Grace Nichols – Lost in Translation


(por el espíritu de poesía en Medellín, Colombia)

As if the earth had shifted axis again
I walk the streets of your city, Medellín,
a hammock of memories swinging in my head –
these streets where Escobar’s ghost still dwell.

At the market-square, between the flowing
symphony of sun and rain, I sample
the bribery of coffee poured
from flasks into little plastic cups;

Pure Colombian gold I’m told.
In return I buy an indigenous looking
T-shirt, sliced mangoes,
shiny avocados of my childhood.

But the people’s desire for poems,
the people who listened to our utterance
against the Andean elements –
thunder, lightning, rain –

And my own bouts of pan-pipe sickness
for a continent I’d lost
despite the richness of English –
Where did that come from?

I want to bridge this gap of tongues
between us, Medellín. I want to hear
my voice rolling like a river over
the Spanish syllables of your question;

¿Estás contenta?
Sí, estoy muy, muy, contenta.

from Passport to Here and There, Bloodaxe Books, 2020
Poem chosen by Emilia Mirazchiyska

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Grace Nichols
Grace Nichols was born in Guyana but has lived in Britain since 1977. Her first book of poems ‘I is a long-memoried Woman’ won the 1983 Commonwealth Poetry Prize. Other collections include, ‘The Fat Black Woman’s Poems’, ‘Sunris’ which won the Guyana Poetry Prize, ‘The Insomnia Poems' and ‘Picasso I Want My Face Back’ which resulted from her residency at the Tate Gallery London. She received a Cholmondeley Award for her work in 2001 and is among the poets studied on the GCSE syllabus. She has also written several collections for younger readers. Her latest adult collection, the ninth published and her fourth with Bloodaxe Books is ‘Passport to Here and There’. She is a fellow of The Royal Society of Literature.