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onion field

Is there any act
of courage greater
than to hold the beating
fragments of a million
disbelieving hearts?

To ride a tensile
tremolo with strength
sufficient to console,
to reach, revivify a poet
jailed outside your time
who could not reach
between the bars
of tyranny to feed
his starving wife
and infant son.

You could have sold
your gifts to low and
tawdry bidders, never
lived to see your music
heaped and burned in
bonfires, glamourized
and opting for a drugged
or alcoholic haze—instead
you sang of onions, all they
had to eat, of war, and
life absent a womb.

I was too young
to understand, my frigid
northern ear pressed close,
uncertain of your meanings,
captive nonetheless, I wanted
you to sing of kisses, but you
gave me only liberty and swallows,
and there was no one undeaf
enough to tell me that our
filaments of voice and cochlea
were binding, so they sank unheard
beneath the ocean floor, and I to
arid lands sailed on to spar with
other poetries and love, and
these I did—but not until the sea
delivered you last night to me
and pressed the poet’s words,
your music, to my lips, did I
remember how we met,
how deep the kiss, and
that the onions grew
like lavender that year.


© Elaine Stirling, 2013

This poem is dedicated to the Spanish poet Miguel Hernandez (1910-1942), and Joan Manuel Serrat, singer, musician, poet, and one of Hernandez’s greatest interpreters. You can enjoy one of Serrat’s early concerts here. In future posts, I hope to share some of my own translations of Hernandez’s work.