“I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up being the writer in my family,” Jorge Argueta says in his poetic memoir. He wrote his first lines as an adolescent, though he didn’t know what the words meant or that it was poetry. “But now I see that in putting down those words, I was stepping into a huge world, much bigger than my own: beautiful and mysterious, full of profound joy and infinite possibilities.” In this moving, bilingual collection, renowned poet Jorge Argueta reminisces about growing up in El Salvador, the impact of war on his family and neighbors, life as an exile in the United States and ultimately his rebirth as a poet.
He became involved in the revolution as a teen, not realizing what was to come, “a bloody massacre … An entire generation disappearing / As if it were a trifle / To lose the entire future of a country.” Mothers lose sons, their bodies beat beyond recognition. Friends’ bodies are thrown into common graves. Husbands lose wives and wives lose husbands. “Death saunters / Dressed in olive green / A rabid dog / Snapping at anyone in its path.” Argueta’s words recall the horrific violence and atrocities committed, frequently against the poor and powerless.
The 48 poems in this collection—in Spanish and English—smolder with loss and longing. Argueta’s indigenous roots ultimately contribute to his salvation after he flees his homeland. His braids, he writes, “are rivers / Of my village / Running / Down my back.” In San Francisco, he becomes part of the city’s exile community, yearning for home but knowing his friends and relatives are dead or gone. His pain is like a ring that “lives on my left hand / as if I were / married to it.” Eventually, he returns to writing and becomes a successful children’s book author. In spite of the pain and sorrow expressed in many of these poems, Argueta’s work is a powerful testament to love, hope and the strength of the human spirit.
Click here to listen to an interview with Jorge Argueta about his poetry collection, En carne propia / Flesh Wounds, and his new trilingual picture book for children, Agua, Agüita / Water, Little Water.