The Fingers of Our Hands: Short Notes on Alaíde Foppa

The Fingers of Our Hands: Short Notes on Alaíde Foppa

Nose

It’s prac­ti­cal­ly
an appendage
to the face’s
serene geom­e­try,
the only line
in a field of curves, 
the sub­tle instru­ment
that con­nects me 
to the air.
Sim­ple smells,
acrid ones,
the dense scents
of jas­mine, anise:
flar­ing, tak­ing
them all in.

Trans­lat­ed by Yvet­te Siegert

Alaíde Fop­pa is a Span­ish-born Guatemalan poet who mys­te­ri­ous­ly dis­ap­peared in Guatemala City on the nine­teen­th day of Decem­ber in Nine­teen Eighty. She spent many of her for­ma­tive years in Italy study­ing Art His­to­ry and Lit­er­a­ture before she moved to her mother’s native Guatemala.  After arriv­ing in Guatemala and obtain­ing her cit­i­zen­ship she would mar­ry promi­nent Guatemalan left­ist intel­lec­tu­al and com­mu­nist Alfon­so Solórzano. Some years into their mar­riage a CIA-spon­sored coup over­threw the pres­i­den­cy and gov­ern­ment of Jacobo Árbenz and the cou­ple was forced to flee to Mex­i­co in 1954. In Mex­i­co, Alaíde would give birth to four chil­dren (giv­ing her a total of five includ­ing the birth of her youngest son in Guatemala to the coun­tries first demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed pres­i­dent Juan José Aré­valo),  mature as a poet, and become one of Lat­in Amer­i­c­as most promi­nent fem­i­nists.

It was in Mex­i­co City that she spent her time in exile work­ing at the Nation­al Autonomous Uni­ver­si­ty of Mex­i­co and on sev­er­al projects includ­ing her poet­ry. She would put her foot­print into the still wet cement of Lat­in Amer­i­can fem­i­nism in the Sev­en­ties by cre­at­ing a fem­i­nist radio show and by co-found­ing a fem­i­nist lit­er­ary and schol­ar­ly mag­a­zine by the name of FEM which remained in print until 2005.

While in Mex­i­co City Alaíde would pro­duce her most famous works of poet­ry. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, most her work remains untrans­lat­ed into Eng­lish and, of course, it came to an abrupt end with her dis­ap­pear­ance. Of her dis­ap­pear­ance lit­tle is known except the date and where she was going at the time she dis­ap­peared. On Decem­ber 19, 1980, she was on her way with her chauf­feur to sup­pos­ed­ly pick up her pass­port and return to Mex­i­co after vis­it­ing her daugh­ter in Guatemala City. She was nev­er to be seen again. Fop­pa is one of 40, 000 to 45, 000 peo­ple who were made dis­ap­peared dur­ing the Guatemalan civil war under the mil­i­tary regime. Many who dis­ap­peared were unfor­tu­nate, while oth­ers were intel­lec­tu­als and activists like Alaíde and were like­ly tar­get­ed. Her body has nev­er been found and to this day no death cer­tifi­cate has been issued. Alaíde Fop­pa is a miss­ing wom­an but she is still present in the spir­it of her poet­ry.

 

Words

I.
A child­hood
nursed on silence,
youth built
from depar­tures,
a life that 
pro­duces absence.
It’s only from words
that I expect 
a total pres­ence.

Except trans­lat­ed by Yvet­te Siegert

What hap­pened to her might be a mys­tery, sure­ly she is gone. But in her poet­ry we are able to revis­it and recon­struct her body and flesh. It is as if she is res­ur­rect­ed in her own words. Her poet­ry is phan­tas­magoric in nature, and with her dis­ap­pear­ance, it becomes wist­ful and haunt­ing but at the same time, her spir­it remains so warm­ing and love­ly. It is as if her hands are reach­ing out from the page to find our own and guide us through her vision of the world. 

The Hands

My hands,
weak, uncer­tain,
they look like
vain objects
for the bril­liance of rings
only fill­ing them
with loss,
they tend to the tree
that they can­not reach,
but they give me water
and up to the pink 
off­shoot of my nails
comes the heart­beat.

My trans­la­tion

Only ten­der and thought­ful hands could craft poet­ry so intri­cate and del­i­cate. Foppa’s poet­ry is an ontol­ogy of the fem­i­nine body and con­scious­ness. It is a poet­ry not only con­cerned with the cor­po­re­al rela­tion­ship between her body and the space and things that enclose around it, it is also a poet­ry that explores the intan­gi­bil­i­ty of mate­ri­al objects. What I mean is, it is a poet­ry that sops up the mar­row of essence. It is a poet­ry that talks to the shad­ows left behind. A poet­ry that speaks to those vacant dust­less spots on an old dusty desk out­lin­ing where objects once rest­ed but were recent­ly moved. It is only fit­ting that her poet­ry is a poet­ry of the dis­ap­peared and the dis­ap­pear­ing. It is the poet­ry only a wom­an liv­ing in exile could exhale, and although she her­self is miss­ing her work breathes life into the fab­ric of Lat­in Amer­i­can cul­ture. We do not hear an echo of her voice, we hear the resound­ing bursts of poet­ry as if her words were the first she had ever spo­ken.

It is impor­tant that we keep Alaíde close to us, we don’t want her to go miss­ing again. I think it would be an hon­or to her to have her poet­ry and works trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish so that she may find a new home upon a new book­shelf. I hope that a renewed inter­est in her work with­in Eng­lish-speak­ing lit­er­ary cir­cles might see this hap­pen. If any­thing, you should give her case and what you can of her work a moment of your curios­i­ty.