Said the Leader of the Free World

My dear children
I will come to burn your village
Your homes
Your schools
I will kill old people
And women of all ages
As you watch
Then perhaps I will begin killing you
My dear children
But I assure you
I do this in the name of peace and love

I will wound some of you
Then I will wound others
I will leave some of you blind
Others lame
And history will absolve me
For when your village disappears
I will reconstruct the shrines
Where you worshiped

History may even forget that tonight
I determined who would live
And who would die

[Translated from the Spanish by Betty Jean Craige]

To Federico García Lorca

In the thick of the night
Root of the starry sky
Diaphanous dancer
Designer of dreams
Wove melodies and verses
From the vapors of the moon

Till your voice was stilled
Your principles
Your faith
At the bottom of the earth

Generals buried your death and your history
At the bottom of the earth
But you sent your roots
Across Iberia
You spread your passion
Without vengeance

Generals cannot hide the moon
Or cover the stars
Or kill dreams
Generals cannot betray the memory
Of your somnambulant spirit
Generals cannot still the gypsy dance

I no longer seek your tomb
Your verse is enough

[Translated from the Spanish by Betty Jean Craige]


The bright-eyed children
Gaze at the sky
In the frigid night
In the punishing night
They no longer pray
They whisper
They stare unflinchingly at the sky
While the helicopters scatter manna
And bombs

The children fear nothing
Not even their failure to pray

Their country is burning
Their homes are on fire

The children await the dropping of manna
And bombs
On an Afghanistan
Where prayer is gone

[Translated from the Spanish by Betty Jean Craige]

Translating is another way of loving

Step by step,
Our apprenticeship
Moves slowly,
Opening like a
Nocturnal poppy.

I translate your words
Fragments of skin,
Of histories.
I am careful with them,
They emerge from dark regions,
I translate them to
Bring them into the light.
Small fireflies in the promontory
Of my hands,
Humility of entwined words.

I do not know how to embroider, only to gather leaves.
Every autumn I repeat the ceremony
Of gathering myself, to then gather
Now they are words
Filling another voice
With joy and winged thoughts.

Exquisite astonishment is this
To render one word for another,
Discovering what you conceal,
What you reveal,
That which is hardly said,
The glory of communicating in another language.

Deliberately I move through your silences
As if you were an underground body
So long have you resided under the earth.
Today I come out to greet you
In a different language
A different I reborn in the melodies of my country.

How would you be in my tongue?
Language of my mother’s early songs
Language in front of a starry and ambiguous mirror
Until I penetrate in the fullness of the torpor of oblivion’s sleep.

I translate without oblivion,
Only presences
Of a voice
Over another
Like a hand that resembles
A garden in the shadows
To be born translated in a different light
A hand that resembles moss,
A hand that clairvoyantly stretches out in the plenitude of another tongue,
From a different voice, accomplice to the first voice.
I learn, I allow myself to be taken by a secret
Melody that becomes mine,
Humble place of my emotions,
Now, yours in my voice.

Translating is another way of loving
More than words
To allow to be carried by the fissures of words
Holding them in your hands like someone
Who holds back the life of a newborn,
The beauty of knowing that each word is unattainable
But perhaps possible
In this cluster of human
In the constellations of beings without borders.

I do not know how to embroider cloth,
Only to gather leaves like the gentle rocking from birth to death.
I love leaves before they die,
Just like roses before perishing
Still retain their beauty in the savage firmament of goodbyes.
I enjoy making necklaces with them
Like I do with your verses
To assemble invisible necklaces
Weaving them with my hands
In the simple gesture of learning to love
From one language that loves another.
From one hand in love with the quartz of letters,
The supportive republic of writing.

A reflection from another word,
Pale fire over a leaf, both empty and full.
Translating is another way of loving.


[Translated from the Spanish by Laura Nakazawa]

Marjorie Agosín is a poet and human rights activist. She has authored several collections of poetry, literary criticism and a memoir about her mother growing up as a Jewish girl in Chile. Agosín is the winner of the 1995 Letros de Oro Award, the Latino Literature Prize and the Good Neighbor Award. She has received her B.A. from the University of Georgia and her Ph.D. from the University of Indiana.

Betty Jean Craige is University Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Center for Humanities and Arts at the University of Georgia. Dr. Craige has published books in the fields of Spanish poetry, modern literature, the history of ideas, politics, ecology, and art. Her early work as a Hispanist included a study of Federico García Lorca’s surrealist poetry, titled Lorca’s Poet in New York (1977), and three book-length translations, Selected Poems of Antonio Machado (1978), The Poetry of Gabriel Celaya (1984), and Manuel Mantero: New Songs for the Ruins of Spain (1986).

Laura Rocha Nakazawa, a native of Montevideo, Uruguay, is a Spanish translator and interpreter working in the Boston area. She has translated some of the poetry of Marjorie Agosín into English, in particular The Angel of Memory.

At Guernica, we’ve spent the last 15 years producing uncompromising journalism. 

More than 80% of our finances come from readers like you. And we’re constantly working to produce a magazine that deserves you—a magazine that is a platform for ideas fostering justice, equality, and civic action.

If you value Guernica’s role in this era of obfuscation, please donate.

Help us stay in the fight by giving here.