Of Maroon Dahlias

When we talk about Latin American literature, we feel the deep connect between literary expression and political expression/activism. Much of the terrible beauty and aching sense of loss that the Latin Americans write about springs from their ravaged lands as much as from personal experience.

Juan Gelman ( is  one such contemporary Latin American poet. He is one of Argentina’s finest and most acclaimed poets and  won the  Spanish equivalent   of the Booker – The Cervantes Prize- in  2007.His works are a powerful and moving mix of the political history of his country as well as the tragic history of his family under the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1975 and 1983. Gelman , like many other intellectuals, was forced into exile. His son and pregnant daughter-in-law were ‘disappeared ‘by the military regime. Much later, Gelman was able to be reunited with his granddaughter in 2000.

Most of his works haven’t been translated to English as yet.Here is one of his poems , from, which springs hope, despite the depravity and horror all around him. The powerful imagery of this particular poem , I find , to be particularly relevant today where the world is being torn apart daily ,by hate and violence.

Lunch at the Depot Hotel

“I love this crazy world and I am not
without hope.

Sonoma lettuces, Sicilian olive oil, a few
remaining shrimp, bread from the grasses, invented
by women eons ago, Dubonnet from the red vine of the French,
lovers who honor the Blood, coffee from beans of the South—

this soulful feast inspires me to share with you,
while provincial voices on money and strangers rise
in the next room amid laughter and heavy home-grown wine,

to share with you that no matter how much change,
no matter how fast, no matter the winds, spreading viruses,
unexpected explosions, rapings of women and babies, grand upheavals
of the Earth—no matter how annoyed Mother Earth becomes,

Life does survive, oh inexpressibly beautiful, that makes dahlias maroon
and huge open their faces to us with—what else can we call it?—Love.
And if there is a better word, let us use that.

Love flowers no matter what,
rest assured.” ( Selected Poems by Juan Gelman, translated by Hardie St Martin )


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