I believe there are two worlds.
In one of them I clean it all,
       all the time.
In that world my laborious routines
serve to cleanse the day and its objects.
I’m talking—in part—about dust,
the layer that overflows everything.
But now it’s more than dust.
I kneel before things, whether flesh, wood,
metal, or plastic, I wipe it all,
wring, lather, rinse it all.
       I discover porosities in the smoothest surfaces and I extract.
In this I feel the tensing of the muscles of my body
when I descend to a surface and scrape.
My limbs fill up
with an imaginary black liquid
bearing the name of a certain pleasure unknown to me.
       I am in control.
That sensation between fingers and thighs
is my great unexpected possession
each time that I, with my millenarian sponge,
like a raging giant, scrape
deep in the cracks of it all
and I buff and split and whip
until I find its pure edge,
I rummage through things one by one
and bring out the death inside them.

But at night I travel to the other world,
my hands exhausted,
peeling from under my fingernails
skin devoid of any surface,
hands without animality
or the shine of what lives
without the scab of what’s dead.
In my dream poisoned
by disinfectant vapors
along the corrosive route of cleanliness,
I dream of the filthy afternoons when I was free.
The tedium, the leisurely fall of a dirty drop,
when we swam in the unhygienic pool of others
and we were—the filthy, biting our nails in public—
and simply because we believed it so: invincible.

Andrea Cote Botero

Andrea Cote Botero is the prizewinning author of the poetry collections Puerto calcinado (2003), Cosas frágiles (2010), La ruina que nombro (2014), Chinatown a toda hora y otros poemas (2017), and En las praderas del fin del mundo (2020), as well as prose books on the photographer Tina Modotti and the poet Blanca Varela. She has translated into Spanish the poets Kahlil Gibran, Tracy K. Smith, and Jericho Brown, and is currently associate professor of creative writing in the bilingual MFA program at the University of Texas, El Paso.

Craig Epplin

Craig Epplin has published reviews, essays, and creative nonfiction in Public Books, Words Without Borders, Music & Literature, The Bosphorus Review of Books, and Guernica, as well as translations of short works by José Martí, César Aira, and Enrique Vila-Matas. He is associate professor of Latin American literature at Portland State University, and is the author of the monograph Late Book Culture in Argentina, published by Bloomsbury in 2014.