Poem of the Week

Today’s poem of the week for National Poetry Month is by Ariel Dorfman, a world-renowned author of fiction, poems, essays, and films in both Spanish and English. This poem is from his 2002 book, In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land. Always an eloquent voice against the ravages of inhumanity, Dorfman’s poems, like his acclaimed novels, continue to be a searing testimony of hope in the midst of despair.


I’m not so different from the interpreters
in their glass booths
at endless international conferences
translating what the peasant from Talca
tells about torture
repeating in English that they put him on the cot
stating in the most refined and delicate French
that electric shock produces lasting transmissible effects
finding the exact equivalent for rape by dogs
pau d’arara I insulted the murderers
finding a phrase without emotion
that describes exactly the sensation
—please forgive any rhymes or rhythms you may find—
when the wall is at your back
and the captain begins to say the word fire,
trying to take the melodrama out of the sentences
trying to communicate the essence and the feeling
without giving in to the dark cloying current
of what they are really saying
they were torturing my son in the other room
they brought back our compañero unconscious
they put rats inside our compañera it’s God’s truth.
Not so different from them
with their voices their dictionaries their notes their
culture their going back home
in Geneva in New York in the Hague,
an intermediary, not even a bridge,
simultaneous translation for good pay
because we are specialists
and the incredible thing is that in spite of us
in spite of my river of interpretations and turns of phrase
something is communicated
a part of the howl
a thicket of blood
some impossible tears
the human race has heard something
and is moved.


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