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A year before he died, Father took me to the house in Lomas de Zamora where he was born. A low Spanish-style house on a tree lined street near a train station I’d never been to before. He stopped the car, parked opposite, offered me a mint. He spoke of neighbours, lovers, cousins, a mad aunt painter. Then we sat there in silence.
I asked if he missed the place, the neighbourhood.
Better not look back, son.
We left taking a highway teeming with heavy trucks, black smoke from colectivos.
I look for signs, photos, recordings of mother. Her unplayed piano. You, orphan. We used to write long letters filled with sugar. Then, the presents stopped arriving. She came from the underworld to tell me stories of my ancestors. Her shining bones as fluorescent birth marks. You look like him. Same posture, same fears. Gone to an overflowing museum of your past. Ossuaries to remember, like elephants on an aimless trail.
But lines cut short, poles went down. All communications lost.
When they found out, she said you should be cured.
She told you of a Paris doctor using electric shocks in his well-appointed clinic near the Place de la Republique. She wrote a long letter detailing how God could give you strength to overcome sin. How she heard of a friend of a friend that was miraculously saved after his visit to France. She had high hopes for you. She said she was only doing it for your long-term benefit, because she cared for you. She said your father didn’t know she was writing to you. You read the two page letter in your bedroom, near a large window overlooking Kingsland Road. The night before you met a man with green eyes, dark hair, and luscious lips, studying to be a professional ventriloquist. His name was Jason. He had just finished a job at the Young Vic. You took him to your place, half empty as you had moved there a few weeks before, and you spent the night together. You can be one and many, he said lying down in your bed on the floor, half covered with a white duvet. As he left, you could see his shadow stretching near the entrance door, his face turning for a last kiss.
The postman rang the bell early in the morning.
He had a letter for you.
Porque tu cuerpo es de tierra/ y mi cuerpo es de tierra (Because your body is made of earth and my body is made of earth) – from Mutatis Mutandis (1954), Jorge Eduardo Eielson.
Summer. A little boy hides behind her mother’s silk dresses, hanging inside a cluttered pine wardrobe. Closed doors, inverted mirrors obscured. An asphyxiating closet. He smells wood, velvet, leathers gathered there through years of birthdays, weddings, funerals. Her shoes scattered on the floor, her smoothed scarfs, her bolero hats. Not much oxygen left to breath in. He tries on a purple dress, mother’s favourite. Her rosebud perfume intact from last Saturday’s fiesta at Elsieland. She takes off her small trousers, her briefs, a pile forms beneath her, stuff accumulates next to Father’s shirts. His belts hang dormant, tamed snakes ready to wake up, strike again. Ice cream vendor shouts outside: Palito, bombón helado! Heladooooooo! She jumps out, into her bedroom, cold tile floor on her bare feet.
A double large mirror: her little tanned arms under a tent of lilac. She moves around, sweating. It’s him again, half naked, a little demon praying for a sudden change, a shift finally turning his simple body into hers.
Leo Boix is a bilingual Latinx poet born in Argentina who lives and works in the UK. His debut English collection Ballad of a Happy Immigrant (Chatto & Windus, 2021) was awarded the PBS Wild Card Choice and was appeared on The Guardian’s ‘best recent poetry’ list in August 2021. He has authored another two books, in Spanish, Un Lugar Propio (2015) and Mar de Noche (2017), both with Letras del Sur Editora, Argentina. His forthcoming book is To Love a Woman (Poetry Translation Centre-PTC, 2022), a collection of poems by the Argentine writer Diana Bellesi he's translated during the lockdown. Boix has been included in many anthologies, such as Ten: Poets of the New Generation (Bloodaxe), The Best New British and Irish Poets Anthology 2019-2020 (BlackSpring Press), Islands Are But Mountains: Contemporary Poetry from Great Britain (Platypus Press), 100 Poems to Save the Earth (Seren Books), Why I Write Poetry (Nine Arches Press), and Un Nuevo Sol: British Latinx Writers (flipped eye). His poems have appeared in many national and international journals, including POETRY, PN Review, The Poetry Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, The Manchester Review, The White Review, Ambit, The London Magazine, Asymptote, The Morning Star, Litro, The Rialto, Magma Poetry, Letras Libres, BathMag, Prism International, Contra journal and elsewhere. Boix is a fellow of The Complete Works program and co-director of Invisible Presence, an Arts Council national scheme to nurture new voices of Latinx writers in the UK, and an advisory board member of the Poetry Translation Centre. He has written poems commissioned by Royal Kew Gardens, the National Poetry Library, Bradford Literary Festival, Un Nuevo Sol and La Linea Festival, among others. Boix is also a mentor for the Ledbury Poetry Critics scheme run by the University of Liverpool and has edited the Resistencia issue of Magma Poetry, dedicated to Latinx and Latin American poetry. He was the recipient of the Bart Wolffe Poetry Prize Award 2018 and the Keats-Shelley Prize 2019, as well as being awarded The Charles Causley International Poetry Competition 2021 (second prize).