Roy DeCarava, “Hand and coat”(c. 1962), on view at David Zwirner 2019 (photo by Elisa Wouk Almino/Hyperallergic)

I am writing this on my head, my hands inside gloves that don’t match

I lose at least one
from the pair per season
and hold on to the other, that single
glove left behind still contains the lost one.
That is to say
on the winter break I read Pascal Quignard,
in each image there’s a missing image,
says he, I add
in each sound there’s a missing sound,
say: my mother
how she, because of her hearing impairment,
is permanently reconstructing
sentences from fragments, isn’t that
writing? I am
walking the nine blocks back home
from the subway, it is -18 degrees
and I’ll never know
how to turn that into Fahrenheit or how
at times I focus on something so much as to become
something else. Gloves
prevent us from breaking apart,
gloves are not relevant in Buenos Aires
this cold does not exist
the kind that makes you turn not only your head
but your whole body just to look at
what’s coming. I did not write much
back there, just brought
a couple of summer images: my mother and I
at night standing in front a white wall
killing mosquitoes; my mother,
my sons, I, in the backyard,
hurrying to take away the clothes from the clothes line
under light rain.

April 17, 2019

La memoria de un sonido is the name of an old literary magazine my friend lends me. The memory of a sound. First issue of the two it lasted. Just two, like a direct sound and its reflection. Waves crashing against walls. Or a child running into a mother’s hard lap.

— — —

When you first realize that your parents are as abandoned as yourself, you are filled with terror, you start asking yourself who’s the caregiver here? says Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel in an interview in the magazine.

— — —

Scene: Exterior. Day. Veranda in Buenos Aires. February, 2012. My mother and I sitting on a sofa, facing forward. She is talking about her eldest brother, who recently died in a car accident. “Those years my mother left me with my aunts, he was the only one that visited me.” She sobs, she’s split in half. She’s at her aunts’ house with her brother. She’s here at the veranda with me. I cannot hold the pieces. We’re facing forward, I cannot turn around. The sofa fabric is plastic, rigid, I can feel its pattern marking the backs of our thighs.

— — —

It was on February 21, 2012, almost one year since the birth of my eldest son. The phone rang, it was my mother’s voice saying “Enrique is dead. A bus ran over him. He did not hear the horn.” No introduction, no details, no real conclusion. A chain of facts, broken, pieces scattered.

— — —

My uncle’s hearing impairment was more severe than my mother’s. It was hard for him to articulate most sounds. It was sometimes hard for us to understand, not him, but the words coming from him. Yet he insisted, he did not mind parting words, repeating, asking back. Words would become more material, we could almost touch them.

— — —

In the interview, Martel goes on to speak about speech and time: when someone talks, they may use verbs in the present, past or future tense, this temporal quality of words dissolves the idea of consecutive, chronological flow.

In this photo, there is a sepia layer of my mother and her brother in the 1950s, sitting close, though not holding each other. And then there is a red spot: the present tense of my mother’s nail polish, her fingers holding her phone to take a photo of the photo. Her fingers holding themselves.

Family photo, 1950s

— — —

Who’s the caregiver here? I must have thought sitting on the veranda sofa by my mother. I must have gotten lost in the thought, unable to act.

— — —

I wrote a poem about it. A piece left out of some past book. I won’t translate it from my native language, so you can at least read this, Mother.


Nos dábamos la espalda
ese sonido ahogado
madre, qué era:
por primera vez te escuchaba llorar,
me quedé quieta
apreté la almohada contra la oreja
la almohada con el olor de tu pelo
no pregunté
no me di vuelta
esperé que pasara pero crecía
tu llanto
entre las dos.
Hicimos lo que pudimos, quedarnos
cada una en su lugar
y en algún momento dormirnos.


The interview mentioned is “La memoria de un sonido: Una conversación con Lucrecia Martel,” by Paula Jiménez España, Al oído, September, 2011, 4–11.

Silvina López Medin was born in Buenos Aires and currently lives in New York. She published three books of poetry: La noche de los bueyes (1999), which won the Loewe Foundation International Young Poetry Prize, Esa sal en la lengua para decir manglar (2014), and 62 brazadas (2015). Her chapbook Excursion was selected by Mary Jo Bang as the winner of the 2019 Oversound Chapbook Prize and will be published by Oversound in 2020. Her play Exactamente bajo el sol (staged at Teatro del Pueblo, 2008) was granted the Plays Third Prize by the Argentine Institute of Theatre. She co-translated Anne Carson’s Eros the Bittersweet (2015) and Home Movies (2016), a selection of poems by Robert Hass, into Spanish. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University and is an editor at Ugly Duckling Presse.

Wendy Xu is the author of the poetry collections Phrasis (Fence, 2017), winner of the 2016 Ottoline Prize, and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013). The recipient of a Ruth...