From while they sleep (under the bed is another country)
This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features an excerpt from a suite of poems by Raquel Salas Rivera.
from while they sleep (under the bed is another country)
loan as in
debt relief 4
4 no duermo
porque el vecino
no apaga el generador
as debt 5
5 sin contaminación lumínica
con contaminación rosita
death by port 6
6 si te visito
temo beber tu agua
los americanos won’t understand our (hi)stories. that one about the pig dressed as a rich lady (all dressed up) was so we would know that not everything that shines is gold and so we would not rebel. juan bobo was supposed to explain carefully and slowly that we deserved to die poor, roofless, at the mercy of a colorless world. our rainbow, marianne, or me salve luxuries were pig pearls. when i stood for the first time on the land that belonged to this university where everything was clean, where folks used the right clothes, and the pearls were real, i knew right away that every boricua was juan bobo’s pig and juan bobo, that here they would always see us as facsimiles of their nation. our clothes didn’t fit right. our hair was noticeably different. our voices. our names. our ways of living together. our collective habits.
to translate is not to communicate, nor to reach the post office mailbox without a key nor pack oneself for a domestic rate (with the exception of puerto rico). it isn’t giving up, diving into the freezing lake, or believing in the current. to translate is to be the illegible witness of oneself. it is to explain things enough so that they think they understand, but to know that in the end they won’t understand our (hi)stories. it is what juan bobo tells the pig and what the pig answers. 7
7 los americanos no entenderán nuestras historias. aquella de la puerca vestido de dama (emporifollá) era para que supieramos que todo lo que brilla no es oro y también para que no nos rebeláramos. juan bobo se supone que nos explicara cautelosa y detenidamente que merecíamos morir pobres, sin techo, a la merced de un mundo incoloro. nuestros lujos de rainbow, marianne o me salve eran perlas de puerca. cuando pisé el terreno de esta universidad donde todo era limpio, la gente usaba la ropa que les correspondía y las perlas eran reales, supe inmediatamente que todo boricua era la puerca de juan bobo y juan bobo, que acá nos verán siempre como facsímiles de su nación. nuestra ropa estaba mal ubicada. nuestro pelo era notablemente diferente. nuestras voces. nuestros nombres. nuestra forma de convivir. nuestras manías colectivas.
traducir no es comunicarse, ni llegar a un correo sin llave de buzón, ni empaquetarse para envíos domésticos (con la excepción de puerto rico). no es rendirse, ni es tirarse al lago congelado, ni creer en la corriente. traducir es se un testigo illegible de uno mismo. es explicar lo suficiente para que piensen que te entienden, pero saber que al fin y al cabo no entenderán nuestras historias. es lo que juan bobo le dice a la puerca y lo que la puerca le contesta.
in puerto rico for four weeks
looking for a good time 8
8 cualquier cosa
pasa por casa
there is a pitbull possessiveness in the language of empire. our people can denote belonging in being possessed and, in possession, by obviating consent. the white woman who said that we must take care of our people, spoke as an agent of the government she often claimed did not represent her. when she refused to say our president, it was because she understood that she had not consented to fascism, that he did not belong to her vision of a collective protected by a guardian state. he was not her president because he was an usurper. of course, this was not the case with our people in puerto rico. for those who feel and are u.s. citizens, born and raised in the country that is not puerto rico, that is above puerto rico, have an astounding ability to not understand. it is as old as the first time they learned that objects were to be wielded by owners, that america was the best of all the evils, and that their great nation had once been a colony, but was no longer.
the weeks after the hurricane, the months, what i dreaded most was this newfound awareness that we existed. i knew that no matter how loud i screamed, the knowledge i had acquired through love and death meant nothing to these ex-colonized colonizers. they would only hear echoes of their own good deeds, like so many missionaries kneeling before a familial god. 9
9 cesaron las ayudantías
Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).