Palabras Errantes Latin American Literature in Translation

Palabras Errantes
Dance for Oblivion/Danza para el olvido (selection)

By Melissa Ghezzi. Translated by Christopher Schafenacker.


In Dance for Oblivion Melissa Ghezzi assumes the voice of a poet who enters a women’s prison to teach poetry workshops and subsequently develops a romance with one of the prisoners. The Spanish original communicates the same-sex nature of this bond in subtle ways that cannot be poetically rendered in English. “Venustario,” for instance, reads, “la arena del reloj cae de espaldas / para pocas / muy pocas,” communicating a relationship between two female-gendered subjects through the feminine “pocas” instead of the neutral or masculine “pocos.” A literal translation might read, “the hourglass falls back first / for few / far too few of us women.” In the interest of poetic effect, I have omitted the inelegant “for us women,” entrusting the reader with the responsibility of imagining the nature of this union. Likewise, where the Spanish version of the poem which begins “I have proposed…” offers the verse, “apostar por nosotras ahora,” I have provided, “to bet on us now,” instead of the more literal, “to bet on us two women now,” for the same reason. This is a consistent feature of my translation; nonetheless, the reader must understand the romance rendered below is between two women.




I have defended flags, I have been insomnia, I have been ritual, I have performed codes, held tight to my braids, clipped stopwatches to avoid injury.

I have nursed women’s stories.

I have learned to see in shadows, savoured desperate revenge, destroyed a home, aligned my artillery, and I have known what it is to recreate you in the fragile geometry of my cell.


He custodiado banderas, he sido desvelo, he sido rito, he interpretado códigos, empuñado mis trenzas, recortado los cronómetros para evitar las heridas.

He amamantado relatos de mujer.

He aprendido a ver en la penumbra, saboreado la venganza como último recurso, deshecho un hogar, alineado mi artillería y he sabido recrearte en la frágil geometría de mi celda.





Our workshop is a resource and an excuse

Upon crates
palm over palm
sheltered by novels
and poetry consolation
eyes enclosed
in a circle
we invoke the muses,
thank you for this vigil
inspire us
nothing is coincidence

The only certainty is hearing you
whisper supplications refuge



El taller es recurso y es excusa

Sobre cajones
palma sobre palma
guarecidas con novelas
y poemarios consuelo
ojos encerrados
en círculo
invocamos a las musas
gracias por esta velada
nada es coincidencia

Lo único cierto es oírte
susurrar plegarias refugio





one hundred and twenty minutes
letting go of a Sunday
the hourglass falls back first
for few
far too few

No argument no guilt no hurt

Only men may enter that chamber
no wine no masks no other women

In loving
there are no Sundays no bissextiles
no cushions no legal permissions

There is only awaiting the siesta
and crossing the threshold
to fly inside mirrors



ciento veinte minutos
dejando un domingo
la arena del reloj cae de espaldas
para pocas
muy pocas

No se discute no se culpa no se lastima

A esa morada solo entran hombres
ni vino ni antifaces, ni otras damas

Para amar
no hay domingos ni bisiestos
ni colchón ni ley que lo permita

Solo queda esperar la siesta
y cruzar el umbral
para volar en los espejo






You separate the gold stone from the red
the translucent and mortal beads
from the living stone spheres

they are penetrated one after the other
suspended on silver spirals

They anticipate you
they sniff you
you improvise

The plier’s bite
entertains your cell
your visiting hours

While they forget you
you go darning life
stone upon stone



Separas la piedra dorada de la roja
las mostacillas translúcidas y mortales
de las esferas vivas de piedra

se dejan penetrar una tras otra
y sujetarse por espirales de plata

Te intuyen
te olfatean

La mordida de alicates
entretiene tu celda
y tus horas de visita

Mientras te olvidan
vas zurciendo vida
piedra a piedra




I HAVE PROPOSED in this way all my own
to love in captivity in a first act
and in the second grow old, free and together
to bet on us now
and birth a boy without a father
to warm you
if the soles of your feet come unhung
to read you a poem on tense nights
cuddle you amidst its music
together, put peace to rest

to make love to you only if it is urgent


TE HE PROPUESTO esta manera solo mía
de amar en cautiverio en un primer acto
y en el segundo envejecer libres
apostar por nosotras ahora
y parir un niño sin padre
abrigarte si descuelgan
las plantas de tus pies
leerte un poema cada noche tensa
acurrucarnos en su música
para dormir la paz

hacerte el amor solo si es urgente




I’ve got five years left

When you cross that hall
whittle away time with a free woman
explore the mechanics of clouds
the damp line of the horizon
the time zones quartered
along the Pacific’s plates
toss around ideas
get naked early
soak up oysters
shaped like your lips

Forget my name
don’t look back at me

When I get out
I promise my first drink
will be to us


NO VOLTEES a mirarme
me restan cinco años todavía

Cuando traspases el portal
mengua el tiempo con una mujer libre
exploren la mecánica de las nubes
la línea húmeda del horizonte
la franja cuarteada
en las placas del Pacífico
barajen sus ideas
desnúdense temprano
absorban las almejas
creyéndolas sus labios

No me nombres
ni voltees a mirarme

Cuando salga
prometo beberme la primera copa
en nuestro nombre



REMEMBER TO GIVE birth to Dance for oblivion
subtle stitch each poem
they carry my name
Send them north
the most urgent will return
compile them in a posthumous collection
Wrap up the sepia photos
and mom’s blue-striped album for Mari
Safeguard the scarab
as a gift for the grandchildren
Everything else is yours
Embalm my body
and abandon it to the open sea

Hopefully, in saying goodbye
I’ll have forgotten my mother’s album
the details of the photos
the nostalgia for that first car
the fragility of a poem
the games in the garden
nor the room where you asked for my hand
nor my name


RECUERDA DAR A luz Danza para el olvido
teje sutil cada poema
ellos llevan mi nombre
Envíalos al norte
sabrán retornar los urgentes
reúnelos en un poemario póstumo
A Mari envuélvele mis fotos en sepia
y el álbum a rayas azules de mamá
Atesora el escarabajo
para pasear a los nietos
Lo demás es tuyo
Embalsama mi cuerpo
y abandónalo en altamar

Ojalá, en la despedida
haya olvidado el álbum de mi madre
los detalles de las fotos
la nostalgia del primer auto
la fragilidad de algún poema
los juegos en el jardín
ni la pieza en la que pediste mi mano
ni mi nombre



Melissa Ghezzi (Lima, 1975) is a poet and architect. She has published the poetry collections *Universo de mujer* (2005), *Les Motiv…bitácora de una boda* (2007), *Danza para el olvido* (2013) and the graphic poetry book *Bendita eres* (2013). She was awarded an honourable mention in the Peruvian Nation Young Poets Prize in 2008 and *Danza para el olvido* won the 2012 Grand Prize at the Museo Rayo’s women’s poetry festival in Colombia. She has been published in various anthologies and is the co-editor of the anthology of South American lesbian writing *Voces para Lilith* (2011). She is studying a Master’s in Creative Writing as well as directing the Abriles Foundation and running a bio-construction firm.

Christopher Schafenacker is the editor of *Palabras Errantes*’ Nueva York edition – for which he also translated Ernesto Estrella’s poetry collection Prosemouths – as well as co-editor (with Jesse Lee Kercheval) of the post-dictatorship Uruguay issue. Originally from Alberta, Canada, his translations have appeared or are forthcoming in a variety of publications, including the anthology *América Invertida: a Bilingual Anthology of Younger Uruguayan Poets* published by the University of New Mexico Press, *Translation Review*, *Suelta*, and *Traviesa*. Currently, he is pursuing his doctorate in Spanish & Portuguese at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *