Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín



 

Marianela Medrano is a Dominican writer and poet, with a PhD in psychology living in Connecticut since 1990.  Her individual publications include: Oficio de Vivir (Buho, 1986), Los Alegres Ojos de la Tristeza (Buho, 1987), Regando Esencias/ The Scent of Waiting (Alcance, 1998), Curada de Espantos (Torremozas, 2002), Diosas de la Yuca, (Torremozas, 2011), Prietica (Alfaguara, 2013).  

Medrano’s work also appears in literary magazines and academic journals such as Brooklyn Review (1995), Punto 7 Review (1996) Sisters of Caliban (1996) Callaloo (2000), Tertuliando/Hanging Out (1997), Letras Femeninas (2005), Kacike (2009) Trivia Voices of Feminism ( 2009), Journal of Poetry Therapy (2010), Sandplay Therapy Journal (2010), The Afro-Latin@ Reader (2010), Letralia (2011), Phatitude (2012),  Mujeres Como Islas II (2012), among others.

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Crossing El Masacre  



At five I knew all about war
and about strolling in the meadows
under the ochre embrace of the sun
I knew I was a warrior
Only warriors understood el Masacre
flowed one way then the other

Each time we parted the water
my father would smile and say
“This is how we know God”
His words leaping
from one side to the other
my voice tugging at the mountains

If you write a poem—he would say
that lashes from there to here
then we could part the water again
So I kept writing over the curled softness
blowing ripples
my poem a bulky dribble of foam rising 

The echo of Papa Doc shouts from the palace
seeping through the bones of dead black dogs
Their hair spills and covers the swollen curves of Haiti 
She cries for all her dead children
The ones from here  The ones from there

I am the one on deck as the ship parts red waters
I am the one writing this poem
that lashes from there to here
But there like here is an abstraction
Little fish jump on board mourning
what I take with me

Hear my plea
If you go there or if you come here
decayed bodies will lure you
The forceful hand of dictatorship
will bend you mercilessly
You will drink red over and over
An unquenchable thirst will play
its lonely song in your throat

The Tonton Macoutes
would tear down your house
Papa Doc would kill you
witha glance of his spectacles
I knew that at five

Caravans of women walk over the water
They all wear red scarves
that float like flags in the wind
Red flags waving sorrow
My eyes dive to fetch skeletons
I am a warrior—remember?
But even here high on the deck
I stand in danger of dying too
Papa Doc can turn his head and shoot me
with his black spectacles

This poem keeps singing the devastation
of the land and I see it
I am all the little girls from the bateyes
Our mothers cross the river
making red memories

We dance in grief’s hallucinating flood
ripples shooting down the bodies of two maidens
Look at me now coming as my face
to dance alone
Haiti’s grief clawing the warrior I am

I can’t hear well what I must say
But I can no longer pretend god sparks me
I am deaf
   blind
      unable to earn my breath 

I write
Let the flowers come up from the river bottom
Let the hibiscus bloom only for them
Let this poem sing the shame

This is how we know god.

 

El Corte


The Parsley Massacre is also referred to as El Corte (the cutting) by Dominicans  and as Kouto-a (the knife) by Haitians. The Parsley Massacre refers to a government-sponsored genocide in October 1937, at the direct order of Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo who ordered the execution of the Haitian population living in the borderlands with Haiti. 20,000 Haitian civilians were killed in approximately five days.

Twenty thousand tongues curled up
at the bottom of El Masacre awaken
In imperfect rows they march toward
the Presidential Palace in Santo Domingo
El Generalísimo afraid of his own shadow
begs the moon for white light
In agony he powders his face
His biggest fear?
The fermentation of skin and bone
The sudden rise of ancestry

Twenty thousand tongues curled up
inside his French style uniform
tear down the palace brick by brick

How do we break the curse—stop his shadow from casting dummies?
Decked in white his paws go on raping virgins
His rotten sugar cane pocks poison infested holes
on the island’s feeble body
He litters the earth
   litters the earth
Or is it that unfathomable crime
fertilizes the conscience of those who have one?

Should we make stiff wax miniature figures of El General?
Minus his sad penis of course
Should we burn them on the edge of El Masacre?

Each woman he raped
each man he slit to filter hatred in
comes up from death
See the beautiful ones surfacing from the bottom of time?
Each gets plastered tightly in the heart of another

Come on down see the fantasy island
where history hums like a tamed dragon
We have this habit of carrying our dead with us
They stick to the bottom of our tongues
We sing with them from sunset to sundown
They rise from the bottom of El Masacre
We don’t bury our dead    We don’t.

 

Shibboleth*


Shibboleth was born
where one people breaks into the other
where the lost souls breathe under the river
She is not a dream
nor is she an invention of my tongue
Shibboleth
streams down patiently—as any fluid being does—
A river when it makes a sea is more than a river
I have learned her depth  
She is blood   
No matter what side of the river your are on   
sorrow speaks only one language
Shibboleth needs no pebbles under her tongue
You know she is real when I speak
When I fade away
Shibboleth breathes her parsley breath into me
She is the rite that brings me back
Almost at my dying moment
she spits her green concoction on the ground
Taking it she builds her house on the Western front
We flow downstream sealed in one image
We are the twin mirrors in which shame is reflected   
The hateful lover splits us in three through the years  
An infernal trinity of perejil

From the other side  
a sun bigger than the island blinds us  
Shibboleth sees the fire tongue  
waving like the flag of war    
she knows is only the beginning  
Far beyond death we find each other again
sealed in the same chamber  
living because the other breathes
We are garden and earth seed and flower
gun and bullet corpse and death
The past breaks and holds us 
I know Shibboleth is real when my tongue stumbles
on the block of history.  

*The 1937 massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic came from the shibboleth instituted by dictator Rafael L. Trujillo. He instructed his soldiers to ask the people to pronounce the word perejil. The Haitians who could not roll their “rs” reveal themselves thus sealing their own fate.

 

  

Of Witches And Butterflies


Well then
let’s sit down to define
Pythagoras believed in reincarnation
—I believe in him—
Then he is the blue worm of the quiet evenings
that gets caught in my skirt
bites the soft pulp
—believe me it is he who comes to me turned into a worm—

And I?
I am the voice from where birds start to come out
—before I was a quiet butterfly deformed on the walls—
After that I was the dragon who sipped her own fire
—how I enjoyed the flame—
In the mirror of the hot coals I found a key
the one God forgot when he made the world
(I should say when the world made him)
Poor thing’s running around blind looking for his face

Let’s not get lost    Let’s come back to the wheel
At another point
head down assenting
I occupied a chair in the conference of the Apostles
Foreboding birds began to flutter on the ceiling
Eyes    closed
Legs    open
silence falls down among the mouths
spattering pillows of rock
I said woman
and all the faces turned
swords sank in until the cervix broke
The daughters of love came down in little pieces
the sisters
—gorgeous skulls of the brides with branches of citrus flowers—
My face turned towards this part
The nails begin to come out
oh…because I am Christ
—do you understand now the mystery of his plea on the cross?—
Father why have you abandoned me?
And he birthed me again to this pain of life
to this hunger   to this thirst that doesn’t end
this time disguised as a piano frame
The circle of the piano  the ring  the music
—the major orgy of the angels between my legs—

Sitting in the shadows I gave a toast
with the nectar of my own blood
—blood made of wood that really hurts—

After some time
the keyboard started to take on a statue’s dumbness
Then it was necessary to make myself
The circle I made 
the one of the steering wheel
of the raw battles and the waves that kill
—oh the battle of the cold fields—
The fight of the sun and the moon
To this ceremony came the judges
with little sideways laughs
you know…the wise men  the victors

I refuse to be the star and spit in their faces
—it was like caressing a garden of thorns—
Naked they threw me again into the fire

Come to the witch’s feast
the one who eats lizards to frighten imbeciles
ferments visionary stars for pleasure—licking her lips—
The one with strawberry mouth and sour saliva
who knows the art of death
The one who with brushstrokes of insomnia opens a route
With songs brightening the Sabbath
—feast of rains thunder and lightening
X-raying her praxis
—reinvention of the world 
world of eyes that never close
of arms filling up streets
It is possible a generation of crazies
who eat butterflies syllabify hummingbirds
inventing the way to beget the sun and the moon
the integral restructuring of the universe
and in it the seed of a new being
who will survive the light.

Translated  by Isabel Espinal 

  

Ham And Cheese


On my father’s back, in borrowed clothes, I came to America.
                        — Li-Young Lee

My father lost in the streets of New Jersey
plants the memory that I now invent
It is the summer of 1969
He walks through these lines
that I unfold like a precious cloth
orders a ham and cheese sandwich
(for four years     everyday)
then
green salad: 
(El Cibao’s roads where nostalgia returns)
Black coffee:
(without the melodious sugar the rest does not occur here)

Slow shadow my father walks in the ink
Looks puzzled (at me and my memory)
I am five
The slammed door that separates us hurts me
I learn to write my name

What am I doing in the hidden shame of my father?
I cross Paterson’s deserted streets
holding on to his photograph

In the apartments
makers of dreams live like a beehive
I fiddle with the idea of a wide world that spills over
On these streets walked
full of life Allen Ginsberg’s corpse
Enthusiastic
inflated by hope I start
to embroider new images
on the cloth where my father inscribed
factory
   sweat
     invisibility
        ham and cheese
            ham and cheese
               ham and cheese
                   ham and cheese…

I continue embroidering as if I were not doing anything
Allen Ginsberg and I face-to-face
Nothing separates us now
We speak the same language
I read to him a desolation poem
He smiles with crooked teeth
We are comrade Allen and I

In the other corner
imposing
powerful Doña Aída embroiders my name
so everybody knows that I have arrived
so I remember it

Solitude feels heavy
My father arrives from the factory lost in sweat
He comes reciting a poem
reclaiming Manhattan’s streets
the streets of any town I walk
He is holding me by the hand
I am not sure if it is he
or you
whom I profoundly love right now Allen

Why do I mess with the memory
my father dissolved?
Ham and cheese I was saying
Ham and cheese
(four years in a row)
Invisible
while I learned how to write my name

I come holding the hand of Allen Ginsberg
hand of my father
hand of Doña Aída
my hand   
embroidering on the wide cloth of this country that spills over
so used to borrowed clothes

The clear mirror of multiple identities
fuses my father and me
(he has sworn never to leave El Cibao
I continue to bring him in my memory)

He takes off his left shoe
uncovers the place where before
his longest toe united us
It has been amputated to save his life
I grab the simile
I know why this memory is coming
Meager    dark flesh
in which I travel to New Jersey

Something starts to disperse
spill over
inundate the apartments
where dream makers live
I leave knowing where I am going
I learn to walk with sandals
holding onto my absent father’s arm
Vulnerable
raw flesh we love each other even more

I find myself in the streets of New Jersey
Then go back home
—home invented between nostalgia and forgiveness—
Here I plant the memories
my son will invent later on
Allen Ginsberg’s phantom comes to visit my garden
The good poet even dares to question me
I smile
and read a poem that speaks of return
the juggler return like the one of Li-Young Lee
We both know how to travel on a back
wide
robust (despite time)
We both know the secret of the meager dark flesh
rotten meat that keeps us vital
We are voices that know where silence comes from
Voices that rise across time
We the children of memory
Travelers with roots
inventors of memories___________________________

Translated by the author and Reggie Marra

Published on May8th, 2016

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