Poetry by Tatiana Oroño


the bloodless speech drowns the city
leaves the flooded without homes, without jobs
the eyes of the story

being and body on foreign territory at foreign border crossing
a wrong move

the voice drilling /  the name blurred
(not the brand name of an athletic shoe)

robbed of self

*******poetry can barely
*******feel the way blindly
*******to track on foot barefoot
*******in the pure pain
*******mute in its broad urban
*******blight / circle of condemned

*******for committing the sin
*******of indigence, the original
*******sin: having been born

*******to a poor mother
*******father: lineage
*******of the excluded.


Imagine a garden. Perhaps you’re not able to imagine one because while you try to invent images, ones you knew in childhood or on a trip interpose themselves and do not let you imagine. Perhaps a package of classic landscapes—Versailles gardens, gardens of the Alhambra, the aquatic gardens of Monet in Giverny—begins to download to the rhythm of programmed postcards and it complicates your intention to evoke at least those you saw worked by hand. At least, see if you can give your attention to these, peeking out from in front of their houses with a coquettish expression or instilled with melancholy humor or, if not, at least imagine some of them, even if you can not imagine other gardens you’ve never seen. See if you can imagine the branch of jasmine, the night mountains full of buttercups. And looking inside way inside, you can see again how the fragrant dew of invisible flowers felt.
*******If already you have made the attempt you are clearing the way. Now you can try to imagine other gardens, others you never saw in any photo.
*******Others. Nestled on an island. But before going to those others, you would need to know if maintaining a garden—a family garden worked by hand with the back and knees bent—can be considered a luxury or should be considered a necessity. What is the anthropological range of the garden you would like to come to know. Someone must have studied it. The raison d’etre of land cut into small plots next to the house, in front or at the back, where flowers are grown and a tree that will also bloom. That is what you would like to know. (You will not be asking for excessive palace gardens, of course, nor for rude follies like those of Dubai.) You would like to know something about the Hanging Gardens—which apparently did not hang, but rather had palm trees and date palms peeking out on Babylon—-as the versions still do in Nineveh, Mosul, meaning: scorched earth today.)
*******For what reason do family gardens exist you ask yourself. You need to know the ontology of the link between the garden and those who plant it while imagining that it will grow and that they will be able keep it alive.

*******Looked at in this way there is a bond of reciprocity. The garden takes work but also gives joy, and those who garden give life (joy of living at the end of the day) to Kaffir lilies, amaryllis, Queen of the Night cactus, and it takes work, assigning yourself bending or kneeling. It is important to know this, what claim gardens and people have on each other to able to imagine the disappearance of the garden. Because the garden will disappear before or after the hands that serve it disappear.
*******Now you have to imagine gardens. The ones you never saw. Those on an island. Whole. You have to see them disappear, totally, before they do. In the holes opened by raking you will see some tiny remains, rootlets interspersed with the clay grain of the furrows, loosened by beak and shovel. Everything has happened so abruptly that you’ve not had time to imagine the elegance of the stems or the roundness of the buds or the color of the petals or the shade of the tree leaves in the midday of spring. All this has happened this way because the hierarchies of the world order have paralyzed the traffic of bees around stamens pistils corollas banishing the future of tulips gladiolus lilies hyacinths irises freesias whose bulbs the workers dig up to save their lives, save themselves from hunger. Imagine thousands of backs bent over the beds of vegetables and of grain, thousands of hands scratching the earth, unfolding it, shaking it as sheets are shaken, airing the empty bed, shaking off the curse of the blockade. Thousands of fingernails kept awake by the task of piercing the earth for seeds and seedlings, in the revolutionary cause of returning to the land, in a plot, a conspiracy, of transplanting and open furrows, of raising canes and stakes for peppers beans cucumbers tomatoes, in the revolt of the gardeners, in the proselytes of papaya and celery with their backs to the sky. With their backs to the sky of the besieged island. With their back to the economic siege. Inclined to the earth. Planting fennel.

Flowing Far into the Dark

Waters gleam underground
to the touch to the eye elusive
*******that feed
springs, cross rock

Mournful mute
waters of a liquid
El Dorado that with sweet fresh water
irrigates the basalt mantle
secret crimson
watched by thirsty investors / bondholders

Aquifer that bathes
the sun the dark earthen slopes
with blue gold. Blind subterranean mantel

Clean secret waters of the Guarani ancestral home:
*************that your wealth flows
*************that our reach
*************does not threaten your manna.



The chemist’s is a curiosity allied with suspicion and a disguised form of disobedience: it is possible to unmask this by mixing it with another. An open chain shows what the substance kept secret. Whoever behaves like a chemist, but outside the laboratory, will be persecuted.


*******The ombú tree had a hole the size of a cave between the trunks which twisted around it, each grounded in the same root, gesticulating like countless hands with tendons and knuckles like stone. The hole was where the first trunk had been but now there nothing, not even bark. I peered in.
*******The ombú is the only tree that never dies, it’s said. When one trunk dries up, others grow.
*******Later we sat on one of the benches. When night came, we put the fire out and went off to sleep.
*******I dreamed I was at a meeting where people talked about different things. A man said we were living in slavery because last week in Florida a truck took two brothers with a chainsaw to a eucalyptus grove, left them with food for a day, and never came back. They spent six days logging without food and one had a trunk fall on him that the other sawed until he could get it off and after he did, he ran three kilometers to let someone know and returned running but when the ambulance arrived four hours later, there was nothing to be done. The woman with highlights told the other woman that the lipstick was creamy, and that she was not leaving her husband alone for the weekend with a car and money in his wallet; she was not crazy. The woman reporter laughed and the man told her that he was drinking whiskey with coke and had not heard a word that. Because, besides, now they were regulating the construction industry, there were fewer accidents; a single death so far this year, he said, but in the country no one regulates any one because no matter what happens, nobody finds out, the man said to his glass. And I realized the woman, there underneath her make-up, hadn’t been able to hear anything. I turned over in bed to stay asleep. And I dreamed I fell inside the ombú.


it is day again and its invariable willingness
of igniting the things that slumber / this intrusive way
of intervening twisting
the course
of the work of seeing
without glasses
and without light.


Tatiana Oroño

Tatiana Oroño (San José, Uruguay, 1947) is the author of seven books, including Libro de horas (2017), Estuario (2014), La Piedra Nada Sabe (2008), Morada móvil (2004), and the bilingual French/Spanish Tout fut ce qui ne fut pas/ Todo tuvo la forma que no tuvo (2002). In 2009, she won the Premio Bartolomé Hidalgo en poesía and the Premio Morosoli en poesía, two of the most important Uruguayan literary prizes. Her work has appeared in  American Poetry Review, Guernica, Ploughshares, and Stand.

Jesse Lee Kercheval

Jesse Lee Kercheval is the author of 14 books of poetry, fiction, and memoir, including America that island off the coast of France (Tupelo Press, 2019), winner of the Dorset Prize. She is also a translator specializing in Uruguayan poetry. Her translations include The Invisible Bridge/ El puente invisible: Selection Poems of Circe Maia (University of Pittsburgh Press) for which she was awarded an NEA Fellowship in Translation. She is the Zona Gale Professor of Poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Copyright (c) Tatiana Oroño, 2008, 2014, 2020. English translation copyright (c) Jesse Lee Kercheval, 2020.