“How many times…”

Thursday, December 8, 2016 - 3:51 pm
At a mass grave on the outskirts of Koreme in Iraqi Kurdistan, a woman mourns her brother and husband. Estimates of 60,000-80,000 people, mostly Kurdish, disappeared or were executed during the 1988 Iraqi Anfal campaign.

“How many times…”

Here again is Alicia Partnoy, this time reading from the work of the Chilean poet Marjorie Agosin, who escaped General Pinochet’s regime. Agosin has written poetry about the mothers of Argentina’s disappeared; and about the human anguish in the city of Juarez in Mexico, where Mercedes Doretti has worked on some of the unsolved disappearances and murders of over 400 young women. Here you can listen to Alicia Partnoy read Marjorie Agosín’s poem “How many times…” and follow along in both English and Spanish.

“How many times…” (English)


How many times do I talk with my dead?
And their hands are rough and wrinkled, and I ask them
things and their faces are a memory of sorrows, and the night
threatens us in its tempestuous fall, but I talk with
my dead which perhaps are yours, and I cover them, saturate
them with my silent sorrow and with my tear-drenched eyes.
I always bid farewell to that body,
to those eyes that seem like a river
of silence.
And this is how I learn to tell them things,
to promise them a blossoming, flowery garden,
a history, a beginning, a promise,
and it is so incredible how I love this dead one, who is not mine,
who is not a cadaver either, but a waterfall, a dialogue,
a shore to be crossed.

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Cuantás veces yo converso con mis muertos
y sus manos, son una textura hundida, y les pregunto cosas
y sus rostros son una memoria de llagas, y la noche
amenazándonos en su caída intempestuosa, pero yo converso con
mis muertos que a lo mejor son tuyos, y los cubro, los empapo
de mi sentir callado y de mis ojos parecidos a los alambres de la
sombra. Siempre me despido de ese cuerpo, de esos ojos que me parecen
un río
de silencio.
Y así aprendo a decirles cosas,
a prometerles un jardín floreciente, florido,
una historia, un nacimiento, una promesa,
y es tan increíble como yo amo a este muetro, que no es mi
que tampoco es un cadáver. Es un salto de agua, un diálogo,
una costa para cruzar.

(Copyright 1998 by Marjorie Agosín. Reprinted from “An Absence of Shadows,” published by White Pine Press, with permission from Marjorie Agosín. Translated by Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman.)

Find more poetry from On Being on the Poetry Radio Project page.

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Marjorie Agosin

is a Chilean-American writer. Agosín was born in 1955 to Moises and Frida Agosín in Berkeley, California, before quickly moving to Chile, where she lived her childhood in a German community. She is a prolific author: her published books, including those she has written as well as those she has edited, number over eighty.

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