Three Poems from Peru

December 10, 2020
translated by Amy Olen
A photograph of the long interior of a subway car
Photo by Patrick Robert Doyle / Unsplash

Four Scars for a Nameless Town

I come from a town with no name,
no smiles of children under the trees.
My town has no parks
or roads drawn on any map,
or useless books narrating its history.
My town is this sand that falls on my feet,
this mass of shade I carry with me,
a piece of my soul wading in the water’s edge.

A town with no history, with no fountain in the square,
isn’t a town, it’s a place in chaos,
a ransacked cove,
an abandoned kingdom,
a nameless star,
a naked, dead girl,
a gloomy night,
a ball in the open sea.

This town has no streets
named for fallen war heroes.
It doesn’t have landscapes or photos in almanacs,
murmurs, rocks in the drainage pipes,
moldy and forgotten texts,
clawed up doors underground,
the faintest voices that go and don’t come back.

In other times,
people had different faces.
Their paths were different, too, and
nobody came through this town.
A nameless and borderless town
is a line in the air, an empty,
directionless train, an intense love
under the rain, a wrong turn
in the neighborhood, an ill-fated summer afternoon.

A Window in Winter

Through this window
I have seen the rain and snow,
my distant children, an envious
scowl and, far away, a letter
from God on the ground ripped to shreds.
From this window
the word Homeland has
the aroma of toasted coffee, of hot
bread, of resonant Spanish.
But this window, certainly,
has stature and anguish,
a frightening blind corner.
I have a window in
West Philly like someone
holding onto an illusion or a dream.
But for the record:
The sun doesn’t come in through this window,
much less memorable feats,
just questions and the Past,
just your name like fragile pride.


                                       Quiero escribir, pero me sale espuma.
                                       I want to write, but out comes foam.
                                       – César Vallejo, trans. Clayton Eshleman

They told me She’s like this,
like the skinny and fickle girl you wait for
but who doesn’t show for the date you made,

or like the glass of water we knock over
on accident and it spills all over
our only decent pair of pants,

or like the telephone number we
ruminate on uselessly while the bus
takes so long at night,

or like your first girlfriend that you run into,
defiant and made up,
after years,
in an old bookstore,
perhaps divorced and happy,

or like a stubborn piece of gum
clinging to the sole of our shoe and suffocating us

or maybe like the violent gray rain
in spring that cusses and flees,

or like the car
that nearly runs us off an
inhospitable and deserted road,

that’s how Poetry, so pale and cruel,
holds back, insults or hisses its
strange song.

Translations from the Spanish

Sandro Chiri (b. 1958) is a representative poet of the “Generation of 1980” in Peru. He has published four books of poetry: El libro del mal amor y otros poemas (1989), Y si después de tantas palabras (1992), Viñetas (2004) and Poemas de Filadelfia / Philadelphia Poems (2006). His poetry has been translated into English, Portuguese, and Italian.

Amy Olen is assistant professor of translation and interpreting studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Her research interests include Latin American literature, literary translation, and interpreting studies. She is a contributing translator for the journal Latin American Literature Today and translator of the bilingual edition Luisa Capetillo: escalando la tribuna (Editora Educación Emergente, 2022).