Poem of the Week | March 10, 2014

This week we’re delighted to feature a new poem by M. Soledad Caballero. Caballero is an associate professor of English at Allegheny College. Her scholarly work focuses on travel narratives, Gothic Literature, and British Romanticism. She was a finalist for the Editor’s Prize in Poetry for The Missouri Review in 2013. Thanks to her time at Grub Street in Boston, MA a few years ago and the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival, she has found avenues to continue writing poetry.
Author’s note:

For this poem I wanted to think about the juxtapositions of images, the starkness of the oil pumps, the white snow on flat plains in Oklahoma and the peace of a young girl who fits and does not fit in that landscape and then the haunted history in another landscape with snow and violence amidst the natural but also urban cityscapes. I had been writing about birds, birds of paradise, but all the images I worked at and kept working at were flat, empty. I kept falling short of capturing the strange, miraculous thing that is a bird of paradise. And then I realized that this image worked as a metaphor for a young girl in the snow. To me this is a poem that is simultaneously about dislocation, suffering, and joy. It is a poem about trying to make memories out of broken history. The poems I am writing right now are about being haunted by history, a political history that is not quite mine but is also part of being an immigrant so I claim it as mine. I am drawn to the idea of collective memory in a family, in a culture, even if it is a brutal one.


Losing Spanish

She speaks a gringa Spanish
like mine but without the trill in the r’s
a bit too much throat around the vowels,
a soft tongue no anchoring against teeth,
her sounds too open, too big
for the sinews of Spanish.
This makes sense
five years younger than me, born in exile
raised on a prairie where snow fell
right on the ground, flat and thick
making that first winter
a world of white.
Surrounded by strange monsters made of steel
dragons hungry for black sludge,
she played in those Oklahoma fields
a skinny fleck of girl, in a second-hand pink parka,
scarlet hat and gloves, a burst of color against the cold.
Lanky, fast, she twirled her body into motion,
a bird of paradise dancing against
the stark flatness of the plains.
Unlike me, she laughed, shouted, lived
in a wilderness of ice,
unaware of other snow in the mountains,
tall peaks, cutting into the sky,
reminders that something is
beautiful in a thin southern country
where the color of blood ruled
the rivers, the streets, the night,
where boots marched in the rhythm
of sadness and steel alongside tanks.
Two thousand miles away she lived
unaware of cement graves in stadiums,
the purple and black of bodies
disappeared after electricity,
the General’s timid smile radiating
death in that other country.
In the Oklahoma panhandle,
she did not remember the sirens, the curfews,
the fear reeking from the corners of buildings
she had no memories burnt into muscles,
no sounds, no echoes or language of sadness
she grew up in a world of frozen water
with the brightness of snow, with nothing to forget
she lost Spanish.