Same River. Bolivian Chaco, 1945

Paula Abramo, tr. from the Spanish by Dick Cluster
| poetry


Does a match also serve
to shed light on a given
what if it casts doubt,
the light,
instead of offering answers?
what if the minimal light of the match
works only by contrast
to reveal
the immense darkness all around?


What’s left behind
when you give up your name?
At what point in her progress
did Emilia become Anna Stefania again
on that return journey
step by step
along the paths of the Chaco,
with her husband and son,
treading on the greenest grass
chewing up
the route?
Was it dry season, in which case
thirst was also part of the journey
of change and return
to the old names the old
status of alien,
or was it rainy season and so
their feet sank into the mud again
and the threat of flesh-eating
larvae and nymphs
reared its head
on the surface of the swamp
they crossed again?
No way to know.
Not from the letter
its fine calligraphy, on rice paper,
written decades later
and sent to Mexico, where another son,
seated on a balcony full of light
and cactus
read the narrative of that journey
the one lived by his parents, his brother,
the narrative of the end of exile,
read in another exile,
an easier one, with new plants, bread
fresh from the oven, speaking eloquently of wheat
and skies without clouds
or rain.


The letter doesn’t tell any of that nor
does its faint armature of blue ballpoint ink
throw enough light on intentions
on the nature of the story, though perhaps
predicts endings and reunions,
perhaps skips right over them.


But on the other hand Anna Stefania’s
fine-tipped pen does tell
of so many huts,
so poor, and her account
has many fewer mirabilia
than the old false hunting affidavit.


And in the huts, the habitual spectacle
of jaundice, of black vomit,
of women dying in waves,
bloody with epistaxis,
despite the year being nineteen hundred
despite Max Theiler
whose innovations
never reached that far.
The women dying in waves
and the letter
like a painting highlighting particular cases:
the pregnant one who begged for food
so they had to give her something, a can
of soup, the last aspirin in the bottle
to soften her death
as certain as the journey
resumed the next day.
And so ends the letter, which doesn’t say:
I came to these lands to hunt;
it says:
we wanted to return by the same road
so as to recognize it,
validate it, but a road
is never the same road twice.


Paula Abramo, of Mexico City, is a poet and a translator from Portuguese. Her poems have appeared in her collection Fiat Lux and have been selected for anthologies in Spanish and in translation to Portuguese, German, and French.


Dick Cluster translates prose and poetry from Spanish and writes history and fiction. He is the editor and translator of Kill the Ámpaya: Best Latin American Baseball Fiction and co-author of History of Havana. He lives in Oakland, CA.

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