the UK has stopped its Foreign & Commonwealth Office and overseas networks from helping Scotland and Wales to access PPE. Even the New York Times reports that Scottish and Welsh officials have raised concerns that the NHS in England is being prioritised for personal protective equipment, though Downing Street denies the accusations.

* This figure continued to mount. On the 20 May it had risen to 35,704; as I post this, it is over 45,000.

 

21 May

Last week Prime Minister Johnson changed the UK Government’s tagline from ‘Stay at home’ to ‘Stay alert’. The problem is that no one knows what that means. Should one be alert while going out to work, or alert while working from home? Who can go to work and who should stay at home? Must everyone be equally alert, or should some be more alert than others? The Welsh and Scottish Governments do not pursue the ‘Stay alert’ policy, telling their citizens to continue to ‘Stay at home’. The Welsh government then announces that English people, however ‘alert’ they might be, are not welcome to come and take their exercise (walking and cycling) in Wales, or to visit beauty spots in Snowdonia and other of our national parks. The Welsh rural police are delighted: this is their dream scenario. They can now go around with impunity telling visitors from Liverpool and Birmingham to ‘bugger off and stay at home’.

Meanwhile, traditional British values are maintained: sales of alcohol rocket and eating disorders flourish. Thousands of people attempt to acquire a dog or other pet; they want company in their solitude during the lockdown. Animal welfare groups are concerned that when the lockdown ends, many of these pets will simply be abandoned.  A female transport worker in London dies after being spat at by a man who claimed he had the virus. It is revealed that BAME people are more susceptible to COVID-19 than others, though no one yet knows why.

President Trump, the World’s Most Important Human, announces that he is taking the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic against COVID-19.  ‘I’m taking it for about a week and a half now and I’m still here, I’m still here,’ was his surprise announcement. There is no evidence hydroxychloroquine can fight coronavirus, and regulators warn the drug may cause heart problems. The Donald doesn’t care. Besides, since he lies about most things as a matter of course, why would anyone believe him now? He might be taking it, but then again, he might not. And who cares anyway? Well, millions of Americans do, because if the President recommends it, many will follow his example. Although The Donald has a small investment in Sanofi, one of the companies that manufactures hydroxcholoquine, it is really very small, and has nothing to do with his promoting the drug.

Back in the UK, Captain Tom Moore, who vowed to walk 100 laps of his garden in order to raise money for National Health Service charities, has been granted a knighthood by the Queen. ‘Captain Tom’, as he is universally known in the UK media, captured the minds and hearts of the British people by his valiant walk around the garden. The occasion of his 100th birthday was marked with an RAF flypast as well as birthday greetings from the Queen and Prime Minister. He has been made an honorary Colonel by the 1st Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, in which he served during World War Two, and he has received an estimated 140,000 birthday cards. In all this jollity, you might be forgiven for forgetting that the NHS, ravaged by cuts imposed by successive Conservative governments, should not require charitable donations to keep its doctors and nurses safe and its hospitals in working order. My father dedicated his life to working in an NHS that provided care ‘from the cradle to the grave’ and my daughter is currently following in his footsteps.  I am sure Captain Tom is a very fine fellow, but must his story be accompanied by proclamations of gung-ho jingoism, and the lavishing of praise on our National Health Service from a government that has spent the past ten years undermining it?

I am not convinced by the argument put forward at the outbreak of the pandemic that the quality of life might improve afterwards;  that our citizens will have been so positively affected by the quiet streets, the clean air, the slow incursion of the natural world into city life, a respect towards others’ personal space and a greater awareness of the benefits of silence — that they will insist on retaining those benefits when the plague has run its course. I am fairly certain that everything will revert to the way it was before, but because of certain restrictions and the necessary intrusion of the state into our private lives during the pandemic — which no doubt will continue, with a repression of certain liberties under the guise that they are no longer safe — things will all be a little bit worse.

Journal of the Plague Year (ii)

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Continuing with my journal entries over the first three months of COVID-19, here are two entries for the month of April. During this period the roads around the city were gloriously silent, and many more birds appeared in the garden; indeed, it seemed to me that birdsong was louder than before, though perhaps that was due to the absence of nearby traffic. At this stage we didn’t know quite how bad things were going to get, although it was soon apparent that the UK was overtaking Italy and Spain to become the worst-affect country in Europe, despite having had more time to prepare for the pandemic.

 

10 April

Daughter no. 2 lives in London and works as a fundraiser for several London hospitals, including St Thomas’s, where Boris is laid up. Since just before the lockdown, she has been with us here in Cardiff, working from home, and she receives hundreds of messages every day from companies and individuals wishing to donate to the hospitals administered by her employer. One man wants to donate something specifically to Saint Thomas’s, because that is where Boris is, but my daughter tells him this cannot be done, you can only donate to the NHS Trust of which St Thomas’s is a part. The man doesn’t like her reply. Other companies ring in with offers of gifts, specifically for the Prime Minister. How can they be certain their gift gets to Boris? Can the hospital send a photo of Boris (with nurses) consuming their gift? Can they send a photo of the prostate Boris being spoon-fed their gift?

Daughter no 1, a junior doctor who was at the time of the outbreak working in paediatrics, is re-assigned to a general medical ward at another, bigger hospital, where she will begin to treat COVID patients. But she is given three days off, then another three days off, before she starts. There isn’t enough protective equipment; there aren’t enough masks; there aren’t enough gowns. There aren’t enough tests being carried out, and the tests that exist don’t seem very accurate. The tests show a 30% rate of false negatives, which means patients are being sent back out into the community with the virus. The Welsh government order 5,000 test kits from  Roche Diagnostic but they don’t turn up. The Welsh government gets angry, makes accusations. Roche Diagnostics say they never had a contract with the Welsh Government for any test kits. You did; we didn’t; you did; we didn’t. This goes on for a couple of days. Plaid Cymru, the Welsh Independence party, attacks the Welsh government for failing to locate the missing test kits and refusing to say where they are. There is reason to believe that the 5,000 test kits have been appropriated by Public Health England. The Scottish also claims that orders for protective equipment have been waylaid by the English. How we love to stoke the fires of old enmities.

 

15 April

On the 12th of April, Boris is released from hospital and retires to the Prime Minister’s official country residence at Chequers, in Buckinghamshire. He admits that  while in intensive care things ‘could have gone either way’ and heaps praise on the staff who looked after him. He singles out two nurses, who stood by his bedside night and day, so he says, and saved his life. One is Jenny, from New Zealand, and the other Luis, from Portugal. I cannot help but wonder whether Luis is looking forward to being kicked out of the UK once we ‘Get Brexit Done’, according to Boris’ wishes.

The metaphors of war and battle are being bandied about as though we were re-living the Blitz of 1940. However, we  could do without the military metaphors. This is not a war.  A BBC documentary on the virus takes us into a COVID ward in London’s University College Hospital, where the correspondent presents his report unequivocally in terms of war: “This is the frontline in a war,” he begins. “Every day some battles are won and some are lost.” During his hospitalisation reports on the Prime Minister’s illness are riddled with metaphors of conflict: “He is a fighter and will beat this virus.” Together, “we will be able to win this battle”. “You fight for a swift recovery.” “You are a fighter, and you will overcome this challenge.” Visitors to London parks have been branded ‘traitors’, which is the same taunt used against Remainers in the Battle of Brexit.

By heaping up the metaphors of violent struggle and resistance, language creates a template, or a cut-out in the mind for an enemy to step in, and once we have an enemy — in this case, the virus — we tend to link it with particular groups of people or individuals. The Chinese. The incomers. The second home owners. The foreigners. The others. It feeds beautifully into the UK’s obsession with Brexit, and Trump’s current discourse on China. On 14th April Trump announces that he will stop US funding of the World Health Organisation, for the  alleged crime of being China-centric. In the UK, COVID-19 and Brexit have something in common: both of them target the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Journal of the Plague Year (i)

Plague

 

As the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep the world, the Argentine writer Jorge Fondebrider wrote to friends and fellow writers around the world, asking for contributions to a Journal of the Plague Year (in homage to Defoe’s work of that title). Most of the contributors were from Latin America, but others lived in Europe or Asia. Jorge, an old friend, is indefatigable in organising people; all of the pieces were translated into Spanish, and will eventually be published in a single volume. The criteria were simply that the entries be under 500 words, and the resulting work, tracking the pandemic and the ways that different governments responded in diverse countries, makes for fascinating reading.  Over the next three days, I will be posting my own contributions to the collection, made over the months of March, April and May as a record of my own experience of living with the pandemic in Wales.

 

22 March

As soon as the news broke that the plague had arrived in Europe, it was obvious it would come to Brexit Island, but our government was in denial. They gabbled on about the globally repudiated tactic of herd immunity. They refused to join forces with their EU counterparts in focus groups dedicated to resisting the pandemic, and they ignored the World Health Organisation recommendations for immediate lockdown. However, none of the efforts of Prime Minister Johnson or his pals to distance themselves from the place they fondly call ‘the continent’ was ever going to stop this thing from crossing the Channel — and with a vengeance, given the head start our leaders had allowed it. The extent of our Prime Minister’s lack of interest during the weeks before the lockdown is shocking: he didn’t turn up at five consecutive key COBRA meetings to discuss policy on the pandemic, and one senior government adviser told The Sunday Times that Boris ‘didn’t work weekends’ and ‘there was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning.’ For Boris, resistance to the plague was merely a hindrance to the more pressing agenda of Brexit. However, it became apparent to many observers that the government’s laggardly approach was likely to have serious repercussions on the British population, such that the UK might turn out to be the European country most affected by the pandemic, and with the highest number of casualties.

On 20th March Boris announces the closure of the pubs. ‘We’re taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go the pub,’ he said. The right-wing, Brexit-loving newspaper The Sun reports this rather differently: ‘Mr Johnson said it went against what he called ‘the inalienable free-born right of people born in England to go to the pub’. In this version, as Fintan O’Toole points out in an article in The Guardian, ‘the freedom to go to the pub was conferred by genetics and history, not on the “people of the United Kingdom” or “the British people”, but on “people born in England”. It does not apply to Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish people and certainly not to the 9.4 million people living in the UK who were born abroad. It is a particular Anglo-Saxon privilege.’ So, we — or rather, the English — are not going to the pub. I don’t care. I don’t drink any more. But that is not the point: as O’Toole reminds us, this outburst of Johnson’s was about something else: ‘What Johnson was really evoking was a very specific English sense of exceptionalism, a fantasy of personal freedom as a marker of ethnic and national identity.’ He was flagging up the fact that ‘we’ (the English) are special and different, not like those ‘continentals’. So we will, reluctantly, stay at home and not go to the pub, but we won’t impose a full lockdown just yet. We will wait and see, and Boris will continue to shake hands with whoever he likes because he is Boris, who at the age of five told his sister Rachel that his ambition was to be ‘king of the world.’

 

29 March

As the recipient of another man’s liver, I knew I would be one of those persons deemed ‘at risk’. I take immunosuppressants and therefore, in theory, am more susceptible to catching nasty things. I email my consultant and ask his advice. He tells me to follow government guidelines, and that I will shortly receive a letter with instructions about ‘shielding’, a new term to me, but one that will soon become very familiar.

I live in a house close to Cardiff city centre with my wife and daughter no. 1, who is a junior doctor, and living with us while saving to buy her own place. I am a university professor and walk into work most days, up the river and across the park. A pleasant walk. I am reasonably fit and visit the gym frequently. I walk my dog in the park. We get out at weekends. We live an active life.

When the plague comes to our island I decide not to go into work. I tell my Head of School that I will work from home as from 16th March. Daughter no. 2 visits us from London just before the lockdown is announced. Her employers there tell her she can work from home, and since she is here, she stays with us in Cardiff. We are all four at home then, for a few days. On Sunday 22nd March we drive to the mountains near my natal village and go for a long hike. We do not realise it will be our last excursion of this kind for a long time. On Monday 23rd March the university announces that it will close, and that if anyone wants to retrieve anything from their office they should do so now. I drive in and collect my plants, drive home. In the evening Boris announces to the nation in an evening broadcast that the lockdown has begun. He is in Churchillian mode, trying very hard to do serious and sober. The next day daughter no. 1 leaves home and moves in with a medic friend. She works in a local hospital and doesn’t want to infect me or her mother with the plague.

 

6 April

On the 1st April, as foretold by my consultant, I receive a letter from the Welsh Government telling me that as a person with ‘an existing health issue’ I need to take extra steps to avoid catching the plague. If I live with other people (i.e. my wife or daughter no. 2) I should ‘try to keep away from them as much as you can. Try not to be in the same room. If you have to be in the same room try and keep a window open. Keep three steps away . . . Do not sleep in the same bed if you can avoid it . . . Use different bathrooms if you can. If you share a bathroom, clean it after every use. Avoid using the kitchen at the same time as others and eat your meals in separate rooms. Clean all cups, plates and cutlery thoroughly.’

We are still allowed to exercise, and to take the dog for walks. I take my ancient dog, Bruno, for an early stroll by the River Taff, which divides the city in two. The path along the Taff doubles as a cycle track. As we climb onto it from the river bank, where we have been watching the swans, a cyclist, speeding towards us at thirty metres’ distance yells: ‘Get out the bloody way!’ I am so astonished at his rudeness that I am temporarily lost for words. The cyclist has swished past and is heading for the bridge. All I can see of him are his taut, jigging buttocks and his pumping legs. ‘Fuck off, you lycra-clad Nazi’ I yell, finally enunciating a phrase I have been dying to utter for some years now.  Passers-by stop and stare, and follow my gaze upstream towards the cyclist. I am willing him to stop. I want him to return so we can have a proper confrontation. The adrenaline is racing through me. I want to rough him up, show him what’s what. The image of a 63 year old man wrestling with a wiry young sporting type on the sidewalk is not very becoming, I’ll admit, but I am fuming. What has come over me? Plague madness? Fortunately the man doesn’t return in response to my taunt. I shuffle home, pondering what might have been.

Boris comes down with the plague. Hardly surprising, considering the way he’s been ignoring his own advice about social distancing and shaking hands with everyone. Why’s it called social distancing anyway? Why isn’t it called personal distancing?  He falls ill, and then, dramatically, gets taken into hospital, and onto an intensive care unit. The nation holds its breath.

 

The horn of power

 

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Yesterday, to celebrate the end of the five mile travel limit imposed by the Welsh government during lockdown, we drove to the Black Mountains and followed the Grwyne Fechan towards its source below Waun Fach.  On the way upstream, I spotted a ram’s horn lying amid the fern, and although on most occasions I would simply have glanced at it and moved on, yesterday – perhaps because we have been away from wild countryside for so long – I had to have it. I took it back home and soaked it overnight in bleach and water. In the morning I scrubbed it with wire wool, and to my great surprise and joy, found within it a smaller, proto horn that slides perfectly inside the larger one. I supposed at first this was the original infant horn of the ram, but Mrs Blanco suggests it is, rather, the next horn, which will grow inside the old horn, and eventually displace it. This seems convincing; however, checking online, I discover that rams do not shed their horns, but that the horn contains within it a keratinous sheath, that is attached to the base of the skull. Is this what the smaller version of the horn is? I cannot find any images online of any structure that resembles the one in the photograph. Is my horn an anomaly, a freak of nature? Do any readers out there know anything about the biochemistry of the horn?

 

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Ram horns grow in a helix, like the threads of a bolt, out from the head. Naturally, I couldn’t help but notice the structural resemblance to the ouroboros, symbol of the eternal cycle of renewal (and the icon of this site). The image of the ouroboros below is from a wood carving on the rood screen at the church of St Mary and St Egryn at Llanegryn, Gwynedd, which I photographed last November. 

 

cropped-ouroboros

 

 

Poems for staying at home (Day 40)

 

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Quarantine means forty days, so Poems for staying at home is coming to an end, for now. Nearly all of the poems published here since April 20th can be found in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America. The final poem in the series, ‘Walking Backwards’, by the Guatemalan K’iche’ Maya poet Humberto Ak’Abal, is like a koan, self-explanatory in its simplicity, and yet not.

 

Walking Backwards

From time to time I walk backwards:
it’s my way of remembering.

If I were to walk only going forward,
I could tell you
what forgetting is.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Camino al revés

De vez en cuando camino al revés:
es mi modo de recordar.

Si caminara sólo hacia delante, t
e podría contar
cómo es el olvido.

 

Humberto Ak’Abal was born in 1952 in Momostenango, Guatemala, of the K’iche’ Maya people. He started out as a shepherd and weaver before leaving to find work in Guatemala City as a street vendor. He wrote in Maya-k’iche and Spanish, and his work has translated into many languages, including French, English, German, Arabic and Italian. Ak’Abal published twenty books of poetry, as well as three books of short stories, and two books of essays. Ak’Abal died suddenly in January 2019.

Poems for staying at home (Day 39)

coffin of poverty and despair

 

In these dark times many people are unable to bury their dead, or even attend to their dying relatives. Fabio Morábito’s devastating poem captures the irony of grief and loss through the eyes of one mourner, whose histrionic appearance at the funeral turns all the attention on himself.

Here is a video recording I made of the English version, in strange morning light.

 

Sobbing

I always arrive late
at funerals,
when the eyes
of those attending
have dried
and some have already forgotten
the face of the deceased,
how old he was,
the cause of his death.
Then I arrive
with my anachronistic weeping,
in my mourner’s black
with its sincerity intact,
and like a conflagration
I offer out hugs,
clasp the hands of the widow
and of the orphans
between my hands,
the whole cortège witnesses
my pain,
no one dares refute it,
people are embarrassed
and crowd together again
around the dead man,
the widow caves in
and breaks into sobs,
the orphans also
and the sound of weeping grows once more,
reaching everyone,
those who have not yet wept,
those who are there
who observe that it is the weeping of a returning tide
of considerable magnitude,
and they enter into it,
they forget about their dead
or remember them with greater clarity,
and the weeping flows faster,
dragging with it the weeping of other occasions,
its roar warns of a great weeping
which broadens out
and detaches itself from the dead,
for this I arrive late
at the weeping of others,
I come with another weeping
in my throat
which I let loose among the damp bodies
and I see how it clings to every tear
coils around,
crackles in each of them,
and I am the only one who knows
it is my misfortune
they are weeping for,
that they are weeping for my dead
and bestow their weeping on me.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Sollozos

Yo siempre llego tarde
a los entierros,
cuando los ojos
de los concurrentes
se han secado
y algunos ya olvidaron
la cara del difunto,
qué edad tenía,
de qué murió.
Entonces llego yo
con mi llanto anacrónico,
con el negro de mi luto
en todo su candor aún,
reparto abrazos
como incendios,
retengo entre mis manos
las manos de la viuda
y de los huérfanos,
todo el cortejo asiste
a mi dolor,
nadie se atreve a contrariarlo,
la gente se avergüenza
y vuelve a apretujarse
alrededor del muerto,
la viuda no resiste
y rompe a sollozar,
los huérfanos también
y el llanto crece nuevamente,
alcanza a todos,
a los que no habían llorado aún,
a los que andan por ahí,
que advierten que es un llanto de reflujo,
de envergadura,
y entran en él,
se olvidan de sus muertos
o los recuerdan con más claridad,
y el llanto se hace caudaloso,
arrastra llantos de otras épocas,
se advierte su bramido de gran llanto
que se expande
y se desliga de los muertos,
por eso llego tarde
al llanto de los otros,
vengo con otro llanto
en la garganta
que suelto entre los cuerpos húmedos
y veo cómo se prende en cada lágrima,
se enrosca,
crepita en cada uno,
y soy el único que sabe
que es mi desdicha
la que están llorando,
que están llorando por mis muertos
y me regalan sus sollozos.

 

Fabio Morábito was born in Alexandria in 1955 and has lived in Mexico City since the age of fifteen. His award-winning poetry, short stories and essays have established him as one of Mexico’s best-known writers over the past 25 years. He is also a translator from Italian. Much of his work has appeared in translation, to growing international acclaim. Three of his poems appear in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.

 

Poems for staying at home (Day 38)

This great and terrible poem of witness is now ten years old. The poem has become a symbol of resistance to state and narco gang violence and has in turn brought death threats to its author, María Rivera. It offers testament to a pandemic of murders in Mexico, many of them the gratuitous and brutal killings of women. It is a poem that never loses its power.

Here is a video of the poet Clare E. Potter reading ‘The Dead’ in English.

 

For an interview with María Rivera by Dylan Brennan, in which she speaks of the origins of the poem, please click here.

A video of the poet reading ‘Los Muertos’ can be found here:

 

 

 

The Dead

Here they come
the decapitated,
the amputees,
the torn into pieces,
the women with their coccyx split apart,
those with their heads smashed in,
the little ones crying
inside dark walls
of minerals and sand.
Here they come
those who sleep in buildings
that house secret tombs:
they come with their eyes blindfolded,
their hands tied,
shot between their temples.
Here come those who were lost in Tamaupilas,
in-laws, neighbours,
the woman they gang raped before killing her,
the man who tried to stop it and received a bullet,
the woman they also raped, who escaped and told the story
comes walking down Broadway,
consoled by the wail of the ambulances,
the hospital doors,
light shining on the waters of the Hudson.
Here they come
the dead who set out from Usulután,
from La Paz
from La Unión,
from La Libertad,
from Sonsonate,
from San Salvador,
from San Juan Mixtepec,
from Cuscatlán,
from El Progreso,
from El Guante,
crying,
those who were given the goodbye at a karaoke party,
and were found shot in Tecate.
Here comes the one they forced to dig his brother’s grave,
the one they murdered after collecting a four thousand dollar ransom,
those who were kidnapped
with a woman they raped in front of her eight year old son
three times.
Where do they come from,
from what gangrene,
oh lymph,
the bloodthirsty,
the heartless,
the murdering
butchers?
Here they come,
the dead so alone, so mute, so much ours,
set beneath the enormous sky of Anáhuac,
they walk,
they drag themselves,
with their bowl of horror in their hands,
their terrifying tenderness.
They are called
the dead that they found in a ditch in Taxco,
the dead that they found in remote places of Chihuahua,
the dead that they found strewn across plots of crops,
the dead that they found shot in la Marquesa,
the dead that they found hanging from bridges,
the dead that they found without heads on common land,
the dead that they found at the side of the road,
the dead that they found in abandoned cars,
the dead that they found in San Fernando,
those without number they cut into pieces and have still not been found,
the legs, the arms, the heads, the femurs of the dead
dissolved in drums.
They are called
remains, corpses, the deceased,
they are called
the dead whose mothers do not tire of waiting,
the dead whose children do not tire of waiting,
the dead whose wives do not tire of waiting,
they imagine them in subways, among gringos.
They are called
baby clothes woven in the casket of the soul,
the little tee shirt of a three-month-old
the photo of a toothless smile,
they are called mamita,
papito,
they are called
little kicks
in the tummy
and the newborn’s cry,
they are called four children,
Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)
and a widow (a girl) who fell in love at primary school,
they are called wanting to dance at fiestas,
they are called blushing of hot cheeks and sweaty hands,
they are called boys,
they are called wanting
to build a house,
laying bricks,
giving food to my children,
they are called two dollars for cleaning beans,
houses, estates, offices,
they are called
crying of children on earth floors,
the light flying over the birds,
the flight of pigeons in the church,
they are called
kisses at the river’s edge,
they are called
Gelder (17)
Daniel (22)
Filmar (24)
Ismael (15)
Agustín (20)
José (16)
Jacinta (21)
Inés (28)
Francisco (53)
gagged
in the scrubland,
hands tied
in the gardens of ranches,
vanished
in the gardens of ‘safe’ houses,
in some forgotten wilderness,
disintegrating mutely
and in secret,
they are called
secrets of hitmen,
secrets of slaughter,
secrets of policemen,
they are called sobbing,
they are called mist,
they are called body,
they are called skin,
they are called warmth,
they are called kiss,
they are called hug,
they are called laughter,
they are called people,
they are called pleading,
they were called I,
they were called you,
they were called us,
they are called shame,
they are called sobbing.
Here they go
María,
Juana,
Petra,
Carolina,
13,
18,
25,
16,
breasts bitten,
hands tied,
their bodies burned to a crisp,
their bones polished by the sand of the desert.
They are called
the dead women that no one knows no one saw being killed,
they are called
women who go out alone to bars at night,
they are called
working women who leave their homes at dawn,
they are called
sisters,
daughters,
mothers,
aunts,
disappeared,
raped,
burnt,
chucked away,
they are called meat,
they are called meat.
Here,
without flowers,
without tombstones,
without an age,
without a name,
without sobbing,
they sleep in their cemetery:
its name is Temixco,
its name is Santa Ana,
its name is Mazatepec,
its name is Juárez,
its name is Puente de Ixtla,
its name is San Fernando,
its name is Tlaltizapán,
its name is Samalayuca,
its name is el Capulín,
its name is Reynosa,
its name is Nuevo Laredo,
its name is Guadalupe,
its name is Lomas de Poleo,
its name is Mexico.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

 

Los Muertos

Allá vienen
los descabezados,
los mancos,
los descuartizados,
a las que les partieron el coxis,
a los que les aplastaron la cabeza,
los pequeñitos llorando
entre paredes oscuras
de minerales y arena.
Allá vienen
los que duermen en edificios
de tumbas clandestinas:
vienen con los ojos vendados,
atadas las manos,
baleados entre las sienes.
Allí vienen los que se perdieron por Tamaulipas,
cuñados, yernos, vecinos,
la mujer que violaron entre todos antes de matarla,
el hombre que intentó evitarlo y recibió un balazo,
la que también violaron, escapó y lo contó viene
caminando por Broadway
se consuela con el llanto de las ambulancias,
las puertas de los hospitales,
la luz brillando en el agua del Hudson.
Allá vienen
los muertos que salieron de Usulután,
de La Paz,
de La Unión,
de La Libertad,
de Sonsonate,
de San Salvador,
de San Juan Mixtepec,
de Cuscatlán,
de El Progreso,
de El Guante,
llorando,
a los que despidieron en una fiesta con karaoke,
y los encontraron baleados en Tecate.
Allí viene al que obligaron a cavar la fosa para su hermano,
al que asesinaron luego de cobrar cuatro mil dólares,
los que estuvieron secuestrados
con una mujer que violaron frente a su hijo de ocho años
tres veces.
¿De dónde vienen,
de qué gangrena,
oh linfa,
los sanguinarios,
los desalmados,
los carniceros
asesinos?
Allá vienen
los muertos tan solitos, tan mudos, tan nuestros,
engarzados bajo el cielo enorme del Anáhuac,
caminan,
se arrastran,
con su cuenco de horror entre las manos,
su espeluznante ternura.
Se llaman
los muertos que encontraron en una fosa en Taxco,
los muertos que encontraron en parajes alejados de Chihuahua,
los muertos que encontraron esparcidos en parcelas de cultivo,
los muertos que encontraron tirados en la Marquesa,
los muertos que encontraron colgando de los puentes,
los muertos que encontraron sin cabeza en terrenos ejidales,
los muertos que encontraron a la orilla de la carretera,
los muertos que encontraron en coches abandonados,
los muertos que encontraron en San Fernando,
los sin número que destazaron y aún no encuentran,
las piernas, los brazos, las cabezas, los fémures de muertos
disueltos en tambos.
Se llaman
restos, cadáveres, occisos,
se llaman
los muertos a los que madres no se cansan de esperar
los muertos a los que hijos no se cansan de esperar,
los muertos a los que esposas no se cansan de esperar,
imaginan entre subways y gringos.
Se llaman
chambrita tejida en el cajón del alma,
camisetita de tres meses,
la foto de la sonrisa chimuela,
se llaman mamita,
papito,
se llaman
pataditas
en el  vientre
y el primer llanto,
se llaman cuatro hijos,
Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)
y una viuda (muchacha) que se enamoró cuando estudiaba la primaria,
se llaman ganas de bailar en las fiestas,
se llaman rubor de mejillas encendidas y manos sudorosas,
se llaman muchachos,
se llaman ganas
de construir una casa,
echar tabique,
darle de comer a mis hijos,
se llaman dos dólares por limpiar frijoles,
casas, haciendas, oficinas,
se llaman
llantos de niños en pisos de tierra,
la luz volando sobre los pájaros,
el vuelo de las palomas en la iglesia,
se llaman
besos a la orilla del río,
se llaman
Gelder (17)
Daniel (22)
Filmar (24)
Ismael (15)
Agustín (20)
José (16)
Jacinta (21)
Inés (28)
Francisco (53)
entre matorrales,
amordazados,
en jardines de ranchos
maniatados,
en jardines de casas de seguridad
desvanecidos,
en parajes olvidados,
desintegrándose muda,
calladamente,
se llaman
secretos de sicarios,
secretos de matanzas,
secretos de policías,
se llaman llanto,
se llaman neblina,
se llaman cuerpo,
se llaman piel,
se llaman tibieza,
se llaman beso,
se llaman abrazo,
se llaman risa,
se llaman personas,
se llaman súplicas,
se llamaban yo,
se llamaban tú,
se llamaban nosotros,
se llaman vergüenza,
se llaman llanto.
Allá van
María,
Juana,
Petra,
Carolina,
13,
18,
25,
16,
los pechos mordidos,
las manos atadas,
calcinados sus cuerpos,
sus huesos pulidos por la arena del desierto.
Se llaman
las muertas que nadie sabe nadie vio que mataran,
se llaman
las mujeres que salen de noche solas a los bares,
se llaman
mujeres que trabajan salen de sus casas en la madrugada,
se llaman
hermanas,
hijas,
madres,
tías,
desaparecidas,
violadas,
calcinadas,
aventadas,
se llaman carne,
se llaman carne.
Allá
sin flores,
sin losas,
sin edad,
sin nombre,
sin llanto,
duermen en su cementerio:
se llama Temixco,
se llama Santa Ana,
se llama Mazatepec,
se llama Juárez,
se llama Puente de Ixtla,
se llama San Fernando,
se llama Tlaltizapán,
se llama Samalayuca,
se llama el Capulín,
se llama Reynosa,
se llama Nuevo Laredo,
se llama Guadalupe,
se llama Lomas de Poleo,
se llama México.

 

María Rivera was born in Mexico City in June 1971. She is a poet and peace activist. She was awarded the Premio Nacional de Poesía Joven Elías Nandino in 2000 with her first book, Translación de dominio. In 2005 she received the Premio Nacional de Poesía Aguascalientes with the poetry collection Hay batallas (2005). She is an active member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Artes in Mexico. This poem appears in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.

Poems for staying at home (Day 37)

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For some of us, life during lockdown has sometimes seemed like one continuous screen session, interacting virtually with people we barely know. How strange, then, to read Paula Piedra’s poem about coming home to a TV screen filled with familiar faces, after a day spent among strangers.

 

Sure, there’s an American Dream

I like pretending,
I go out without make-up,
hair in my face,
wearing whatever clothes
to walk down some street
and arrive at a building.

There I am remunerated for doing nothing
and talking with people I don’t know
despite recognising their voices.

The conversations are over quickly,
more skimmed over, mechanically,
while time passes.

Eager for something to happen
after the working day,
I return home
and there – finally! –
I find familiar faces
on the television.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Sí hay sueño americano

Me gusta disimular,
voy sin maquillaje,
el pelo en la cara,
con cualquier ropa
para andar por alguna calle
y llegar a un edificio.

Allí soy retribuida por no hacer nada
y hablar con personas que no conozco
a pesar de reconocer sus voces.

Las conversaciones transcurren rápido,
mecánicas, más repasadas
mientras pasa el tiempo.

Con ansias de que suceda algo,
después de la jornada,
regreso a casa.
Encuentro ¡al fin!
caras conocidas en la televisión.

 

 

Paula Piedra was born in San José, Costa Rica in 1976. She studied interior design, and published her first book of poetry, Ejercicios Mentales, in 2003. In addition to her own poetry collections she has been included in a number of anthologies published in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina and Guatemala. She has written articles and columns for magazines in Costa Rica. She currently works as a curator of contemporary art projects.

Poems for staying at home (Day 36)

Ten tequilas

 

We know that feeling, of stepping out into the street in flames, and without ourselves. The peculiarity of drinking tequila or mescal in some darkened den, followed by that lurch into sunlight – or as here – into the night. Everything takes on a dizzying vibrancy, and one’s vision amidst the glare, fuzzy though not actually impaired, turns as much in upon oneself as outward, and both worlds are equally bewildering. Thanks to Mexico’s Julio Trujillo for the insight, and for the poem, which can be found in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.

 

Ten Tequilas

I went out into the street in flames
and without myself,
what was left were shreds of gazes:
the world was my eyes
and my eyes
me,
seeking and at the same time
willing to be found,
striding down there below,
gasp and echo,
a flow without direction that wants
to debouch.
What sea awaits the man who brims over?
But the instant doesn’t ask questions,
it advances and remains standing,
straightens up to full height,
hoists
its colours
that in this blue night
keep flying.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Diez tequilas

A la calle salí en llamas y sin mí,
lo que restaba eran jirones de miradas:
el mundo era mis ojos
y mis ojos
yo,
buscando a la vez
dispuesto a ser hallado,
zancadas allá abajo,
resuello y resonancia,
caudal que va sin rumbo y que desea
desembocar.
¿Qué mar espera al hombre desbordado?,
pero el instante no pregunta,
avanza y se mantiene,
se yergue a toda altura,
iza
sus estandartes
que en esta noche azul
siguen ondeando.

 

Julio Trujillo was born in Mexico City in September 1969. He studied Hispanic language and literature at UNAM. He has been editor of the Revista Universidad de México and Lectura, director of the Revista Mexicana de Cultura and El Nacional, editorial coordinator of El Huevo, and chief editor of Letras Libres. He was awarded an INBA grant in 1993 and a FONCA grant in 1994 and 1996. He has been a member of the SNCA since 2004. He won the Premio de Poesía Punto de Partida in 1991 and the Premio Nacional de Poesía Joven Elías Nandino in 1994 for Una sangre. His latest book, Atajos y rodeos (Ediciones Cal y arena, 2015) is a hybrid collection of essays and reflective pieces.

Poems for staying at home (Day 35)

 

Beach poets

 

Let’s spare a thought for the beach poets, that ‘handful of geniuses’ who hang out on the sands, ‘making poetry with the waves’. Like the Dominican poet Frank Báez, perhaps, whose poetry does more than merely spread the sunshine of his native island. Frank, according to one critic, on the Poetry International archives, inhabits ‘the universe of the young man who wants to live a grand and buoyant life but cannot get his beloved Caribbean island out of his system. Again and again Báez returns to the quay, the pier, the waves . . ‘

 

The Beach Poets

Now I will take the opportunity of telling you the legend
of the beach poets.
A handful of geniuses who live on the beaches
making poetry with the waves:
writing odes, sonnets and elegies on the pages of the sea.
Beach poets do not need to go to university,
nor to work, nor belong
to the national federation of surfers.
It is enough for them to have an ear for the ocean.

The beach poets paddle and mount
their boards with a Spartan discipline,
ready to tame the tumult of wild and deafening waves.
When the weather forecast announces a hurricane
they are the first to arrive at the beaches.
Firemen and civil defence gendarmes with megaphones
beg them to leave.

At thirty, like the Romantic poets, they retire.
Some of them die by drowning.
Others are attacked by sharks and lose
their legs or arms.
Others become lawyers.
But believe it or not, their works endure.
And night and day, if you come close enough to the sea you can hear wave after wave reciting them.

 

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Los Beach Poets

Ahora aprovecho para contarles la leyenda
de los beach poets.
Un puñado de genios que viven en las playas
haciendo poesía con las olas:
escribiendo odas, sonetos y elegías en las páginas del mar.
Los beach poets no necesitan ir a la universidad,
ni trabajar, ni pertenecer
a la federación nacional de surfistas.
Les basta con tener oído para el océano.

Los beach poets reman y se suben
en las tablas con disciplina espartana,
dispuestos a domar la manada de salvajes y estruendosas olas.
Cuando meteorología anuncia un huracán
son los primeros que llegan a las playas.
Los bomberos y la defensa civil con megáfonos
les ruegan que salgan.

A los treinta, al igual que los poetas románticos, se retiran.
Algunos mueren ahogados.

Otros son atacados por tiburones y pierden
sus piernas o sus brazos.
Otros se hacen abogados.
Pero créase o no sus obras perduran.
Y noche y día, si uno se acerca lo suficiente al mar
puede escuchar como este ola tras ola las recita.

 

 

Frank Báez, born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1978, is a poet, editor and writer. He has published four books of poetry, one book of short stories and three books of chronicles. His poetry collection Postales has been published in five countries and was awarded the Salome Ureña National Prize for Poetry in 2009. In 2014 a selection of his poetry was published in English, titled Last Night I Dreamt I was a DJ (Miami: Jai-Alai Books, 2014). His work is included in the anthology El canon abierto: última poesía en español (Madrid: Visor Libros, 2015), brings together many of the most relevant Spanish- language poets born after 1970. Báez also forms part of the multidisciplinary collective El Hombrecito, combining performance in music, literature and visual arts. Two of his poems appear in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America. In 2017 Báez was the only poet included on the Bogotá39 list of the best Latin-American writers under forty.

 

frank_baez_by_lidybel_martinezjpg_768x768

Frank Báez © Lidybel Martinez

Poems for staying at home (Day 34)

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“This is the time of the killers.” Today’s poem is in tribute to George Floyd, and in support of Black Lives Matter.

Palimpsest from Rimbaud

I am writing over words written
On the skin of other words.
I am an echo of other echoes. A trace of other traces.
I write crossing out voices
As if the paper were a transient slate.
I realize that at the bottom of this page
Torn away from his prison diary
The poet attached vertigo
Before proclaiming himself emperor of silence,
And despite this being heresy
I write over his voice.
I cross out his black A, his white E, his red I,
His blue O, his green U
And I stamp my symbols with impunity,
But he insists on setting a trap for me.
Over my precarious words
I don’t know why
An indelible motto persists:
“This is the time of the killers.”
Once again, all together now:
“This is the time of the killers.”

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Palimpsesto desde Rimbaud

Escribo sobre palabras escritas
En la piel de otras palabras.
Soy eco de otros ecos. Trazo de otros trazos.
Escribo tachando voces
Como si el papel fuera una pizarra fugaz.
Advierto que al fondo de esta hoja
Arrancada a su diario de prisionero,
El poeta fijó vértigos
Antes de erigirse emperador del silencio,
Y aunque resulte herejía
Escribo encima de su voz.
Tachono su A negra, su E blanca, su I roja,
Su O azul, su U verde
Y estampo mi grafía, impunemente,
Pero él insiste en tenderme una celada.
No sé por qué persiste,
Sobre mis precarias palabras
Una divisa imborrable:
“He aquí el tiempo de los asesinos”.
A ver, repitan en coro:
“He aquí el tiempo de los asesinos”.

 

 

Born in Medellín in 1946, Juan Manuel Roca is one of the most respected figures in contemporary Colombian poetry and fiction. Also a well-known journalist and social commentator, he has a long association with the world- famous poetry festival in the city of his birth, set up in defiance of many years of war and civil strife in his country. He has received numerous awards; was a finalist for the Rómulo Gallegos Prize for the Novel (2004), winner of the Cuban Casa de América Prize in 2008 for his Antología personal, and of the Spanish prize, Casa de Ameríca de Poesía Americana in 2009, for his collection Biblia de Pobres.

 

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Poems for staying at home (Day 33)

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Bunnies and top hats, David Lynch and the dark reverberations of down the rabbit hole; all of this explored by the inimitable Pedro Serrano in this quarantine poem, first published in The Other Tiger.

 

The Rabbit and the Top Hat

As in Alice’s garden
the rabbit on the damp lawn
jumps, its curvature springy.
Gently it raises its ears in tandem,
sniffing the waves of dainty herbs
and between its little teeth goes the grass
of this gleaming border.
It’s not a motionless ear in the void,
but a rug in the middle of the green,
a knot or fleecy brown pompom
that comes pulsing forward.
Startled, it bunny-hops towards the thickets
and the high spikes of the scrub
green and flat like squat towers and turrets.
Through a few magic doors
it plunges between the agapanthus and iris
as though entering a universe crammed
inside David Lynch’s top hat.
I lose track of it within that magic world,
dense and dark,
though in a sudden gust
it passes again in front of me
as if it were a streamer
with no lament or leash,
swiftly,
and so it vanishes.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

El conejo y la chistera

Como en el jardín de Alicia
el conejo en el césped húmedo
salta y muelle su curvatura.
Suave alza las orejas de dos en dos,
husmeando en las olas de hierbas frágiles
y entre sus dientecillos va el pasto de este
confín luminoso.
No es una oreja quieta en la nada,
sino una alfombra en el centro de lo verde,
un nudo o borla marrón peluda
que avanza palpitando.
En sobresaltos se mece hacia los matorrales
y las altas agujas de la maleza
verdes y chatas como torres y almenas.
A través de unas puertas mágicas
se hunde entre los agapandos y lirios
como si entrara en un universo apretado,
adentro de la chistera de David Lynch.
Ya no lo sigo en ese mundo mágico
. denso y oscuro,
aunque en una ráfaga súbita
pasa de nuevo frente a mí
como si fuera una serpentina
sin arrepentimiento ni mordaza,
repentino,
y así desaparece.

 

Pedro Serrano, born in Montreal in 1957, is a poet and professor at UNAM in México DF. He was until recently Director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre in Canada. His translations include the anthology La generación del cordero (containing many of the most prominent British poets of the 1980s), Shakespeare’s King John and the poetry of Edward Hirsch. He recently published DefenßaS, a book on poetry and other wanderings. La construcción del poeta moderno, based on this doctoral thesis, is an extended essay on T.S. Eliot and Octavio Paz, and was published 1n 2012. He was for many years the editor of the online poetry monthly Periódico de Poesía. A book of his selected poems, Peatlands, translated by Anna Crowe, was published by Arc in 2014.