Communal Sin

By Ursula Starke & Translated By Jonathan Simkins


One of my favorite things to do at home is to read poetry aloud. In fact, most poets will argue that reading poetry this way is exactly how a poem is best appreciated. Post college, I joined a small poetry writing group where we gathered and drank cheap whiskey and shared our latest lines. The group eventually disbanded, but the experience of listening to the spoken word stayed with me. 

When Jonathan Simkins, a poet who I grew up with in the suburbs of Tampa, Florida, shared that he was learning Spanish to translate some of his favorite poets to make their work more accessible to readers, I jumped at the chance to work with him. Focused on the theme of home, "Communal Sin" illuminates the longing for place, but also what it means to belong. -M.W. 


From the alien lines of my palm
I’m writing to you, San Bernardo.
I never walked the bitter streets
of your fertile past
(You were a secluded city
screaming urban silence).
I have not even counted the leaves
of the dying trees
in the crooked window.
Nor did I dance in the station
in the days of Maestranza
to the metallic rhythm
of your machines.
I would have liked to sleep in your plains
separated from the Earthly Paradise,
but the swallow and the flies
again diverted my dream.
San Bernardo, I’ve done nothing
worthy of your praise,
but I cry with you
at every hour
of your eternal night.



Del trazo ajeno de mi mano
te escribo, San Bernardo.
Jamás probé las amargas calles
de tu pasado fértil
(Eras ciudad apartada,
gritabas el silencio urbano)
Ni he contado las hojas
de los árboles agonizantes
en la ventana torcida.
No bailé los días
de Maestranza
al ritmo metalizado de sus máquinas.
Hubiera querido dormir en tus llanos
apartados del Paraíso Terrenal,
pero las golondrinas y las moscas
una y otra vez
desviaban mi sueño.
San Bernardo, nada hice
digno de agradecer
pero lloro contigo
todas las horas de tu eterna noche.


-Úrsula Starke (English translation by Jonathan Simkins)