The Worshipping God

I’m a god in my town and my valley

It’s not because they worship me   But because I do

Because I bow down before anyone who offers up

some passion fruits or a smile from their own garden

Or because I head down to the bad side of town

to beg for money or a shirt and I get it

Because I keep a close watch on the sky with my sparrow hawk eyes

and then talk about it in my poems   Because I’m lonesome

Because I slept seven months in a rocking chair

and another five on some city sidewalk

Because I give wealth the side eye

but I’m not vicious about it   Because I love anybody who loves

Because I know how to grow orange trees and vegetables

even in the dog days of summer   Because I have a compadre

whose children I baptized and whose marriage I blessed

Because I’m not good in a way people can get

Because when I was a lawyer I didn’t defend capital

Because I love birds and rain and its wide-open

washing my soul   Because I was born in May

Because I know how to sucker punch my sticky-fingered friend

Because my mother left me right when

I needed her most   Because if I’m sick

I go to the free clinic   Because basically

I only respect those who respect me   The ones who work

every day for their bread bitter and lonely and wrangled

like these poems of mine that I steal from death



Navel Moon

I sketch your outline from the lighthouse down to the city walls

Your iron eyes are glow hallucinated

Sea skips over stones and my soul’s got it wrong

Sun sinks into water and water is pure fire

You’re almost like a dream   Almost a stone in time’s swaying

A tender archetype solid in these dim days

your way of soothing my tears

Letting loose your body against mine   Mad

like a foal in prairie fire

Spilling your words on my knowledge 

like a poison to heal absence

Recalling things used and forgotten

with a bright wondrous flight

It’s getting late my love   Sea brings storms

A pale moon recalls your naval

And a few clouds light and slow like your hands

drink thirstily   Like when I die up against your mouth




El Dios que adora

Soy un dios en mi pueblo y mi valle

No porque me adoren   Sino porque yo lo hago

Porque me inclino ante quien me regala

unas granadillas o una sonrisa de su heredad

O porque voy donde sus habitantes recios

a mendigar una moneda o una camisa y me la dan

Porque vigilo el cielo con ojos de gavilán

y lo nombro en mis versos   Porque soy solo

Porque dormí siete meses en una mecedora

y cinco en las aceras de una ciudad

Porque a la riqueza miro de perfil

mas no con odio   Porque amo a quien ama

Porque sé cultivar naranjos y vegetales

aún en la canícula   Porque tengo un compadre

a quien le bauticé todos los hijos y el matrimonio

Porque no soy bueno de una manera conocida

Porque no defendí al capital siendo abogado

Porque amo los pájaros y la lluvia y su intemperie

que me lava el alma   Porque nací en mayo

Porque sé dar una trompada al amigo ladrón

Porque mi madre me abandonó cuando precisamente

más la necesitaba   Porque cuando estoy enfermo

voy al hospital de caridad   Porque sobre todo

respeto sólo al que lo hace conmigo   Al que trabaja

cada día un pan amargo y solitario y disputado

como estos versos míos que le robo a la muerte



Ombligo de luna

Dibujo tu perfil del faro a las murallas

Luz de alucinación son tus ojos de hierro

El mar salta en las piedras y mi alma se equivoca

El sol se hunde en el agua y el agua es puro fuego

Eres casi de sueño   Eres casi de piedra en el vaivén del tiempo

Arquetipo amoroso firme en la turbia edad

esa manera tuya de calmarme las lágrimas

De desbocar tu cuerpo contra el mío   Enloquecido

como un potro en una llanura incendiada

De verter tus palabras en mi entendimiento

cual veneno que cura la ausencia

De recordar cosas usadas y olvidadas

con un vuelo que ilumina y asombra

Es tarde amor   El mar trae tormenta

Hay una luna pálida que recuerda tu ombligo

Y unas nubes livianas y pesadas como tus manos

beben sedientas   Así cuando yo sobre tu boca muero




Raúl Gómez Jattin (Cartagena, 1945-1997) was one of Colombia’s most outstanding poets and the author of seven books of poetry. He spent most of his adult life between psychiatric hospitals and the streets, though he never stopped writing poetry. He led writing workshops at the University of Cartagena and the Modern Art Museum and his famous public readings drew hundreds of listeners. As a queer man of Syrian descent writing in a way that broke with his country’s tradition, his rightful place at the forefront of Colombian poetry has long been denied. In 1997, he was tragically killed by a bus.

Katherine M. Hedeen is a specialist in Latin American poetry and has both written extensively on and translated contemporary authors from the region. Her latest translations include In the Drying Shed of Souls: Poetry from Cuba’s Generation Zero (The Operating System) and Prepoems in PostSpanish (Eulalia Books), a chapbook by Ecuadorian neo-avant-garde poet Jorgenrique Adoum. She is an Associate Editor for Action Books, the Poetry in Translation Editor for the Kenyon Review and a two-time recipient of a NEA Translation Project Grant. She resides in Ohio where she is Professor of Spanish and Literary Translation at Kenyon College.

Olivia Lott’s translations of Latin American poetry have most recently appeared in or are forthcoming from ANMLY, Brooklyn Rail In Translation, The Kenyon Review, MAKE Magazine, Spoon River Poetry Review, Waxwing, and World Literature Today. Sheis the co-translator of Soleida Ríos’s The Dirty Text (Kenning Editions, 2018) and the translator of Lucía Estrada’s Katabasis (Eulalia Books, 2020). She is a Ph.D. Student and Olin Fellow in Hispanic Studies and Translation Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, where she is writing a dissertation on translation, revolution, and Latin American neo-avant-gardes.

The photograph is from Swedish artist Leif Holmstrand’s series “Asami Kannon / Whore” (2017, performed at Uppsala Art Museum). Photo: Grzegorz Fitał.

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