Two Poems from Peru

A black and white photograph of rolls of barbed wire affixed above a stone wall




“Now I know how faces disappear,
how terror nests under eyelids,” wrote Anna,
Anna Akhmatova.
Can you understand such suffering?
While I read her, I lie stiff on the bed.

She, Anna, has a son in Siberia. She has swallowed her poetry. She’s memorized it.
I wish I could be there to offer her flowers
Memorize one of her poems
Get up from this bed and tell her “Anna, I am
with you.”



A woman approaches Anna in line outside the prison in Leningrad. Today Saint Petersburg.
“And you, can you describe this?”
And I said:
“I can.”

And she did. And she wrote “Requiem”
For her, for the woman who requested it and all the other women
Then she went to have a drink at the “stray dog”

That basement where poets laughed, melancholy
In the dark years of the Soviet regime



Anna: “Like the wives of Peter the Great’s soldiers I will stand
in Red Square and howl beneath the
Kremlin towers”

The woman: When will I get out of this bed?
When will I
take a pencil and begin to write?
Will I be able to?
In tough times, will poetry say something?
Can it?

And if it says something, how will it?
Poisoned as I am now
Will I howl?



Writing is erased
With one strike
I used to think I could keep it close
That it was a strange beauty
Its truth forever uncomfortable
But that’s not the case
It soon fades

It hurts no one

Today I don’t need to use my memory
Or swallow the poems of others so that someone
Will drag me down to ominous basements
Or exile me to a guano island
I store everything in electronic devices
Conspiracies planned at dawn
in unrepentant chats
And autocorrect always ready to ruin everything

Ruin me



The war is over – so they say
In wartimes
I used to walk through boulevards and squares
Attend recitals
The war belonged to others
There was no power
There was no water
The corrupt head
The war reached us via the news
Through the papers and the bleeding
on TV screens

Death was daily news
But never something new
Jail cells full
Mothers pleading outside

They didn’t kidnap you
They didn’t rape you
They didn’t take away your child
You didn’t marry your abuser
(or did you? – times change)

But why today does the war
play in our hearts
like images that can’t be switched off?



In her mind there is a war
Siberia is an enormous canvas
Like the desert was in Chile
The sea in Argentina
The riverbeds in Peru

These are the canvases of our adolescence



When I get out of this bed
When this woman is no longer ill
When terror no longer nests
When I know who is watching us
We will roar like you
With pain and beauty



There in Yelabuga
A rope hangs around the neck
of Marina
Marina Tsvetaeva
A rope
and a handful of poems

Outside, immense Siberia
That streak of silence and cold
The purity of the first snowfall
And then darkness

No children
No husband
The persecuted
The assassinated
The survivors
Of a new world

In a world that doesn’t exist anymore
To persist in writing
What for?

Meanwhile this woman
Has nails stained
with chemicals
Poisons piped in from a catheter
they say will heal her

From her bed
The woman keeps writing
And remembers the first Boston snow

After the first day everything rots and turns gray
And darkness falls

So another century passes
when I draw breath no more,
from the very core of one condemned to die,
with my hand I write you


Translations from the Spanish

Victoria Guerrero Peirano is a poet, teacher, and feminist activist. Her recent publication Y la muerte no tendrá dominio (2019) won the 2020 National Literature Prize. She is the author of five poetry collections, including a compilation of her poetry, Documentos de Barbarie (poetry 2002–2012) (2013), which won ProART in 2015. She cares about her dog and cat. She survives by teaching at the university.

Anna Rosenwong is a translator, editor, and content strategist. Her work has been honored with the Best Translated Book Award, the Academy of American Poets’ Ambroggio Prize, and an NEA fellowship. Her publications include Deuda Natal (Mara Pastor), Diorama (Rocío Cerón), and here the sun’s for real (José Eugenio Sánchez).

María José Giménez is a poet, translator, and editor whose work has received support from the NEA, the Studios at MASS MoCA, the Breadloaf Translators’ Conference, Canada Council for the Arts, and BILTC. María José is the author of Chelated and co-translator of Mara Pastor’s Deuda Natal, winner of the Academy of American Poets’ Ambroggio Prize.