October 22, 2023

forget, forget, let the dead bury their dead

By Sara Camhaji

ZENITHAL LIGHT

That night I was Naomi Shemer
an underground city
a walled-in heart
a bronze-domed stage.
I was Naomi Shemer 
singing a stammering hora 
a rikud of steps in boundless wells. 
Everyone could tell, I think,
and I wish I’d made it to Zion in the rigging.
But they recognize me, 
I am the violin of every song,
and I hear golden ovations from the dressing room.
My closest childhood friend
looks at me steadily and states what was obvious then:
everyone likes you
because your parents are dead. 
Without a wardrobe now,
I abandon that and all my other diplomas
backstage. 
Facing a drab mirror,
I rub my eyes
like the squares of an empty market.

LUZ CENITAL

Esa noche fui Naomi Shemer
una ciudad subterránea
un corazón con muralla
un escenario en cúpulas de bronce.
Fui Naomi Shemer 
recitando un hora tartamudo
rikud de pasos en pozos de agua desmedidos.
Todos se dieron cuenta, sospecho
 y en tramoya lamento no llegar al Zion.
Pero me reconocen, 
soy el violín de todas las canciones,
escucho palmadas de oro desde el camerino.
La amiga más cercana de mi infancia
me centra la mirada y redunda lo de entonces: 
a ti todos te quieren 
porque tus papás se murieron.
Ya sin el vestuario,
abandono ese y todos mis diplomas 
detrás de bambalinas.
Ante un espejo insulso
froto mis párpados 
como plazas de un mercado vacío.

THE ORACLE

People say my great-grandmother was a witch, that she conducted ritual cleanses with eggs and interpreted Turkish coffee grounds. My grandmother quashes the myth of my iconic great-grandmother. She says her own mother never wanted to do a reading for her and that she, great-grandmother, once confessed she knew nothing about those who sought her wisdom, just intuitively sniffed out the obvious: in the case of a young single woman, she’d tell her about a young man close on her trail. In the case of a new wife, a pair of arms cradling a baby. In the case of an old man, that he was on the verge of a long journey. In the case of someone down-and-out, that his luck was about to change. Whether for the better or the worse, she wouldn’t say. And she sure knew a thing or two about luck. Like the story set down in a Chekhovian notebook: my great-grandfather bought a lottery ticket, won a million dollars, and committed suicide. In between, we can surmise, with few certainties besides his death, that in a fit of tycoonish elation, he bought a car and ran someone over. The ghost of the accident haunted him for months to come until the horror of killing someone corralled him into losing the trial and getting confined to a mental asylum. He believed that the relatives would hunt him down and seek revenge. People say that when he tried to escape in hopes of visiting his own children, he killed himself unintentionally, unable to gauge the height of the wall. Others suspect suicide. The other certainty is that my great-grandmother was left penniless and with six mouths to feed; two of her children were still in diapers. This is how need makes a witch of the heroine. The success of the teacup oracle was that, even though the augury wouldn’t be fulfilled, she deciphered it with a grace that contrasted with the harshness of the unfiltered coffee; it ensured that her clients would offer up even more personal information, associated in turn with the stories of other interested parties. An additional advantage of her approach was that she decrypted the problem and tendered the solution: an egg or two to melt the aura’s frost. If, on cracking the egg, the yolk was intact, it suggested the casting-off of some dark work. She didn’t lack for invitations to weddings, circumcisions, and parties. The cost of investing in her business was equivalent to the fine grind of pea flowers on the millstone, fragrant herbs, and a carton of shaken eggs.

EL ORÁCULO

Dicen que mi bisabuela era bruja, que hacía limpias con huevo y leía la taza de café turco. Mi abuela desmiente al icono de mi bisabuela. Dice que nunca quiso leerle nada y que alguna vez le confesó que ella desconocía las particularidades de sus consultantes, pero que olfateaba con intuición de lo obvio: si era una joven soltera le hablaba de un muchacho persiguiendo sus huellas. Si era recién casada, unos brazos acunando al bebé. Si era un mayor, estaba a punto de realizar un viaje largo. Si era un necesitado, pronto daría un giro de suerte. No especificaba si era para bien o para mal. Y vaya que ella sabía de suertes. Tal como el planteamiento de la anécdota escrita en una libreta chejoviana: mi bisabuelo compró un billete de lotería, ganó un millón de dólares y se suicidó. En el ínter podemos desarrollar con poca certeza más allá de la de su muerte, que en el delirio de magnate compró un coche y atropelló a una persona. El fantasma del choque lo persiguió los meses siguientes hasta que el terror de haber matado a alguien lo confinó a la pérdida del juicio y a la reclusión en un manicomio. Creía que los deudos seguían su rastro con el objetivo de vengarse. Cuentan que cuando quiso escapar para ver a sus propios hijos se mató al no dimensionar la altura de la barda. Otros opinan que se suicidó. La otra certeza es que la bisabuela quedó sin dinero y con seis boquitas a sus expensas, dos de ellas todavía usaban pañal. Así es como la necesidad convierte en bruja a la heroína del cuento. El éxito del oráculo de tacita era que a pesar de no cumplirse el augurio ella lo leía con una gracia que contrastaba con la aspereza del café sin filtrado; garantizaba que los clientes le confiaran más información personal que se relacionaba con la historia de otros interesados. Otra ventaja de su lectura era que descifraba el problema y ofrecía el remedio: un huevo o dos para remover la escarcha del aura. Si al reventar el huevo la yema estaba rota, presumía el desamarre de un trabajo negro. Invitaciones a casamientos, circuncisiones y festejos no le faltaron. El costo de inversión de su negocio era igual a la molienda fina de caracolillo con planchuela, hierbas de olor y un cartón de huevos agitados.

SPECTER

I spend sleepless days considering the lies
my ghosts will tell their grandchildren.
Then I get ahead of myself.
I lie to them soapless
unperfumed their bodies before
the ritual
of the last homework assignment last
supper last bath.
So they’ll keep me company
counting their moles,
the soft clearing of their throats
and other
little noises.
I’ll remember white—for example—Mari’s favorite.
As for Lalo, the glimpse of tiny flowers.
They smelled of jasmine touchless, I underline, decide. 
The dead’s permanence endures as long as you pay them with memory, unstable currency of each and every day, eternity waning. They know nothing of the living.

* *

Everything at once, said Mozart, who one day heard the whole composition in a single line. Those who leave, we’re the eagle flying over the monolith.
“Forget,” comes the voice, “forget, forget, let the dead bury their dead.” 
“Where does this blooming come from?”
From time.
“No. From your need to relive what you don’t even remember.”
It comes from how long the perennials of a single species can last once they’ve blossomed.
They’re there I’m not looking for them. I plant cuttings in Coral. 
“And how, from there, from that edge, that muffled yell, that tumbled childhood, can a kingdom spread?”
A subtle glimmer in the jasmine. A word,
its texture.

ESPECTRO

Durante el día me desvelo pensando en las mentiras que mis fantasmas le contarán a sus nietos.
Entonces me adelanto.
Les miento sin jabones
sin perfumes sus cuerpos antes
del ritual
de la última tarea la última
cena el último baño.
Para que me acompañen
al conteo de sus lunares,
sus carraspeos blandos
y otros
de sus ruiditos.
Recordaré el blanco —por ejemplo—, el favorito de Mari. De Lalo, el avistamiento de flores pequeñas.
Olían a jazmines sintacto, subrayo, decido.
La permanencia de los muertos dura mientras se les pague con memoria, moneda inestable de cada día, mengua
la eternidad. Nada entienden ellos de los vivos.

* *

Todo al mismo tiempo, dijo Mozart, que un día oyó la composición en un solo trazo. Los que se van, somos el
águila que sobrevuela al monolito.
—Olvida —dice—, olvida, olvida, deja a los muertos enterrar a sus muertos.
—¿De dónde viene esta floración?
Del tiempo.
—No. De tu necesidad de revivir lo que ni siquiera recuerdas.
Viene de lo que duran abiertas las plantas perennes de una misma especie.
Están ahí yo no las busco. Esquejo en Coral.
—¿Y cómo, desde ahí, desde ese borde, ese grito contenido, desde esa despeñada infancia, se extiende un
reino?
Un brillo sutil entre los jazmines. Una palabra,
su textura.

EX-LIBRIS

mama
mama didn’t
mama didn’t tell
mama didn’t tell me
mama couldn’t tell she’d die
mama didn’t tell me about death
mama couldn’t tell i’d be an orphan
mama didn’t tell me about my death or her orphanhood
mama didn’t tell me any secrets in the life of death
mama didn’t tell me the secrets of life
mama didn’t tell me the secret of death
mama didn’t tell my siblings
mama didn’t tell us those secrets
mama didn’t tell us
mama didn’t tell
mama didn’t
mama

EX LIBRIS

mamá
mamá no
mamá no contó
mamá no me contó
mamá no contó con su muerte
mamá no me contó de la muerte
mamá no contó con mi orfandad
mamá no me contó de mi muerte ni su orfandad
mamá no me contó los secretos en la vida de la muerte
mamá no me contó los secretos de la vida
mamá no me contó el secreto de la muerte
mamá no les contó a mis hermanos
mamá no nos contó esos secretos
mamá no nos contó
mamá no contó
mamá no
mamá

CARROUSEL

Among lions, horses, and giraffes, Yael’s curls ripple far from her childhood. She’s seven years old and wearing red patent leather shoes. She’s not a little girl anymore, even if everyone still calls her Yaelita. Everyone. Except for her parents. Everyone. Except for her siblings. They don’t call her anything. They all died. Everyone. Except for her. Her mouth belongs to Jaime, her brother; her nose to the sister who used to be Esther, the oldest; the timbre of her laugh belongs to Carlos: it’s a secret, a family heirloom. She can’t know it until she’s twelve. Until then, she’ll think she was born of the damp earth, the shadow cast by clouds. That she just sprouted up one day, like mushrooms. She will be, to those who have her, the moss that bloomed on the tree bark one day, the ribbon that threatens to fly out of her hair with every spin she takes. Her figure is a fleeting shadow, flimsy, scant. Daisies stand out from her blue dress. Yael, dandelion, wind-resistant. She stands, clinging to the axis of the carrousel. She doesn’t ride a horse. Yael gets down. Mama says I have to lend her my ice skates. They’re new. I don’t want her to get the wheels dirty. But you have to share, and she’ll explain it to me when she can. Mama will sit me in her lap and won’t tell me she wrote up her will after flight 940 went down.

CARRUSEL

Entre leones, caballos y jirafas, los rizos de Yael ondulan lejos de su infancia. Tiene siete años y calza charoles rojos. Dejó de ser niña aunque todos la llamen Yaelita. Todos. Menos sus padres. Todos. Menos sus hermanos. Ellos no la llaman. Ellos murieron. Todos. Menos ella. La boca es de Jaime su hermano, la nariz de la mayor que era Esther, el timbre con el que ríe es de Carlos: es en secreto, una reliquia familiar. No debe saberlo hasta los doce. Mientras, pensará que nació de la humedad de la tierra, de la sombra de las nubes, que un día brotó, como los hongos. Será, para quienes la tengan, el musgo que un día salió de su corteza, el listón que a cada vuelta amenaza con desprendérsele del pelo. Su figura es sombra efímera, exigua, endeble. A su vestido azul le resaltan margaritas. Yael, un diente de león, reacio al soplido del viento. Parada se sostiene del eje del carrusel. No va de jinete. Yael se bajó del carrusel. Mamá dice que tengo que prestarle mis patines de hilera. Son nuevos. No quiero que ensucie las llantas. Pero hay que compartir y ella me lo explicará cuando pueda. Mamá me sentará en sus piernas y no me dirá que escribió su testamento después del avionazo del vuelo 940.

CHILDHOOD IS SOMETHING ELSE

                                             a type of speech 

                                                                             MINUTAE.

                                              Boar: Foolish person / a creature easily
                                              tricked.   Puer:     scarce     /     timid   /
                                              aesternus.    Puerile:   shame     /  excess
                                              humility. Child: kid  /  tot  / ankle-biter.
                                              Pipsqueak:  cheerful  rugrat  with  wide
                                              eyes,     as    if    startled.    Little     one:
                                              sleepless.

                                              Lullaby:  low,  slow  song  for  soothing
                                              to  sleep.  Adult:  differential  position /
                                              insomnia.        Jasmine:        in        Sufi
                                              aromatherapy,    a    bond-strengthening
                                              essence.     Creature:    living     thing  /
                                              product:       of      man's     imagination,
                                              generally  fantastical  in nature.  Simple:
                                              naïve   /   milkweed  /  that  which  only
                                              seeks  to  tend  its  own  garden / look at
                                              him   all  cool  as  a  cucumber,   and   what
                                                  have    you    gotten    yourself   into,   little 
                                              creature?

LA INFANCIA ES OTRA COSA

                                             modelo del habla 

                                                                             MINUCIA.
   

                                                   
                                              Verraco:  Persona  tonta  /  ser  que
                                              se    engaña   con   facilidad.   Puer:
                                              escaso/        apocado/          aeternus.
                                              Pueril:      vergüenza/         excesiva
                                              humildad.      Chico:        chamaco/
                                              escuincle/      chaval.          Mocoso:
                                              chilpayate    sonriente       con   ojos
                                              abiertos,   como  espantado.  Rorro: 
                                              que no duerme. 
                                              Arrullo:  canto  grave  y  monótono.
                                              para   adormecer.   Adulto:  posición
                                              diferencial/   desvelo.     Jazmín:   en
                                              aromaterapia         sufí,          esencia
                                              promotora  del   vínculo.    Criatura:
                                              ser      vivo/     producto:         de    la
                                              imaginación         del            hombre,
                                              generalmente         de            carácter
                                              fantástico.     Cándido:        ingenuo/
                                              algodoncillo/    que      solo       busca
                                              cultivar   su   propio   jardín/    míralo
                                              ahí   tan   campante,   ¿pero   dónde    te
                                              habías  metido,  criatura?

Sara Camhaji is a writer, teacher, and mother who lives in Mexico City. Her work is a natural response to her lived experience and the emotional dimensions she has inhabited. She has told and written stories her entire life. Poetry—the axis of her exploration—has prompted her to develop new discursive forms in close contact with inner human reality; wrenching, they open themselves to embodiment and appropriation. She has a master’s in creative writing, two children, and two published works: Maleza (Alboroto Ediciones, 2022) and Don´t take photos of the landscape; take portraits with the view of the background if you want (Elefanta Editorial, 2023), both in Spanish and English. A selection of her poems appeared in the UNAM’s Periódico de Poesía and different literary supplements. She received a grant from Asylum Arts in 2017 and was awarded the Peleh Fund arts residency in Berkeley, California in 2023. Sara writes in the voice of an archive with a voice of its own, like a thinking time machine, or from the dark sincerity of she-who-didn’t-know-she-had-to-live. 

Robin Myers is a poet, translator, essayist, and 2023 NEA Translation Fellow. Her latest translations include The Law of Conservation by Mariana Spada (Deep Vellum Publishing), Bariloche by Andrés Neuman (Open Letter Books), and In Vitro by Isabel Zapata (Coffee House Press). As a poet, she was included in the 2022 Best American Poetry anthology.