memory of water

By Reina María Rodríguez b. 1952 Reina Maria Rodriguez

Translated from the Spanish by Joel Brouwer & Jessica Stephenson Read the translator's notes

september is a month like any other and unlike any other. it seems in september everything awaited will arrive: in the calm air, in a particular scent, in the stillness of the quay. when september comes, i know i’m going to lose myself. the ants climbing my legs and a certain change of light tell me so. the air comes and goes beneath my dress, pressing the warm cloth against me, pressing me with the desire to find myself in the sea, that sea beaten deep gray and magnetized by neutrinos, thanks to which i can perform my observations and telekinetic communications. the salty, sticky wall of the Malecón is covered with fish and forgotten hooks. i like to lick its sheen of salt and make my tongue salty and sticky. in that moment the rest of the city can vanish, it’s just that sea and me, before all thought, all desire. then i undress and enter, knowing i’ll find something, and that the boats—which seem suspended on the horizon, seem to have slipped their limits, motionless and painted there—are also mine...when i met you and you met me it was still september and we were strange and different and would be for a long time after—though i sometimes snagged you with certain secret hooks, shaping a sort of formless impression: something strange and indefinable divided the outline of your body from the space around you, but without making a human form, and in your eyes the sunlight revolved like a bicycle’s spoked wheel...the bicycle moves on and i’m carried along, filled with dry branches and coral. in my hair i wear the butterflies we collected together. the little house, one point amid the infinite, comes into view: already we can see the windows, like little black voids, and their curtains beating in the wind. i squeeze your waist, the bicycle moves on; even though the street is narrow the bicycle rolls on, rolls on against the spray. when you turn your head and see my hand, my hook snagged in a struggle of desire, the sun has turned immense in your eyes again. you make for the little house already in view, already at the edge of the curve...a naked man in lamplight is a magnificent animal: his pointy shoulders jut out and cut off the light. a line of fuzz descends from his navel to where the darkness begins, where the skin tightens like the skin of a fig. his body—your body—is an arc i want to tighten, to overcome, to conquer. hidden behind a tree, i can see your eyes again. the Mississippi is a big river with many tributaries. the arc tightens and closes. i throw an arm over you, a leg, a hand, a lip, hallucinations, an ear—as usual. my body moves on. the Mississippi is a big river with many tributaries. its water burns in my thighs, in the course of my dreams: the Mississippi is a deep and torrential river situated in the United States, it is born in Lake Itasca, passes through St. Paul, St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans, traverses 3,780 kilometers and slides and slides through a wide delta to the Gulf of Mexico. i’m in geography class. i like this class. the world just barely fits in my head. the map hangs before me with its spokes and points. someone made that all up, just to make me think i belong to one of those zones out there. all those castles and fortifications to toy with, the beginnings of everything that seems to be reality, but isn’t, because we’re not outside but inside the globe, that huge globe so stubborn in its sufficiency, and even far from the classroom nothing’s different: there’s just the idea of that transparent globe that is my image of the world, always turning, imperfect and constant inside me. i like the maps and the instability of the geography that situates places in my head. i like using graph paper to plot the latitudes and longitudes i can’t measure. i also like the geography professor, whose eyes i must constantly avoid in order not to drown myself. he doesn’t know, he can’t imagine, that while he lectures, while he looks at me, i draw fish in my notebook to throw in his river. the boy behind me won’t stop looking at me, and whatever one does the others all follow, watching from the corners of their eyes. that’s why i’m going to fold the page away from his gaze and make a true map where he won’t find me, alone at my desk in the middle of the world...in the middle of the lake there’s a boat and we’re three—although the third may have already vanished for us—and i want to paddle and sit in the center. you’ve taken off your shirt: the landscape appears and disappears. when i take the oars you want to teach me how to row over the edge. you try to teach me: you take my hands—you’re behind and above me. my fingers are lost in the middle of the boat. i’m wearing faded jeans and carrying a purple parasol. the oar descends toward the deep and tangles with seaweed. my hair hangs surly and limp on my wet shoulders. we try to steer but go nowhere. you explain the roundness of the earth; the sharpened tip of the compass needle, always precise, marking contours, lines, limits. the shadow and truth of your body in the landscape: appearances and disappearances when you try to comprehend the possible across great distances, the symmetry, forgetfulness, incarnation in other beings: animals, plants, and later, men once again. you taught me all this, but i’m not a map and i hold still. i abandon my shoes and my dread of nearing the end: the oar descends toward the deep, it is september. we don’t move. i keep still to be different, that’s why...

Source: Poetry (June 2011).

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This poem originally appeared in the June 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

June 2011

Biography

Reina María Rodríguez was born in Havana in 1952 and lives there still. In Cuba she is recognized as a major poet and also as an advocate for non-governmental cultural spaces. Her rooftop home, informally known as la azotea de Reina, has served as a salon for the Cuban literary community for many years. English translations of her work include La Detencion del Tiempo/Time’s Arrest (Factory School 2005), and Violet Island and . . .

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Poems by Reina María Rodríguez

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, The Body, Love, Desire, Nature, Fall, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Activities, Travels & Journeys

POET’S REGION Caribbean

Poetic Terms Prose Poem

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