Poems for staying at home (Day 24)




Today’s poem is another of my favourites from The Other Tiger, an extraordinary journey through family memory, in which the unsayable is said, and the tree of family is revealed to not know its roots. ‘Tree’ is by the Bolivian poet Jessica Freudenthal Ovando. 


From ‘Tree’


my father has a girlfriend of my age
my father says he cheated on my mother with six women
of those he fell in love with
my father always cheated on my mother
“always” could be reduced to fifteen or twenty years
my father and my mother became engaged at fifteen years of age
and were married as soon as they were legal adults
my mother is the daughter of a military man
my mother is the daughter of a military man they say was involved
in the death of che guevara and the nationalization of the gulf oil company
my father is the son of the right hand man of the president who led
the revolution of 1952
my father’s father was exiled by the father of my mother
i am the daughter of my mother and of my father
i have a sister and two brothers
my older brother has the same name as my father and the older brother of my mother
the older brother of my mother died in an airplane accident
they say that it wasn’t an accident
they say that the plane was sabotaged to bring about the fall of my military grandfather’s government that nationalized oil and tin
my younger brother has the name of sid campeador and of the younger brother of my mother which is also the name of her father
i have my name and the name of the older sister of my father who died during an epileptic attack in eastern bolivia
my father’s mother says that she was born in a place where the cemetery is bigger than the village, and the word love is not known
my sister has her name and the two names of my mother
my mother’s younger brother has his father’s name
– but never uses it –
my mother’s younger sister is adopted
– but this is an open secret –
i am the spouse of my spouse
i do not use the surname of my spouse
my spouse was the boyfriend of the second daughter of my mother’s younger brother
my mother and my spouse’s father had a fling
my father became somewhat jealous
my mother was sick with jealousy
she used to check my father’s pockets and phone him like a madwoman
i suffer from jealousy
my husband has cheated on me on several occasions
i have never been able to cheat on my husband
i haven’t dared
mother and father
mother fatherland
pacha mama
the family tree doesn’t know its roots
it can’t see them
in the darkness and depth of the earth
there hidden underground
far from the crown
from the air
and from the branches
from the branches of this tree
hang the dead
the suicides
my father’s mother’s brother
shot himself on christmas night
my father’s younger brother snorted cocaine until his heart stopped
my mother’s first cousin threw himself off the niagara falls
poetic deaths
my mother’s father died of cancer of the pancreas
my father’s father died of pulmonary emphysema
it costs this tree to breathe
it doesn’t know its roots
surnames run all along its structure
they vanish
they become transparent

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)



Fragmento de ‘Árbol’


mi padre tiene una novia de mi edad
mi padre dice engañó a mi madre con seis mujeres
de las que se enamoró
mi padre siempre engañó a mi madre
–siempre– puede reducirse a quince o veinte años
mi padre y mi madre se hicieron novios a los quince años
y se casaron al borde de la mayoría de edad
mi madre es hija de un militar
mi madre es hija de un militar que dicen estuvo involucrado
en la muerte del che guevara y la nacionalización de la gulf oil company
mi padre es hijo del hombre de confianza del presidente que hizo
la revolución de 1952
el padre de mi padre fue exiliado por el padre de mi madre
yo soy hija de mi madre y de mi padre
tengo una hermana y dos hermanos
mi hermano mayor lleva el nombre de mi padre y el nombre del hermano mayor
de mi madre
el hermano mayor de mi madre murió en un accidente de aviación
-dicen que no fue un accidente-
dicen que sabotearon el avión para que cayera el gobierno de mi abuelo militar que nacionalizó la gulf y el estaño
mi hermano menor lleva el nombre del sid campeador y el del hermano menor de mi madre que es también el de su padre
yo llevo mi nombre y el nombre de la hermana mayor de mi padre muerta por un ataque de epilepsia en el oriente boliviano
la madre de mi padre dice que nació en un lugar donde el cementerio es más grande que el pueblo, y que no conoció la palabra amor . . .
mi hermana lleva su nombre y los dos nombres de mi madre
el hermano menor de mi madre lleva el nombre de su padre
– pero no lo usa nunca –
la hermana menor de mi madre es adoptada
– pero ese es un secreto a voces –
yo soy esposa de mi esposo
yo no uso el apellido de mi esposo
mi esposo era el novio de la hija segunda del hermano menor de mi madre
mi madre y el padre de mi esposo tuvieron un romance
mi padre se puso algo celoso
mi madre era enferma de los celos
auscultaba los bolsillos de mi padre y lo llamaba como loca por teléfono
yo sufro de celos
mi marido me ha engañado varias veces
yo nunca he podido engañar a mi marido
no me he atrevido
madre y padre
madre patria
pacha mama
el árbol familiar no conoce sus raíces
no puede verlas
en la oscuridad y profundidad de la tierra
allí debajo escondidas
lejanas a la copa
al aire
y a las ramas
en las ramas de este árbol
cuelgan los muertos
los suicidios
el hermano de la madre de mi padre
se pegó un tiro la noche de navidad
el hermano menor de mi padre aspiró cocaína hasta detener su corazón
el primo hermano de mi madre se lanzó por las cataratas del niágara
muertes poéticas
el padre de mi madre murió de cáncer de páncreas
el padre de mi padre murió de enfisema pulmonar
a este árbol le cuesta respirar
no conoce sus raíces
los apellidos recorren toda la estructura
se desvanecen
se hacen transparentes

from Patria bastarda (2014)


Jessica Freudenthal Ovando, born in Madrid in 1978, is a Bolivian writer who lives in La Paz. She promotes children’s reading with the Colectivo Lee and teaches Spanish on the International Baccalaureate Programme. She received an honorary mention in the Premio nacional de poesíá Yolanda Bedregal for her book Hardware (2009) and since then her work has appeared in various anthologies throughout America and Europe. Her second collection, Demo, was published in 2010, Patria bastarda in 2014, and El filo de las hojas in 2015.

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