One of the benefits of academia is that every now and then you get what is called a “desk copy,” a copy of a publication for you to review for your classes. Most desk copies come as direct requests to the publisher because I am about to have all my students invest on their book for my class. This semester, for instance, I will be ordering Plutopia, by Kate Brown – which is an awesome, awesome historical narrative for those interested in the intersection of urban planning and scientific development.

Sometimes, however, the desk copy just comes to you out of the Book Loving Gods. Such is the case with Red Star Tales: A Century of Soviet Science Fiction. I got the book in the fall at my office mailbox. I remember looking with excitement at the box and saying: “Yay! Desk copy! But which?” I had made sure to assign documents available through my students’ online library access, so a hard desk copy was an unexpected treat. Love of just about any kind of reading is one of the prerequisites of an academic career in the humanities. This was a case of the Book Loving Gods feeding me to the proper algorithm at Russian Life Books and, voila, at my desk was a copy of this nice little anthology of Russian science fiction.

According to the book’s publication notes, Red Star Tales: A Century of Soviet Science Fiction resulted from a crowd-funding Kickstarter campaign to help defray the publishing costs of the first run of the book. This is a sad commentary on the state of general publishing these days. This anthology is a great contribution for those who want a broader exposure to science fiction – readers like me, who were raised on the Hitchhiker’s Guide, C. S. Lewis and Doctor Who. Short stories constitute the majority of the anthology, which made it highly digestible in the hour to hour and a half chunks of time I could devote to attentive reading during the school year. The idea that this volume did not benefit from the push of a more traditional publishing house and its publicity resources concerns and saddens me. To draw a parallel, as President Barack Obama stated in White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2016 about the general state of journalism: “As you know, “Spotlight” is a film, a movie about investigative journalists with the resources and the autonomy to chase down the truth and hold the powerful accountable. Best fantasy film since Star Wars.”( http://time.com/4313618/white-house-correspondents-dinner-2016-president-obama-jokes-transcript-full/) It is truly regrettable that more general subject publishing houses should delegate translations, especially translations of genres such as science fiction, to the realm of self-funded publishing.

So… A group of driven translators gets together an agrees to get together an anthology of Russian and Soviet science fiction. (Side note: Sounds like the result of a third pint at ASEEES). Said translators get a few more buddies, a publishing house – in this case Russian Life Books – and a few more buddies to work as editors and social media gurus for the Kickestarter side of things. At least, I imagine that is how it generally happened. The result is a really enjoyable volume of wide ranging stories, covering 1892 to 1992.

Clearly, the more evident market for this collection would be a Russian/Soviet literature survey or a comparative literature course. This collection, however, does rank fairly high on what I would call the airplane/summer beach reading quotient. Read: would this make the two hours before boarding a plane, or an afternoon at the beach or such summer vacation destination enjoyable? The answer is yes, quite so. I am, in fact, thinking of having my tweener son, who has started reading other C. S. Lewis texts, to promise not to wreck the book and have him read it for summer vacation.

The anthology displays an interesting evolution of what I call “narrative technology” in my survey classes. The stories demonstrate the evolution of narrative voice seen in Russian literature throughout the twentieth century. The first interesting feature of the collection is the inclusion of a couple of Valerii Briusov stories, particularly “Rebellion of the Machines.” Students of Russian literature generally encounter Valerii Briusov as one of the founders of the Russian Symbolist movement. The presence of a work from 1908 that should strike fear in my heart of a wireless telephone and a microwave in 2016 really speaks of the universality of art and of a disturbingly accurate level of prescience as far as to how technology would evolve in the future. Mikhail Ancharov’s “Soda-Sun,” written in 1961, is one of the longer selections and displays the narrative leisurely pace of mainstream socialist realist stories. It features a Central Asian locale to represent the exotic other – in this, a Kazakh village. Interwoven with generalized jargon laden language is a meme worthy tidbit: “We look for salvation in endless quests, nut endless questing is endless hunger…” “The Exam,” by Sergei Drugal, from 1979, includes Syntax the cat, and a test that ends up with a placement as a preschool teacher. “Jubilee 200,” by Kir Bulychev, written in 1985, seems to steal a page from the Planet of the Apes series, but ends with a delightfully engaging plot twist. Sergei Lukyanenko’s “My Dad’s an Antibiotic” seems to draw a criticism of contemporary Russian politics.

However, the more charming of the stories is an excerpt from the story “Doorinda” by Daliya Truskinovskaya, from 1990. The story features a newly single mother, Ksenya, somehow ends up with a magic door that transports her wherever she can envision. The fragment has the heavy scent of Bulgakov’s Margarita to it, as she transports herself from place to place and comes back to turn the whole experience into a fairy tale, like Margarita with the little boy upstairs from Latunsky’s studio.

A few of the stories, like “Doorinda” and “Professor Dowell’s Head” feature female point of views which prove an interesting change from the technological jargon that seems to overpopulate the male narrative voices. While these seem to err on the side of hyper-feminized stereotype, in the context of the entire collection they prove refreshing changes of what I term narrative technology. This is a refreshing change from standard Russian classic novelistic fare – sorry, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev, we sometimes need a break from you! Toss it in your summer bag/gym bag/soccer practice/honor bang hangout bag and enjoy the trip to different realms of the universe. You will even enjoy contemplating switching your vision with your hearing and vice versa!

Red Star Tales: A Century of Russian and Soviet Science Fiction. Yvonne Howell, ed. Montpellier: RIS Publications, 2015. Available through https://www.amazon.com/Red-Star-Tales-Century-Russian-ebook/dp/B016C3KATY


What the Debate Over a History Textbook Can Tell Us About the Conflict in Ukraine.

The last month or so has been taken over by various global conflicts that seem to repeat some of the most vexing foreign policy challenges of the 1980s: the conflict in the Middle East, particularly the Gaza region, and Russian relations with its East European neighbors. Those interested in international relations find their attentions divided between these two regions due to two sadly violent events taking place simultaneously: the military conflict between Israel and Gaza, and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane over Ukraine, where about 300 people died. This brings forth the question of how do international relations and international security stakeholders react to long lasting conflicts that feature the messy combination of ethnic and national disputes over limited geographical boundaries.  This entry will focus on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and try to look at how the debate over the development of a history textbook for Russian elementary schools can illuminate the reasons behind the violent evolution of Putinism in the border between Russia and Ukraine. The connection between the debate over a history book and the debate over the land in Eastern Ukraine may not seem evident at first. However, the way the debate over the textbook evolved points helped to illuminate Putin’s view regarding Russia’s historical condition has facilitated the escalation of tensions in the Ukrainian territory.

This story, as most stories about the current state of Russia, starts with the Soviet period and how it developed school curricula. The United States for the most part leaves textbook choice selection to the discretion of the individual school districts. Under the Soviet Union, Russia developed a nationally centralized curriculum. The 1988 literature readers for fourth and fifth grade mirror each other in their structure.  They progress in a roughly chronological order. The first section features traditional folk tales. The second section contains adaptations of folk tales written by Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin. The third section contains samples of nineteenth century literature. Works by Soviet writers focusing on the evolution of the new Soviet society round out the last section. Each section includes an essay focusing on a particular aspect of the section’s reading, be it plot, character development, or a comparison of prosaic and poetic language. The readers present a unified heroic narrative of the evolution of Russia. It also includes stories that feature young children as heroes, be it as Young Pioneers of as witnesses of heroic military struggle. It sends a message to the young ten to twelve year old audience that they are part of the heroic mission of Russia, particularly Russia as the leading republic within the Soviet Union.

Fourth Grade Russian Literature Reader for the Russian Federation, academic year 1988

Fifth Grade Russian Literature Reader for the Russian Federation, Year 1988. Notice the positioning of the young boy, presumably the fifth grader, and his encounter with the heroic Soviet soldier from what could be interpreted to be the heroic first half of the twentieth century.


Russia has maintained the policy of using centrally produced textbooks in the post-Soviet era. What has proved particularly curious is the high profile the central government has given to the development of national textbooks, particularly the development of a new Russian history school. January 16, 2014 featured a meeting of the committee charged with developing the new history textbook.  Some of the professionals who participated come from fields traditionally related to curriculum development: the minister for education and science, various members of the Russian Duma’s education committees,  history teachers from the K-12 realm, the head of the history department at Moscow State University, as well as faculty members from several other Russian institutions of higher learning. Some of the participants, however, prove a curious addition to what one would expect to be a pedagogical task force. The head editor for the Russian History television channel and the Archimandrite of the Sretensky Male Monastery formed part of the textbook development committee. While some argument could be made for the possible interest in the History channel’s view of how media can influence the development of  history curriculum, the presence of the archimandrite begs the question of how the Russian government views issues regarding the separation of church and state when it comes to curriculum development.

Outside of the issues of the curious composition of the curriculum committee, there is also the fact that Vladimir Putin actively charged them with the design of the new textbook. The transcript of the meeting on January 16 shows Putin defending what he sees as a need for unified treatment of Russian history within the national curriculum.

Концепция, которая доработана и уже принята, насколько я понимаю, должна лечь в основу и целой линейки учебников и методических пособий.

Сразу в этой связи хотел бы сказать, что единые подходы к преподаванию истории совсем не означают казённое, официозное, идеологизированное единомыслие. Речь совершенно о другом: о единой логике преподавания истории, о понимании неразрывности и взаимосвязи всех этапов развития нашего государства и нашей государственности, о том, что самые драматические, неоднозначные события – это неотъемлемая часть нашего прошлого. И при всей разности оценок, мнений мы должны относиться к ним с уважением, потому что это жизнь нашего народа, это жизнь наших предков, а отечественная история – основа нашей национальной идентичности, культурно-исторического кода.[1]

The Kremlin provided an official English translation of this statement that gives a general idea of what Putin stated, but which also makes some unfortunate word choices in trying to convey some interesting Russian concepts.

The concept, which has been finalised and adopted, as far as I know, should form the basis for an entire set of textbooks and study guides.

I would like to begin by saying that coordinating our approach to the study of national history does not mean formal, official, ideology-driven single-mindedness. We are talking about something different: a single logic in teaching history, an understanding of the inseparability and interconnectedness between all stages in the development of our state and statehood, the fact that the most dramatic and ambiguous periods are an inseparable part of our past. There is a wide range of assessments and views on these issues and we should respect them, because this concerns the life of our nation and of our predecessors, and our history is the basis of our national identity, our cultural and historic code.[2]

I would like to focus on the first sentence of the second paragraph of the quote. Here, Putin defends the need for a unified presentation of Russian history while trying to address the fear of Soviet styled censorship of uncomfortable historic periods, such as the Stalinist period from 1928 to 1952. «Сразу в этой связи хотел бы сказать, что единые подходы к преподаванию истории совсем не означают казённое, официозное, идеологизированное единомыслие.» The Kremlin provided the following translation: “I would like to begin by saying that coordinating our approach to the study of national history does not mean formal, official, ideology-driven single-mindedness.” While the Russian original really does sound as mind-numbingly bogged down in jargon as the English translation, there is a significant problem with how they translate one phrase: казённое, официозное, идеологизированное единомыслие.  Kазённое means bureaucratic, related to the state – governmental. Oфициозное means something not official but that conveys the government point of view. Идеологизированное means to idealize, in the sense of imagining something as better than what it is. Eдиномыслие refers to someone who thinks the same as some other person, but not in the sense that unanimity conveys that idea. Thus, the phrase should read closer to: “First off, I would like to say in relation to this that a common approach to the teaching of history does not mean governmentally driven idealized concurrence.”

Putin looks to standardize the presentation of history while uplifting those areas he finds most positive, and without over-emphasizing negative events. While he does not mention it explicitly, it seems like he is looking to figure out a way to minimize the negative side of the Soviet period, particularly the Stalinist purges. He also sees this history curriculum as a possible way to unify a country that saw itself in such disarray during the last decade of the twentieth century.

So what, pray tell, does this have to do with Putin’s reaction to events in the Ukraine? First, it shows a consistency to how Putin views the nature and role of the Russian state in a post-Soviet world. Ever since his inaugural address in December 31, 1999, Putin has emphasized again and again that he sees a strong, centralized state structure as an integral part of the Russian nation. He also has pushed for a vision of Russian history as one uninterrupted unbroken process, instead of several periods broken by radical change. [3]

If one starts with that understanding of Putin’s world view, one can understand why he would see it as necessary to assert Russia’s influence in regions that have historically been considered to fall under Russia’s sphere of influence. Ukraine occupies a particular spot in this equation due to the flowing nature of the Russian borders during the nineteenth and twentieth century. The issue of the Crimean peninsula highlights this complex set of issues. Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 through a declaration by the Politburo of less than a page in length. This did not matter from a security standpoint during the Soviet period, since the Ukraine belonged within the confines of the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet Union, however, it provided a point of tension due to its high percentage of ethnic Russians and the nature of its transfer to Ukraine. One of the main challenges Putin has faced since 2000 is managing the tricky calculus of ethnic and civic tensions that have emerged in the borders of post-Soviet Russia. The United States press has generally paid attention to the tensions in the Central Asian regions of Russia, where Muslim national groups have presented a challenge to the Russia’s centralized federal structure. Its position on the Eastern region of Russia – read: its geographical location in the non-European regions of Russia – have meant that European and North American governments have not reacted in a particularly strong way to Russian governmental and military activity. However, Putin’s expansion beyond Russia’s Western European rational-legal post-Soviet borders have agitated European and American governments that for the most part viewed the issues of post-Soviet borders settled in 1991-1992.

Putin’s view of Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence in the Western region of Russia and Eastern Europe complicates important aspects of relations with an increasingly interconnected European region. Most significant is the growing dependence of Europe on Russian gas, and the Soviet legacy of Eastern European reliance on gas from Russia. Simply stated: if Eastern Europe sees its pipeline to Russia cut off then they will find themselves facing a really cold winter. Phrases that have become clichés such as “energy independence” and “renewable energy sources” take on a much more real dimension.  Russia’s increasing level of trade with Europe also proves challenging. Trade, however, still has some Soviet legacies, so the percentage of Russian trade with Europe is still much larger than the percentage of European trade with Europe. Read: if trade levels go down, Russia gets more affected than Europe.

Finally, this highlights American foreign policy’s continuing difficulty in dealing with the other “N” word: “Nationalism.” Nationalism, in Putin’s view, is important in creating a strong Russian state. It, however, causes great problems when conflicting claims to one territory occur, particularly when the claims are framed in terms of “Slavic” or “Russian” essentialist terms. Put in really explicit terms: does Ukraine really have a claim to Ukrainian right to exist if it is nothing but a descendant of an original Russian ethnic territory? Ukraine’s attempts at closer ties to Western Europe – read: independent of great Mother and Father Russia – becomes a real threat to Russian national sovereignty within its ideally constructed territories.  Ethnicity, nationality, and statehood then become the volatile mess that we witnessed in Central Asia before and in Ukraine today.


[1] Встреча с авторами концепции нового учебника истории. 16 января 2014 года, 15:45, Москва, Кремль. http://www.kremlin.ru/news/20071

[2]“Meeting with designers of a new concept for a school textbook on Russian history.” http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/6536

[3] Vladimir Putin. “The Modern Russia: Economic and Social Problems.” Vital Speeches of the Day. February 1, 2000. pp. 231-236 and Meeting of Council for Interethnic Relations http://www.eng.kremlin.ru/transcripts/5017.



So, close to the top of my things to do during my spring non-break is to write an article for the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Latin American Studies, MACLAS. I proposed a paper that will include Esmeralda Santiago’s work When I Was Puerto Rican, Cuando yo era puertorriqueña, and Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent.

What was I thinking? I actually chose to write about someone who is living, who writes about events experienced by contemporary living people. Furthermore, I write about authors who have written other opinion pieces and books on topics related to those on which I want to focus. This is almost as stressful as writing about Vladimir Nabokov, who had an opinion about pretty much everything under the Sun, and left behind writings about his opinions about pretty much everything under the Sun. He is also the one who inspired me to write this paper. In his autobiography, Speak, Memory, he talks about childhood memories and the effect of severe change on those memories.

“I would moreover submit that, in regard to the power of hoarding up impressions, Russian children of my generation passed through a period of genius, as if destiny were loyally trying what it could for them giving them more than their share, in view of the cataclysm that was to remove completely the world they had known. Genius disappeared when everything had been stored, just as it does with those other, more specialized child prodigies – pretty, curly-headed youngsters waving batons or taming enormous pianos, who eventually turn into second-rate musicians with sad eyes and obscure ailments and something vaguely misshapen about their eunuchoid hindquarters. But even so, the individual mystery remains to tantalize the memoirist… [i]

What Nabokov would attribute to the power of the Russian Revolution to displace a whole generation of young people – the ability to hoard up impressions – is actually reflected time and time again in the autobiographical narratives of émigrés.  I have been looking at autobiographies mostly from Slavic and Latino immigrants into the United States. They provide an interesting pint of contrast due to what I call the “permeability factor.” By permeability, I mean the ability of the person to hope for an opportunity to return, or at the minimum visit, their homeland. Most Slavic immigrants were denied this opportunity, due to the laws government immigration during the Soviet period – the result of the “cataclysmic” take over by the Soviets in 1917, which led to Nabokov’s exile, and their expansion throughout Eastern Europe, which led to the exile of many others. Once exiled, these immigrants into the United States had no hope to return to their homelands.

One particularly interesting memoir from the Soviet period is Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation.[ii] Eva Hoffman is a Polish born writer who immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1959, at the age of fourteen. She later came to the United States to study in college in Houston, and she then continued graduate studies at Harvard University. She basically matches Nabokov in the area of demonstrable erudition, down to her studies in music in Cracow before she was forced to flee Poland. In her memoir, she contemplates the effects of the adjustment to her new language, English, on her view of the world around her.

“I am becoming a living avatar of structuralist wisdom; I cannot help knowing that words are just themselves. But it’s a terrible knowledge, without any of the consolations that wisdom usually brings. It does not mean that I’m free to play with words at my wont; anyways, words in their naked state are surely among the least satisfactory play objects. No, this radical disjoining between word and thing is a desiccating alchemy, draining the world not only of significance but of its colors, striations, nuances – its very existence. It is the loss of a living connection. [iii]

It is the experience of “living avatar of structuralist wisdom” that all of these writers seem to share, whether Slavic or Latino. Particularly, when looking at Santiago’s memoir and Alvarez’s novel, what strikes one the most is their shared hyperawareness of the role of language in their performance as women in a new environment. Esmeralda Santiago ends up attending a high school for the performing arts, as if to publically display the challenges of communicating in her new world. And a common fear among all of these women is the concern with staying jamona, the pejorative term for an old maid. Fictionalized, autobiographical, or based on interviews, they all share the fear and challenge of mastering he rituals of adolescent womanhood, which implies mastering the female rituals of courtship.

Thus, I get to write about living writers, who write about living people and living topics. And at the same time try to say something original, clever and hopefully insightful about the challenges of facing the period of the quinceañera in a new land.


[i] Vladimir Nabokov. Speak Memory: An Autobiography Revisited. (New York: Vintage Books, 1989) 25.

[ii] Eva Hoffman. Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language. (New York: Penguin Books, 1989).

[iii] Hoffman, 107.


It is a curious fact that talented groups of writers and artists will cluster during specific historical periods. Their proximity to each other, both temporal and often geographical, works like yeast in bread. The result is a fulfilling and nourishing work. This happened during the nineteenth century, when the West European Romantic movement spread Eastward, leading to what has become known as the Golden Age of Russian literature – Pushkin, Lermontov and Gogol stand out as main exponents of this period. At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, a group of writers came together to experiment with Symbolist devices, leading to works such as Belyi’s Peterburgand Blok’s “Verses to the Beautiful Lady.” Another group arose shortly after them which strove to counteract their reliance on dense symbolic devices, creating a more naturalist school of literature known as Acmeism, which gave the world the amazing verses of Anna Akhmatova. In the United States, it would seem like somebody tossed something in the water of Walden Pond, since that small town served as the epicenter of the American Transcendentalist movement, which featured Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, to name some of the best known members of the movement. If you have had the pleasure of walking around Concord Massachusetts in the fall, you will be amaze at just how close to each other all of these authors lived. In the twentieth century, Upper West Harlem became the fertile ground from which the Harlem Renaissance arose, featuring such innovative literary figures as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and way too many influential musicians to even listing. Literary and cultural critics salivate (OK, mostly figuratively, though sometimes also physically) when they encounter such literary movements. They are convenient because they provide them with ready-made boundaries for their work.  A movement generally takes place over a limited period of time and involves a definable group of individuals.This is the case with the movement called “la poesía de la experiencia” in Spain. The movement emerged during the late part of the twentieth century. It arose in response to the passing of Francisco Franco y Bahamonde, el Generalísimo, who ruled Spain from 1936 to 1975. Franco ran a dictatorial regime that derived many of its practices from Hitler’s German regime. Even though it technically does not qualify as a totalitarian regime – he never strove to take over the world with his ideology – he did use totalitarian derived practices to keep control of Spain. His regime censured literature heavily and energetically.

When Franco died, many critics waited to see what wonderful works would jump “out of the drawers.” These metaphorical “drawers” were the places where scholars expected that works long held back due to the fear of censorship resided. However, something very interesting happened after Franco’s death. Instead of a great volume of classically inspired works of literature, a new generation of poets emerged that strove to explore new narrative techniques. The movement has become known as “la poesía de la experiencia.” Even more interesting is the fact that this is one fairly well documented movement. Already in the middle to late 1980s, anthologies had emerged to present the work of these new, and relatively young poets, to the public. Luis Antonio de Villena stands out among the writers/editors who have worked to promote the cause of this group of writers through his anthologies: Postnovísimos from 1986, Fin de siglo (El sesgo clásico en al última poesía española): antología from 1992, and 10 menos 30: la ruptura interior de La poesía de la experiencia, from 1997. Another anthology that helped to define the group was La generación de los ochenta, by José Luis García Martín, from 1988. If la poesía de la experiencia came to define the kind of poetry that emerged from this time period, la generación de los ochenta, “the eighties generation,” became the label that unified all of these writers together.


One interesting feature that seems common to a lot – not all, by any means, but a lot – of these literary movements, is that the writers come together through some shared cultural experience, a cultural experience that in one way or another is made stronger due to isolation that is imposed upon these writers. This is the case with the Transcendentalist movement in Concord in the early nineteenth century, when a group of smart writers found themselves in what was then considered the cultural backwaters of the American colonies, and even worse, away from Boston, the local urban center. In the case of Soviet bard poetry, which flourished following the Second World War, the poets knew each other due to the tight circles through which literature flowed during the late Soviet period. These circles found themselves incapable of publishing their works in the open, so they recorded their poetry set to guitar music and circulated it through pirated Maxell audio tapes.

The Spanish group of young writers that came of age following Franco’s death emerged in part because they had grown up in the highly censored environment following World War II in Spain. Actually, as the title 10 menos 30, 10 under 30 (meaning ten writers under the age of 30 at the time of the anthology’s publication) they grew up during the second half of the Franco regime, so any reference to the Spain prior to Franco existed only as oral tradition or faded history. These writers wrote at the same time that the Spanish scene was undergoing the period known as “la movida,” a movement known  mostly for its hedonistic approach to art, as represented by Pedro Almodóvar’s first film, “Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón.”  The scene was wild and raunchy, as if the cultural media of Spain was flying about as a balloon that has been filled up by a small child and let off to fly until it deflates itself.

This finally brings me to one of my favorite poems from this generation of writers. Luis García Montero was born in Granada in 1958, and is currently on the faculty at the University of Granada, Spain. He writes a lot, including a really nifty Euro-centric blog on the intellectual and political changes of this period: http://www.luisgarciamontero.com/. He also has kept writing poetry fairly consistently since the early nineteen-eighties. One of my favorite poems comes from the collection Fin de siglo(El sesgo clásico en al última poesía española): antología, edited by Luis Antonio de Villena, from 1992.

 Luis García Montero, Fin de siglo(El sesgo clásico en al última poesía española): antología. Colección Visor de poesía. Luis Antonio de Villena, ed. (Visor: Madrid, 1992) 71-72



 Pienso en la solución confusa de este cielo,
la lluvia casi a punto de la mirada
débil que las muchachas me dirigen
acelerando el paso, solitarias,
en medio del acento que se escapa
como un gato pacífico

de las conversaciones.
Y también pienso en ti. Es la exigencia
de cruzar esta plaza, la tarde, Buenos Aires
con nubes y mil cables en el cielo,
cinco años después
de que lo conociéramos nosotros.

 Los que vienen de fuera siguen viendo
ese resumen ancho de todas las ciudades,

ríos que tan grandes

ya no esperan el mar para sentir la muerte,

cafés que han encerrado

la imitación nostálgica del mundo,

con mesas de billar y habitantes que viven

hablando de sus pérdidas en alto.

Mientras corre la gente a refugiarse
de la lluvia, empujándome,

pienso desorientado
en el dolor de este país incomprensible
y recuerdo la nube

de tus preguntas y tus profecías,

selladas con un beso,

en al plaza de Mayo,

camino del hotel.

Testigos invisibles para un sueño,
hicimos la promesa

de regresar al cabo de los años.

Parecías entonces

eterna y escogida,

como cualquier destino inevitable,

y apuntabas el número de nuestra habitación.


cuando pido la llave de la mía

y el alga de la luz en el vestíbulo

es lluvia rencorosa,

vivo confusamente el desembarco

de la melancolía,

mitad por ti, mitad porque es el tiempo

agua que nos fabrica y nos deshace.

(De Las flores del frío)



I think about the confused solution for this sky,
The rain almost at the point of the weak

glance that the girls direct at me

as they step up their pace, alone,

in the midst of the accent that escapes

like a peaceful cat

from their conversations.
I also think about you. It is the demand

to cross this square, the afternoon, Buenos Aires

with clouds and a thousand cables in the sky

five years after

we got to know it.


Those who come from outside keep seeing
that wide summary of all the cities,

rivers so large

that they do not wait for the sea to feel their death,

coffee shops that have encased

that nostalgic imitation of the world,

with pool tables and residents that live

speaking about their losses out loud.

While the people run to take refuge
from the rain, pushing me,

I think, disoriented,
of the pain of this incomprehensible country

and I remember the cloud

of your questions and prophecies,

sealed with your kiss,

in Plaza de Mayo

on the way to the hotel.

Invisible witnesses of a dream,
we made the promise

to return after the years.

You seemed them

eternal and chosen,

like any inevitable destiny,

and you wrote down our room’s number.


when I asked for the key to mine

and the alga of the light in the vestibule

is  a spiteful rain,

I live confusedly melancholy’s landing,

half for you, half because it is time

that is the water that makes and unmakes us. 

(From The Flowers from the Cold)

 This poem stands out for how ordinary the setting is, and how interesting the narrator is. It is very typical of the work of this particular movement in that it gives you the picture of a personal experience, in this case a man remembering his encounter with a woman. There is a distinct separation between the inside, where space and memory is understood, and the outside, where strangers cannot interpret the world around them. I especially like the closing lines conceit of our reality being malleable, like water that shapes a shoreline or a river bank. The intimacy of the memory lives in the three dimensional surroundings – the town square, the room, even the room key. This is a nice contrast from the more historically charged poetry that I usually study in the field of Slavic studies, such as Akhmatova’s exquisite, yet heavy, Requiem.