The Poor

Spencer Reece

copyright ©Spencer Reece 2014

By Roberto Sosa, a translation

The poor are many
and so —
impossible to forget.

No doubt,
as day breaks,
they see the buildings
where they wish
they could live with their children.

can steady the coffin
of a constellation on their shoulders.
They can wreck
the air like furious birds,
blocking the sun.

But not knowing these gifts,
they enter and exit through mirrors of blood,
walking and dying slowly.

And so,
one cannot forget them.

Notes on the Poem

"The Poor" is a spare and heartbreaking poem from Spencer Reece's collection The Road to Emmaus, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize. Learning more about what inspired Reece to translate the poem from Roberto Sosa's original 1969 poem in Spanish, “Los Pobres”, helps explain why the poem demands our attention with its deceptively understated beauty. In his brief but elucidating translator's notes on the poem, Reece traces some of the history of Honduras, seguing to his firsthand experience of the country and its people when he worked there in 2009 while training to become an Episcopal priest. His work in an orphanage for abused and abandoned girls clearly affected him deeply. He turned to poetry (along with "dictionaries, flashcards, and lizards") most evenings. His fascination with the Sosa poem is revealing:
"I first memorized Sosa’s poem, then, bit by bit, tried to put it into English. I spoke the poem in Spanish to myself before I completely knew what I was saying. Spanish generally felt lush in my mouth, but the music of “Los Pobres” was sharp and blunt."
His experiences and their emotional impact helped Reece to hone his words in translation, to achieve this strikingly laconic but powerful poem in English. Understanding what he was going through and how that manifested itself in relation to the world and the words he was exploring deepens our appreciation for this quietly moving poem.

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