Five Poems

Five Poems

Cinco poemas

Kelly Martínez-Grandal

Translation by Melanie Márquez Adams


Havana reverberates, resists,        

bursting through the cobblestones.

Light years,

I sense a galaxy of infant stars.            

I don’t use its name and it doesn’t use mine.

Havana keeps in me the never-to-be-repeated,                 

pressing like a nerve;

behind everything, always,

amber of summer.

Havana hurts me for the first time

my body finding a ritual:         

my father and I in the Alameda de Paula,

my mother’s hand, my compass.               

Sometimes it sings a tune,

changes my voice,

blows some dust and I don’t notice.

Monster mouth,

like a remora clinging to my hips.

Havana whispers within me, always within me,

uncomfortable ghost;

slowly pressing my skull,

Queen of Water

claims my head.


They brought them in ships, chained like animals.                          

Congos, they believed that body and soul,                                    

in death,

returned together to the land of their ancestors.

Some of them jumped into the ocean, others

arrived in Haiti,

to the white bite,

homeless bodies that could be revived.       

Then came the boat people,

thousands of bodies in the Strait of Florida.

Don’t mix with the Haitianos, they told me, don’t work with the Haitianos.

don’t you mess with voodoo.

But a Haitian nurse cradles my father at lopital,

with gentle eyes she helps him die.

Hollywood makes movies about zombies,

shows about zombies

zombies about zombies

horrible zombies                          

that eat everything and infect everything

and a Haitian nurse sings to my father at lopital, helps him die,

Madame Brigitte’s white robe.

But do not mix with the Haitianos, they told me.

They brought them in ships,

chained like animals.


Everything is dark here.

If not for the blue dome, I’d think

I was swallowed by the whale.

At least Jonah was there for three days.

The ocean

always the same:

an asylum of black or blue walls.

Santa Cachita, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, for us balseros.

This strait, a cemetery

the length of God’s hand.

Sometimes it sleeps and it lets us fall,

Cubans and Haitians, turquoise lullaby.

I hope the storm doesn’t come,

I hope the storm doesn’t knock me over,

No chance for a Virgin Mary apparition. 

I’d rather die here anyway

than go back

to a ghost country, to a lifeless life.

I row and I pray,

almost the same thing.

Beyond the horizon, my home

Beyond the horizon, my sweetheart

her warm body inhabited by clams.

I have watched the sun sinking many times, many times.

The moon says not today,

I won’t die today

The moon says beyond the horizon,

row and pray.

Just loneliness here, silence,

white garments during the day,

black garments at night.

and if not for the stars

I’d think

a monstrous, biblical animal swallowed me.

Give me your signal, North Star.

Santa Cachita, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, for us balseros.

The moon says not today,

I won’t die today.


Go to the water

and spit in the river.

Turn around three times.

A shot of rum, a bath of cariaquito morado,        

tie aloe vera to your back.          

Cross yourself

against the jungle out there            

and all those witches and all those demons

and all those seven-headed snakes.


Give the widow a veil,

hide her from the world,

light the lamps now.

Her husband has died in a foreign land,

there’s no pater familias to officiate the ceremony.

The sea shall be crossed

in seven days

and seven nights,

sacrificing a lamb for the exequias.

The ships must be guided

at the break of dawn.

To inhabit grief is to inhabit a larva:

a deformed viscosity with many heads.

The king has died,

sound the seashell horns,                      

no one shall speak.

Her home is like spilled milk.

Her husband has died

in a foreign land.


Kelly Martínez-Grandal is a Cuban poet and author of Medulla Oblongata (CAAW, 2017), her first poetry collection. Her work has been published in 102 poetas en Jamming, 100 mujeres contra la violencia de género and Aquí [Ellas] en Miami, among several anthologies. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and a master’s degree in Comparative Literature, both from Central University of Venezuela. Her new poetry collection, Zugunruhe, is forthcoming from The Operating System in a bilingual edition that will be translated by Margaret Randall. She lives in Miami.

Melanie Márquez Adams is the author of the short story collection Mariposas Negras, winner of a North Texas Book Festival Award. She is a 2018-19 Iowa Arts Fellow, and recipient of an International Latino Book Award. Nominated for Best Small Fictions, her work has appeared in Hong Kong ReviewAsterix Journal, Hostos Review, and elsewhere. Her collection of personal essays is forthcoming from Katakana. She is currently an MFA candidate in Spanish Creative Writing at the University of Iowa.

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