Poem by Isabel Zapata
Illustration by Mario Flores
Translation by Jeremy Osner***
science calls it ‘selective memory’:
this is why I can’t remember Dr. Zinser, nor
do I remember why they took out half your stomach, what
the heparin was for; nor the last time
that you laughed — what shiny thing it was you saw
out your window; the nurse’s name
who washed your lifeless body.
but I remember your words, that time you told me
in the video shop on Avenida Revolución,
how it would be a good thing to rent a new movie,
instead of watching “The Witches” yet again;
I remember the story of the bear that wasn’t,
they built a factory over him while he slept,
and when he came out of his cave, the foreman thought
he was a worker, and took him to the supervisor, the vice-president,
the president, who told him, you’re just
a stupid man, unshaven, in a fur coat.
one of the doctors told us, three months
a missile counting down
ninety days eighty nine
eight seven six five.
I know you didn’t want to die
but a thousand times I said you did: now she’s resting,
they were such difficult months,
the pain must have been unbearable.
I told little six-year-old Alejandro about heaven,
such a lovely place, how happy you must be
to see your parents, to play with la negra,
to have the time — at last! — to see Egypt.
I squeezed him then, and his eyes were shining
with a wonderful childish mish-mash of shock
and dismay, to see so many
of his family weeping at once.
they put your body in an oven, your ashes
in a little wooden chest; the chest, in a slot
in the church’s wall, and screwed it in tight
so it would never open.
the priest said something about death and hope,
but what does that matter: you’re trapped now in that crypt–
there are animals whose grave is the open savannah.
they say I look like you. at times
my brothers will look at me like
something of yours stolen from death,
something dark and sweet that we hide away
as for my father, he says it reproachfully.
he can’t bear seeing echoed in his youngest daughter,
the turbulence of your mood, your habit
of weeping uncontrollably, tasteless
melancholy. he looks at me weary
and hisses through pursed lips:
don’t be so dramatic. you’re acting like your mother.
ask if your parents left off
loving each other when they begat you.
if so, you’ll never gladly look at the light;
you’ll have to reinvent it every day.¹
the analyst asked me about your marriage
to my father. I told her, they had been split up for a while,
the pregnancy was a mistake, my father was already
with someone else. the doctor looked at me, perturbed,
with a subtle movement of her head: –so,
do you think your parents didn’t love each other?
–I think they were confused.
I have a photo of us, our backs to the camera,
walking on the beach. I’m six years
old, a tiny pink outfit, platform sneakers,
my hair an uncombed ponytail
(I have that still). my hand’s
in yours, and far off you can see the sun’s
disk, in yellow, round perfection.
I can’t make out where you end
and I begin, in this picture.
mother, sister, pitcher, puddle, cliff,
disfigured creature of the ocean floor,
first model for my face, ephemeral
jacaranda flower, loose rope, cluster
of corrugated tin and shadows, remember
me, warm whisper,
in the evening’s freshest hour, tell me
what the deserts of death smell like,
how the rivers flow in its kingdom.
there has to be a place where you exist,
to rest my head upon the cornice of the world
to watch sorrow deflate on the horizon.