The Sea Needs No Ornament/ El mar no necesita ornamento (Peepal Tree Press, 2020) is the bi-lingual anthology of more than one hundred poems by Caribbean women, translated and edited by Maria Grau Perejoan and Loretta Collins Klobah. We present three excerpted poems, all translated from the Spanish, with an introduction from the co-editors:
“Chinese Lessons” by Nicole Cecilia Delgado (Puerto Rico) is a poem of humorous resistance in which the poet reclaims the importance of self-care. What happens when a woman decides to stay home when “the town fill[s] with handsome travellers/ every Thursday” and unapologetically situates herself at the centre of her life? The poet answers: “I finally crossed my well-travelled legs/ into the form of a withered lotus” and “listened to my silent vulva.”
The poem “shrapnel” by Zulema Gutiérrez Lozano (Cuba) is cinematic, evoking a Film Noir mood and suggesting social critique from a woman’s point of view. Her crude oneiric verses hit out at a reader in unorthodox ways that might leave you breathless, as you enter the night of a roadside bar, lit by diamonds and shadows, where a God seems indifferent to the shrapnel we spray in the human world.
“Sanitary Pads” by Karol Starocean (Dominican Republic), is like a chant to the sleazy, rock-n-roll detritus of our grimy lives in those colonial tourist contact-zones of the New World, where men, with perfumed women in tow, “come and go with their imported jackets despite the heat.”
Nicole Cecilia Delgado
the tao says:
only an empty vessel can be filled
I didn’t visit again
the blond man who lives next to the river
even though he might gather firewood and make soup
and hug me at night in another language
that’s why I stopped looking for a chance
to just happen to meet
my neighbour by luck
even though he might have long hair, a dog
and give me flowers
that’s why I no longer smiled at musicians, artisans
even though the town filled with handsome travellers
and the night was boundless and one of them
wanted to cook breakfast in the morning
that’s why I didn’t wake up vagrants in the streets anymore
men-of-light with eyes
wounded by wind and broken shoes
men who drew passers-by in a little notebook
vagrant men gripping a gouge
swishing autumn leaves in central park
vagrant men who so seduced me
that’s why I burnt my diaries
and destroyed the dubious desire
that tied me to men who didn’t bother with me
they also took up too much air inside of me
that’s why I stopped choking on my guilt or helplessness
and let them finally walk away
the men who had already gone a long time ago
their echoing ghost
their dead comet’s tail
their old fermented lure
I just didn’t want
I just couldn’t
alcoholics anonymous’ heart
philanthropist tossing away meat to dogs with mange
I closed the water pot for remodelling
I threw them all (with difficulty) out of my house
I crossed my well-trafficked legs
into the form of a withered lotus
I finally listened to my silent vulva
fixed my teeth and slept
was my empty body
Zulema Gutiérrez Lozano
/ there is something that destroys more than fear does / it hammers my belly and twists my viscera, pushing to come out of my flesh / insipid cage / I hold it in because I am a woman with two men inside / some cry for the angel / only God would be able to stop the shadow / but God is snacking on a couple of children at the table at the back of a roadside bar / meanwhile the blues is the only light bathing the shadows / war is dreadful / but shrapnel is nothing / there is something that destroys more than fear / I once was innocent / I was two children holding hands / two future monsters lying on the grass, counting the petals of their favorite flower / two children who are one / two children who are myself / the woman with night eyes / the one who patiently sips her drink at the counter of the same roadside bar where God pours pepper on children’s guts and fingers / from the other side of the door / angel against demon / demon against demon / angel against angel / and all against God, who pleasurably gulps down seasoned fingers / my two men and I bleed in proportion to our height while red diamonds come out of my nose, / striking against the chest and belly of the pool players / their blood attracts basement rats / God looks at the rats greedily / he could gobble them up in a single bite / what is this firing of diamonds out through such small orifices? / they comment behind my back / some of them consult medical encyclopedias to find the cause of such a disorder / others lower their gaze and hurry away / such is the fear of the shots / of the precious stones / of the noses of others / but there are things that pass between people and destroy more than fear does /
The remains of sanitary pad packages are grim representations of modern art, in the trash bins of the bathrooms in these bars in the colonial zone where we go to listen to Clash and Janis Joplin detonate on a stage through a flat screen attached to a wall infested with moisture and memories. Because we are tired of the bachatas that play out, door after door, in the streets, we don’t care about the lyrics of the yanquis that we see sung at a festival because they’re all dead of an overdose but they were cool, and somehow the poor bar lights make us feel like bohemians, we are a race apart that pretends to read Camus standing in front of a sewer full of garbage, for whom a little tear of nostalgia wells up in the corner of the eyes when passing by a ruined building. We are a fabric that shreds, that before, many years ago they hand-painted to cover the terrace from the sun, and today a voice filled with tenderness whispers in our ears: It’s okay, it’s the saltpetre. We have to pretend, I tell you with my telepathic skills, we have to pretend that we can still cross the Malecón de Santo Domingo without being crushed and you listen to me and understand, you move your head as if you were being chased by a bee.
We order beers at the bar because the cocktails are very expensive and behind us right on the wall where we lean back to stay inside the bar but not talk to anyone, there’s a piece of cement about to fall and it reminds me, I think you, too, that I have cigarettes in my pockets. We go out to smoke, we stand a few centimeters from the entrance, the guys who sit on the walls of closed buildings to watch life go by make me ask myself as if I were asking you: why is it that in these bars, everyone who comes out of the bathroom looks at you with hate? You don’t say anything, maybe your alcohol levels or holding your urge to urinate to avoid going through the crowded bar has left you stunned. Meanwhile, still standing smoking, I let myself be hypnotized by what’s at the end of the street and I sing: “This street finally has her name”, you don’t sing or anything, because of your face I know that you also know that here outside, under the street lamp and with the guys that look like descendents of Elamites who come and go with their imported jackets despite the heat, women on their arm, who always look at the floor but are perfumed, we see the footage of our life on one more night of looking desperately for a perfect soundtrack, the concrete take of a real, biographical, alive scene, that allows us to be able to come home and sleep calmly.
You don’t agree, I notice it by the shaking of your hand, you feel violent and you flick the butt to a floor that’s wrapped in an erotic embrace with the grime of the sidewalk while you start your speech looking at the sky: there is in the middle of our subconscious social anxiety and desires mixed with apathy, that secret, hidden, that uncontrollable, disproportionate desire, to feel that for a few hours to be the listener almost spectator of Hendrix’s daily dysthymia, for a short time will allow us to stop belonging to this island.
Nicole Cecilia Delgado (Puerto Rico, 1980) is a poet, editor, translator, and book artist. She is the founder of La Impresora, an experimental Risograph print shop and publishing studio in Santurce, Puerto Rico. A collection of her poetry, Apenas un cántaro, poemas 2007-2017, was recently released (Ediciones Aguadulce). She has published several other collections. Some of her work has been translated into English, German, Polish, Portuguese, Catalan, and Galician. She has kept a blog since 2005.
Zulema Gutiérrez Lozano was born in Holguín, Cuba, in 1982. She is a poet, story teller and promoter of literature. She is a graduate of the Centro de Formación Literaria Onelio Jorge Cardoso, and she is a member of AHS. She is also a writer of children’s literature. She has received various poetry prizes, including the Premio Portus Patris (2018), the Premio Nacional for Adelaida del mármol (2018), and the Premio de la Ciudad de Holguín. Her poetry collections Danza alrededor del fuego and Metralla are forthcoming. She has also been published in anthologies and journals within Cuba and elsewhere.
Karol Starocean was born in Santo Domingo in 1981. She is both a writer and an artist. Her work The Big Vaina (2016), which combines painting, poetry and art journals, won the 26th Eduardo León Jiménez Art Competition. Her books include the limited edition Saltacharcos (2016), a collection of poems and drawings, as well as Dramamine (Ediciones Cielo Naranja, 2017) and Forgotten (Papá Bocó, Argentina, 2018). Her poems have also been included in the project Liberoamericanas +100 poetas contemporáneas (Argentina, España, 2018).
Loretta Collins Klobah’s first book The Twelve Foot Neon Woman (Peepal Tree Press, 2011) received the OCM Bocas Prize in Caribbean Literature in the category of poetry and was short-listed for the Felix Dennis Prize in the Forward Prize series. Her second book Ricantations (Peepal Tree Press, 2018) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and a National Poetry Day selection. It was long-listed for the Bocas Prize. She has been awarded the Pushcart Prize, the Earl Lyons Award from The Academy of American Poets, and the Pam Wallace Award for an Aspiring Woman Writer. Her poems have been widely published in journals and anthologies. She lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she is a professor of Caribbean literature and creative writing at the University of Puerto Rico.
Maria Grau Perejoan is a university lecturer and a literary translator. She holds a doctoral degree in Cultural Studies with an emphasis on Caribbean Literature and Literary Translation from the University of Barcelona, and an MPhil in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago. She was visiting lecturer at the UWI, St Augustine Campus for three academic years, she then moved on to lecture courses in Translation and Caribbean Literature at the University of Barcelona, and since 2020 she is a Lecturer at the Department of Spanish, Modern and Classical Languages at the University of the Balearic Islands.
Video art by Jin Kim