It Must Be a Misunderstanding (excerpt)

Coral Bracho
Translated from the Spanish by Forrest Gander


She can’t ask any longer
to be loved. But who can
ask to be loved?
Nor that someone sit beside her to wait with her.
Life slips away
with all the gestures,
with all the memories, with all its core
strength, its beauty,
which have foundered with her. Years ago
she stopped speaking.
How does she think? How does she link the diffuse, wobbly
trajectories that lead here? And you?—she asked me once—

How do you come
to know?


Ya no puede pedir
que la quieran. ¿Pero quién puede
pedir que lo quieran?
Ni que se sienten a su lado a esperarla.

La vida se escabulle
con todos los gestos,
con todos los recuerdos, con toda la fuerza
medular, la belleza,
que se han hundido con ella. Hace años
que no habla.
¿Cómo piensa? ¿Como liga los difusos, desiguales
trayectos de estar ahí? ¿Y tú? —me preguntó una vez—

¿Cómo le haces
para saber?


(Alzheimer’s. Follow-up)

Who is the President of this country?
—Well, it depends; for some
it’s one person; for others it is another.
What is this called?
— I don't know, doctor, because I don't use
that; only you do.
How many children do you have?
— Quite a few.

What did you used to do?
—Now you're going to ask me
to draw a clock.
Did you like to dance?
— Yes, of course, of course I danced.
And did you ever travel?
—Yes, naturally.
Where to?
— Well, to the same place everyone went.

(Alzheimer. Seguimiento)

¿Quién es el presidente de este país?
—Pues depende para unos
es uno; para otros es otro.
¿Cómo se llama esto?
—No sé, doctor, porque yo no uso
eso; sólo usted.
¿Cuántos hijos tiene?

¿A qué se dedicaba usted antes?
—Ahora me va a pedir
que dibuje un reloj.
¿Usted bailaba?
—Sí, claro, por supuesto que bailaba.
¿Y viajó alguna vez?
—Sí, claro.
¿A donde?
—Pues a donde iban todos.

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Image of Coral Bracho
Forrest Gander

Coral Bracho is one of the most influential poets in Mexico, her country of birth, and in all of Latin America. In each of her books, a shifting network of images stimulate phenomenological meditations on what happens to the self who becomes the reader of book and world. She has won most of the major prizes—The Villaurrutia Prize & the International Jaime Sabines-Gatien Lapointe Prize among them. Her work has been translated into dozens of languages. In English, she is best represented by Firefly Under the Tongue from New Directions. A new book in translation, It Must Be a Misunderstanding, is forthcoming from New Directions.

Jack Shear

Forrest Gander, a writer and translator with degrees in geology and literature, was born in the Mojave Desert and lives in northern California. His books, often concerned with ecology, include Be With, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, the novel The Trace, and Core Samples from the World. Gander’s translations include Alice Iris Red Horse: Poems by Gozo Yoshimasu and Then Come Back: the Lost Neruda Poems. Often collaborating with artists such as Ann Hamilton, Sally Mann, Graciela Iturbide, and Vic Chesnutt, he has received grants from the Library of Congress, the Guggenheim, Howard, Whiting and United States Artists Foundations.

It Must Be a Misunderstanding is a deeply affecting book-length work whose force builds as the poems cycle through their sequences. The “plot” follows a general trajectory—from early to late Alzheimer’s—with non-judgmental affection and compassionate watchfulness.

We come to know an opinionated, demonstrative elderly woman whose resilience, in the face of her dehiscent memory, becomes most clear in her adaptive strategies. The poems involve us in the mind’s bafflement and wonder, in its creative quick-change adjustments, and in the emotional drama that draws us across the widening linguistic gaps that reroute communication. (Forrest Gander)

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