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Gustavo Gac-Artigas

National Poetry Month in the US: Troops to the border, a poem might sneak in!

Translated by Priscilla Gac-Artigas and Andrea G. Labinger 


When I was little, in my parents’ house, my grandfather used to talk to me about poetry. In his tremulous voice, he read me poems by Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Huidobro. My grandfather, with his tired eyes, wanted to open mine to the world, and so he read me poems by García Lorca, or else, with a sigh — eternal lover that he was — he would read me poems by Bécquer as well.  

But my grandfather, that old fox, also used to take me by the hand as we strolled down the streets, stopping in front of a barefoot gypsy mother begging with her child, and she would read our fortune and my future in the palm of my hand. That wily old man, my grandfather, taught me to read, with my childish eyes, the poems that wander streets hidden to the eyes of the reader. 

Today, with tired eyes, I read poems to my granddaughter just as I once read them to my children, and walking along the streets of New York I think of García Lorca, and my eyes smile. On the streets of New York, the Poet read the same poems as my grandfather did on the streets of Santiago de Chile. 

Today, during National Poetry Month in the United States, as I sit in front of my computer, I find it hard to write a poem, when the poem marches through the lands of my beautiful, beloved Mexico, when it stops, exhausted, in the streets of Oaxaca, when it stretches hope to regain its strength and continue its journey towards the streets of the Poet in New York. 

When, on the streets of my beautiful Cúcuta, in Colombia, on the border with Venezuela, a Venezuelan mother begs in order to buy diapers for her daughter, I’m reminded of those days in the same beautiful Cúcuta, thirty-three years ago, when I exchanged my watch for a glass of milk and a box of diapers for my own daughter. And smelling my granddaughter in a park in Brooklyn makes me feel guilty for using another diaper to change her. 

Today, during National Poetry Month, I remember when my grandfather pushed me on an old wooden swing so that the wind might enter my thoughts, and when I reached those infinite heights, out of the corner of my eye, I sadly glimpsed a Mapuche boy who watched us from afar, never daring to jump on the swing and gain the heights that belonged to him.  

My grandfather, a wise man, filled my eyes with poems so that the world might enter my body, so that, with the passing of time, while swinging toward the future, I would remember Temuco, or today Bilbao, where a dark-skinned child, a sad child like me, stares at us without daring to claim his right to play.  

Today, in front of my computer, I find it hard to write a poem, when in the country where I live they want to block hope at the border with troops; they want to deport the right to study; when in the same streets the Poet traversed, someone is afraid to speak their own language out loud (unless she is a nanny hired to teach her language to a rich child); when a child will wake up hungry);when a child, his hunger satisfied, will slip on shoes to go to school, while there, on the dusty roads of Oaxaca, another child, his bare feet blue with cold, will continue to march in search of his poem, while at the border, rifles aim at the poet’s heart.

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