When Blood Boils

A painting of an indigenous woman in traditional dress sitting on a medical examination bed with a blood pressure cuff on her arm

What is the reason for your visit, Embera Wera?1
You’ve walked fourteen hours through the muddy night, 
you’ve crossed an entire mountain range to see me, 
even knowing the demon moana lay in wait for you in
      the darkness;2
when your legs failed you, Embera Wera, 
your War, your son, carried you strapped to his back.
Did you tumble?
Is that why mud stains your dress and your wounds are
     mapped in blood?

What brings you to the hospital, Embera Wera?
Malaria that has your blood boiling, 
poverty that’s handing you its bill—
I don’t understand your language, and you don’t
      understand my dialect.

Are you in pain . . . Boro pirabu, tani pirabu, bi pirabu?3
It’s your seventy-three years of neglect that’s hurting you,
war that’s taken away the land and the fruit of your
your rivers that were poisoned by mercury—
you feel you can’t take anymore.

What are you holding on to, Embera Wera?
The god who taught you to romanticize misery 
who with whipping and witch-burning taught you to love
and who is waiting for you to “bless” your suffering?

But don’t let me die—your eyes say—
clinging to life is not a sin.
—Administer fluids, blood sugar, an EKG, chloroquine—
    and justice?
Have her fill out the SIVIGILA form for malaria!4
But, why not also report violence by the State?
Why not denounce the indolence of history?

Translation from the Spanish

1 “Embera” refers to an indigenous people who live in Colombia and Panama and is the patient’s tribal name. “Wera” is the patient’s given name.

2Moana” is a demon who attacks travelers.

3Boro pirabu” means headache, “tani pirabu” means stomach pain, and “bi pirabu” means pain in the womb.

4 The Sistema de Vigilancia en Salud Pública (sivigila) refers to a Colombian national health system.

Federico Villegas resides in the Colombian Andes where, as a physician, he works to bridge the gaps of social inequality while dreaming of being a writer. He has published two articles in medical journals.

George Franklin translated, along with the author, Ximena Gómez’s Último día / Last Day. He is also the author of four poetry collections, and a new book of his poems, Remote Cities, is forthcoming in 2022 from Sheila-Na-Gig Editions. He practices law in Miami and teaches in Florida prisons.

Colombian poet Ximena Gómez’s books include Habitación con moscas (2016), Último día / Last Day (2019), and Cuando llegue la sequía (2021). She is the Spanish translator of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, George Franklin’s Among the Ruins / Entre las ruinas, and contributing translator to Hyam Plutzik’s 32 Poems / 32 Poemas.