Translated from the Spanish by Catherine Hammond
I do not hear what I need to tell you.
The voice which strikes its spark from words, the anteroom
of fire, does not present itself.
I am deaf. I feel the live lobster’s pitiful cry pierce my
it screams when they have to kill it.
The animal has come here only to seek its own death.
This is the hour of the banquet.
Here they eat everything,
swallow the mango broken into pieces,
cut-up coconuts and papayas split open,
sweet potato and watermelon,
the flayed dog
and entire bulls, less the teeth and bones which become
Right now they swallow the bellow,
they are chewing it up.
Dying, the fat lobster screams, faltering, the futility of its shell,
slow fat self.
I do not hear words I trust.
you cannot hear them, and so they do not appear.
I want to say them for you, although that may be impossible.
You will not hear them, because they gave me two days to die in a
lakeport that was the center, the navel of the world,
and on the third day, when they resurrected me in a farm town on the
water, the payment for my return to the living was a fourth
on which I received as a gift, once again, my death.
Friday and Saturday I was dead, like Christ, and Sunday I walked
people, only to return to an even more terrible death, without
ascension or tomb,
and already Popo and Izta were not visible, nor the ridges of the
Mountains, nor the Cerro de la Estrella guarding the luminous
borders of the valley.
* * *
I do not hear what I need to tell you.
I raise up what I say between dry branches and sand because that is
Did I earn my death? Did I pay for it down to the last cent?
Was I harsh, rude, horrible
or did my face fill with viper heads?
They jumped from my nana’s skirt,
and were her two claws stroking my torso.
What appeared on my back to displace my wing machine?
What inside changed me from that angel I was into a bird, black and
I fell more abruptly than icarus.
Before then I flew through clouds and sky.
The humid, white carpet brushed the soles of my feet
and I spoke with stars face to face;
a thousand times naked, I sustained myself there in the sky;
suddenly the mass of my body weighed heavy
but shady, as I continued on without clothes: I made a wish and while
on fire they covered me with a tight sack of feathers, once I
taken a breath from deep within, they gave me a metal corset
made from beak and song,
and they stretched me on Form’s cruel rack,
and scattered carved stones that shaped the high temples
and from my own they emptied blood from veins into rivers and lakes,
leaving a slender column
on which they planted me, immobile, golden, complete, eyes.
* * *
Everything had been in place when the looting began.
Mama was born on the shore of the golden Gulf, where they ate thick
soups of crocodile and green turtle, cooked chicken, garfish
tamales, yucca on the griddle,
her people spent their time eating and working any time the heat in
hammock did not win them over,
or from time to time they used to pick cacao or coffee.
Papa brought the memory of two continents, born in Galicia, he knew
stories about diamonds and came with those seeking gold and
He ignored the richness of green, pumpkin seed mole, tortillas and
complex breads of my people.
He never looked to see whose picture was on the ten or twenty peso
bill. He didn’t know the history of Padre Hidalgo,
I was born his opposite, but for centuries I was an angel and could
* * *
Alone, I lost my wings.
Lost I go along with the others, part of the crowd.
We lose ourselves because the globe has become smaller.
We can no longer trace any place on the tiny map,
The earth has become smaller, compressed by the hole
in the ozone, its once immense forests now bandages of dry sand.
We get lost inside the thimble where the world now fits.
* * *
I find myself in the threads of the rebozo,
in the Indian flute and in the extinct jaguar,
in venison smoking over coals,
in bells calling to Mass,
in fireworks burning bright in the center of the sky,
and in the honey-seller’s cry.
In the earthen pot of refried beans.
In the odor of nixtamal
, freshly ground.
I meet myself in the click of heels on a wood floor
when the girl twirls skirt and fan,
carnations in her hair, clothing embroidered.
Clasping his hands behind his back, he courts her. He does not remove
his sombrero. He dresses in white.
* * *
Before that, I yanked my heart from my chest, for love’s
tossed it into the void, ! threw it, hurled it, flung it away
to feed the hills.
It cannot live, I do not have it.
It whistles among trees, like the wind. It walks around, content.
I am confined outside,
I am the unclean beast,
the one that wants to eat from someone else’s plate,
the one on two skinny legs who endures ridicule
and can no longer touch the clouds or see the sky up close.
I am the prey, banished, the condemned outsider. My cage is the size
* * *
(Outside: rigid, blue with cold.
Outside: violent wind.
Outside: salty clothing on fire.
Inside: smoke from fresh tobacco.
Outside: plastics burning, suffocating oil on the fish’s scales.
Inside: half-warmed hand.
Outside: claw sanded rough, scraping.
Inside: embrace is inside.
Chest is inside. Legs inside.
Outside: blood, and a foolish heart flying.)
* * *
I was an angel. I am the slave running, the black bird that begs.
My heart populates itself with thorns from the hill, shedding tears
Stop it (is what I have to tell you). Stop it.
I hear the buzz buzz of the city,
honeycomb formed in cement, floating gardens,
rubber, motors, sparks, black chapapote tar,
steel rods, glass, stone, lime, sand,
aloe singing its red-tufted flower in doorways,
the screech of giddy tropical birds.
The timely grinding of teeth
at 6:15 in the morning, the early bird …
the long truck rope that splashes water in the distance,
dog dream, broom sweep,
car horn beating a deep, hurried bellow.
Heels clicking and tennis,
the overcrowded metro at Pino Suarez
the rickety food stand made of tin and fire on Insurgentes,
tamaaaales! drink a hot atole!
* * *
I hear the buzz,
over there a street seller’s cry and the shout.
Nearby the car hitting the body in killer crossroads.
I hear the silence of the old man
stranded on the pavement–impossible to cross, what good are legs,
have toffy not fall.
I hear the orphan shoe dragged by car tires,
the old man returning,
idiot lights and stranded cars, at a standstill, stuck, spellbound,
ballet of three colors, so many minutes.
I hear muffler smoke, everything listens,
the forests that were here, the memory of the waves from the three
water mains bursting from heat in drought,
the Grand Canal reeking,
And back over there–as a girl–the leper colony and the apples they
* * *
I listen in silence, mute.
I sew, I knit together noises in order to retell them.
From apron (three coins in a pocket) and basket (the handle slips,
of bananas, transparent bag filled with chili peppers),
to army jacket and necktie,
shoelaces beating their tips against shoe leather,
denim jeans with a hissing crotch,
nylons caught in the web of a wicker chair,
a rack running inside kitchen cabinets
lulling to sleep lined-up knives,
the child using a cardboard box for a cradle awakes,
radio of a thousand voices,
jacarandas shaking their long hair and letting it loose to the wind.
the bell and the shout:
… ina, they are speaking to you, answer.
* * *
The clock ticks. Eight thirty.
Time for school. Singing Mexicans at the cry
to salute the flag,
children lined up in the courtyard, air heavy,
that boy has lice, he scratches them at his own rhythm,
on his head, the anthem’s farewell,
? louse eggs,
the girl wears a skirt dirty with caramel or menstrual blood.
Another boy with his grimy socks cries without anyone knowing,
his father hit him, gave it to him in the mouth. The girl over there
not have breakfast, did not
eat supper, the fat lobster screamed for her, in her empty belly the
thunders in its center
and here in her mirror: her one self scoffs and does not hold back a
the other is Luisa, fourteen years old
and in her belly carries a soldier in each son
She of the park.
* * *
–The clack, clack racket coming from the park bench.
Making out, caress given, one stolen, the haggling,
a kiss, the no, the yes, another kiss, comb in the boy’s shirt
loose hair, gold clasp,
button slipping from buttonhole,
iron bench motionless, cage of kisses,
bed of clothes.
Children jump around, run plays, ball!
they shout to them,
and the kiss continues, immune.
Nonchalant, the hand has itself a little adventure.
She gives way, another button, another, the fastener, the clasp,
her panties will fall and her eyes will close without a moan
and no one will want to marry her,
she, another, alone, breastfeeding while hungry,
dreaming on her way to work. Goodbye to school,
to the rebounding ball.–
The screwdriver beats against the pavement,
the bargaining at the stand in the open air of the market,
I hear the sound of dye pouring down on hair.
Blonde, how pretty, the same way that sun brightens a dry tile roof,
I listen to the bra pressed against her tits, ignoring the shape of
I hear pee hit a wall.
Corn growing from anger, seed beneath courtesy’s dry leaf,
so lady, whatever you want, pretty lady,
the alarm keeps ringing
speaking to itself
* * *
A shred of chicken tinga falls from the edge of the taco
and there on the floor next to the juice stand
your salsa sounds like laughter.
Hummingbirds, in the park, dance to the sound of the juicer, to the
of salsa that fell and keeps falling from the tortilla.
They were warriors when the lakes, rivers and those temples were
I was an angel, I had wings and a goddess tending my dreams
while serpents hissed from her skirt.
The hummingbirds lost their shield and their empire.
I gained a sound, that here, only a little, with just a hint, I
Republished with permission.
About the author:
Carmen Boullosa (Mexico City, 1954) a central figure in Mexico’s “Boom Femenino,” a breakout generation of Mexican women writers, is the author of eighteen novels, two books of essays, seventeen collections of poetry (the most recent being La patria insomne and Hamartia o Hacha, at Hiperión, Madrid), and ten plays (seven staged). Her novel La otra mano de Lepanto was accounted by an international survey of authorities to be among the top works of literature written in Spanish in the last twenty-five years. Her most recent books are the novels Texas, la gran ladronería (Alfaguara), and El libro de Ana (Editorial Siruela, and Penguin Random Alfaguara), and, coauthored with Mike Wallace, the essay, Narco History, How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the “Mexican Drug War” (OR Books). In English translation, the novels Before (trans. Peter Bush, Deep Vellum), Texas (trans. Samantha Schnee, Deep Vellum), and Cleopatra Dismounts (trans. Geoff Hargraves, Grove Press). There are more than a dozen books and over seventy doctoral dissertations that deal with her work. She has taught at NYU (the Andrés Bello Chair), Columbia University, Georgetown, Blaise Pascal, and SDSU, was Distinguished Lecturer at City College, and Alfonso Reyes Chair at La Sorbonne.
About the translator:
Catherine Hammond’s translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Field, Words without Borders, and many other national magazines. Hammond’s own poetry has been anthologized in Fever Dreams: Contemporary Arizona Poetry from University of Arizona Press, in MARGIN: Exploring Modern Magical Realism, and in Yellow Silk from Warner Books.