My father had a keloid in the middle of the chest
like a map of Angola open over the war-strategy table,
like a sun beating under the cold ointment.
When the cartridge shells fell, one by one, on his skin,
he could feel the flames of the stove on the mother’s face,
the blaze of the lightning bolt in the father’s blood,
over and over.
“¿M’hija, qué tú haces tan lejos?”,
he asked the last time we spoke,
his voice crossing the Atlantic
once more to reach me
in that noisy European city
that celebrated its patron saint’s day
when my father was born to be given
the name of a hunter,
the name of a flower,
the name of a martyr.
Each spring, his name blooms in the bogs
of this cold monochrome country.
Every night, my father visits me in my sleep
and covers my feet with his hands.
In the darkness of the room,
the African sun of his chest shines
like a flower in the mud.
Over a map of the Atlantic
If I must use this foreign language
to be seen while crossing,
I won’t give words that aren’t mine.
Clumsily, as if trying to remember a forgotten song,
I will cover myself with accidental sounds,
not knowing if speech is a mask or a shield.
Resting my head over the open map,
I will recall.
Lands and waters are undistinguishable.
The map is all azure Sennelier.
Rivers and roads flow and diverge from a single
trembling line of a Koh-I-Noor mechanical pencil.
I left this lizard-shaped island on the left
for this fist-shaped peninsula on the right.
Words were scarce here.
Believing that all shores are fruitful,
I found a bay and sailed Northwest.
‘Sail’, I heard.
‘Or would you rather be an empty bottle carried by the stream?
Leave behind the world of block letters on ruled notebooks.
Let go of unpublished lines and the hollow tree
that once protected you from the curiosity of people passing by’.
I had already left behind fountain pens,
handmade notebooks filled with joint letter,
cameras that captured light and darkness,
Agfachrome photos to be watched against the brightest of suns.
I found a body in this river but couldn’t see the head.
The water, a pillow too soft; the branches, a blanket too thin.
Here took place the ceremony set in motion by my eyes,
in a high-ceilinged chapel,
its glass windows shedding multicolour light
over the pale eyelids, the nose, the cheeks, the lips, the chin,
the imagined face brought back to life.
But I’d rather be a jellyfish riding the stream,
although I’ve made mistakes, of pronunciation, grammar,
even of punctuation; I forgot to rest.
On this side of the map, each word becomes
a starfish over their lips.
Destroyers of worlds crawling everywhere,
shining, multiplying, taking over.
Only corals notice.
I’ve never been South, the map fades below the Tropic of Cancer.
The Atlantic currents feed these northern algae submerged stories,
fragments of bodies, nightmares, dreams,
regenerating, coming back with the cycles of the ocean belt.
I will wait among them, on top of this hill below the surface.
Time, with our help, will let the waters flow,
erase the map,
The watercolour sun hanging from the wall is about to explode
yet there is no light over the map.
Under the surface, a deep-sea coral knits its body against the dark.
Lophelia pertusa, a name as strange as its solitude,
lighting the shipwreck, transforming the world.
Yairen Jerez Columbié is the author of the book of poetry Fósiles de lluvia (Betania,
2022) and the monograph Essays on Transculturation and Catalan-Cuban Intellectual
History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). Her poetry has appeared in Aigne, Altavoz Cultural,
Eñe: Revista Para Leer and Revista Temporales. She lectures at Trinity College Dublin.