Rosa Alcalá translating Lourdes Vázquez

It’s Been Like This Being Born

The Bolero Singer that Sings to Love



It’s Been Like This Being Born

     “It’s been like this, everything being       born”
               Julio Cortázar

1.   It’s been like this.  On the beach a few bathers engage in a swimming competition.  They have to reach the approaching barge as quickly as possible.  The sun is as radiant as the embrace I want to give you.  I touch your body embalmed with oils.  I moisten my lips with yours.  I try to embrace you.  A wide ocean saturated with seaweed covers the sand.  Like a petroleum spill that discreetly slips in, clearing the fish and their neighbors, eliminating the ocean’s rosebud and the color of sandstone.  I try to embrace you.  Let me be that tangle of seaweed that barely allows bathers to walk.  Let me make my mark like the black stain that covers pelicans.  I try to embrace you, with a hold that approximates the straight line of death.

2.  It continues being like this, at night I confuse you with the women that walk at the edge of the road.  I see their muscular backs, carrying the jeans they tend to wear.  Their tits barely covered by some second-hand sweater.  They walk alone, unaware, their lips puckered with rage, like when taking me you open my web and all of its spiders.  Try to squeeze me now with your salivous mineral. Bite this whip without shame, listen to its nocturnal surge.  Above, the moon, and some shooting star with her sparkling tale.

3.  It’s been like this, sitting here thinking about my wife. Obsessed, she’s taken to the street to look for me, to find each of my fingerprints.  She has told me that she would not delay in denouncing me, that she would bite my skin and its odors.  I am here, trying to explain to her my surroundings, full of individuals that suck my adipose fiber.  My bedroom is merely an empty drawer.  I try loving her.  Violently, her clothes become dislocated, she opens her delicate lip and we cross, entangled, her wood’s knots.  The spider web’s territory opens.  The bedroom becomes impregnated with her usual perfume. Horrified, I listen, listen to her cat’s meow.  Feel, I feel her rabid teeth drain my lips.  Smell, I smell her stench. Howl, I howl even though there’s no full moon and I am hairless.  Even like this, I love her.  It has always been like this:  love and its hidden defects.

The Bolero Singer that Sings to Love

The story of a woman stabbed by her husband.  And her lover knifed in the condominium’s parking lot.  Now the wife without husband, without lover, and a body lacerated revisits puddles of blood, her neighbors in panic. Wounded in red, she dedicates herself to copulating love, listening to the crushing voice of the bolero singer, fixed upon passion, that viscous substance, and narrates

the tale of a woman beaten with a hammer forty times by her husband as she watched  herself in a mirror.  This somber mirror claimed as important evidence in the trial.  The mirror already fatigued by so much interrogation.  The mirror melancholic with its darkened glass.  The bolero singer’s perfect body, clear and tight, sings fear, that unconquerable emotion and delights our ear with an account of

the woman and her children buried in a metal box.  The door hermetically sealed.  The helicopter that circles its nightly beat.  The woman that no longer knows how many days she’s been dead, without understanding why she was finished off, despite having allowed her most beloved parts to be mutilated.  The woman that decides to die singing her own death.  The helicopter and her voice disquieting the distance.

The bolero singer, sporting a mouth piece and daringly dressed, her back immodest, that sings about the fear and fervor of two lovers, delirious. About a country, a region tattooed on her skin. This passionate country.


Today my neighbor alarmingly pointed out that my stare resembles a cat’s stare. —I should take this as a compliment.  I said.  She tried, in some way, to compare her own animal’s secrecy with the loneliness of my pupils, her feline’s unsociable manner with my independent ways.  Her wisdom was shocking, and she told me of medieval superstition.

The cat that accompanied witches was also persecuted, thought of as an emissary of spells and curses.  Cats, carefully mummified, have been found in numerous Egyptian excavations.  The pharaohs had a deep admiration for this animal.

I felt dissected in any number of ways, already my eyes having the same contracting pupils that dilate and shrink at the slightest change in light. —Is it a compliment? I ask her again, and I imagine the neighborhoods cats hanging from roofs, with their remarkable sense of balance, extremely exhausted from happiness.

I could hear my great repertory of sounds. I could taste my whiskers emerging from the corners of my mouth.  I saw myself walking elegantly dressed in silky blue hair. I could enter anyone’s home, submerge myself in any bed,  caress the most deserving head.  Is it really a compliment? And I began to meow trying to express various emotions.  I moved slowly, lowered my ears, shook my tail, marked my territory with one intense stream of urine.  I imagine I’m a mountain cat, my ancestors likely to have come directly from the jungle, but I’m probably more than just a small feline, round-headed.  I curled up warmly, needy, purring and I saw myself walking among orange trees and violets with tall and lonely Marina, while an eagle hovers, waiting to devour me.

Years passed. And it didn’t matter whether I meowed or spoke my neighbor and I understood each other perfectly.  In her mind, I am the perfect species of domestic cat, she knows exactly what I want by the tone of my meow. She throws me the ball, I circle three times in the air, and I land at the other end of the living room.

At night I continue my habit of getting into any bed, purring into the ear of my choice.  On many occasions I sit in front of a white piece of paper, and I write this prose with the tips of my fingers; I meditate at length on the little seahorses surrounding my house, of the sharks circling the bay looking for entrails.  I caress my thighs, I lather myself in perfumes, I turn on my car and head for the street. That is why I think it’s a compliment.



Neighbor’s house burned
(Television news headline)

Since we are both adults, who can face life with some equilibrium, since we can manage with minor anxiety any ordinary situation, I ask that you release your cavalcade’s reigns and love me furiously like smoke fleeing that burned house.  I feel you holding onto me tightly, unwilling to let go of any tool in this pleasure box.  I see your eyes swell with hungry angel.  You imagine what you could do with this body, with this model to be build, if in some painter’s studio. You desire, without latent excuses, to open these legs desperately and without shame nor glory, liberate your sharp beast, but you merely make brushstrokes, painting an outline, delineating my human figure, this jazz figure with trumpet.  In the background, a furious night, full of stars.

Neighbor, your charred house must be smoldering passionately. And with this recent hot weather, it must have reached record temperatures. Neighbor, give me a sign if burned wood pulsates like the desire of this body presently in my bed, and if I decide to ask you which method of ignition was used, I would do it without the neighbors suspecting.   They would certainly die of envy.



Lourdes Vázquez’s short stories, essays and poetry have been published in anthologies and periodicals in the Caribbean and Latin America, Spain and the United States. Her book of poems, Las hembras, was published by Papeles del Andalicán (Chile, 1987).  In 1988, the Omar Rayo Museum of Columbia published La rosa mecánica in their chapbook series of women poets of Latin America, while a new edition of the same was published by Huracán (San Juan) in 1991. Aterrada de cuervos y cuernos a biography of the Puerto Rican poet Marina Arzola was published in 1990.Her chapbooks, El amor urgente, The Broken Heart, and Erótica de bolsillo were published in New York between 1995 and 1998.  In 1999 Historias de Pulgarcito, a short story collection was published with Ediciones Cultural in San Juan; De identidades:  bibliografía de María Luisa Bemberg was published by SALALM in 1999.  A private edition of Desnudo con huesos=Nude with Bones was published in Spring 2001.  She is a member of Pen American Center and The Poetry Project. 

Rosa Alcalá has translated Cloud-net (Art in General, 1999) and Palabra e hilo/Word & Thread (Morning Star Publications, 1996), two poetry books by Cecilia Vicuña. A translation of “Desert Book,” a poem by Ms. Vicuña, was recently published in the Granary Books anthology A Book of the Book. She is currently translating poems for the Oxford University Press anthology 500 Years of Latin American Poetry.

Ms. Alcalá’s own poetry has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Chain, The World, and other magazines. A graduate of Brown University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, she is pursuing a PhD in English at SUNY-Buffalo.



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