Night Fires and Circular Memory, Part 2: The Poetry of Lucía Estrada (Medellín, Colombia, 1980)

I read through Lucía Estrada’s debut poetry collection Fuegos nocturnos in one sitting. The following week, on a day of the characteristic fine grey rain that comes in over Bogotá from the mountains, I returned to the Biblioteca Virgilio Barco and picked up her more recent anthology: El círculo de la memoria (Lima, 2008).

Even a cursory glance at Estrada’s poetry reveals the main thematic preoccupations that characterize her work: the night, women, fire, magic, and the written word. Certainly, these themes echo through the many voices of El círculo de la memoria. The collection is divided into six parts, chronologically recompiling her previously published work from 1995-2008. Her experimentation with the concept of a circle, first explored in “El Círculo del Poema” in my previous post, continues in this volume. 

The two poems below are from the third section of the book, titled “Grimorio.” This section begins with an epigraph from Robert Graves: “The New Moon is the white goddess of birth and growth;/The Full Moon, the goddess of love and battle;/The Old Moon, the black goddess of death and divination” (from The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, first published in 1948). That “Grimorio” calls upon Graves’ classic of poetic myth-making is indicative of the esoteric or even occult elements that give heat to Estrada’s sequence of poems, in turn suggesting resistance against or denial of stark rationality and utilitarianism. 

El vuelo de las grullas (from El círculo de la memoria, 2008)

El vuelo de las grullas
atraviesa un cielo de ceniza

                    adivina al primero en levantarse

líneas negras
hienden el aire negro

                   alfabeto cerrado

sus árboles muertos

raíces levantan catedrales

cantos de una sola piedra
que mis manos traducen

He nacido
para no perder
un movimiento en su escritura

sus sacerdotes son niebla irrepetible

                    abren la llama



The Flight of Cranes (trans. E. Paskevics, 2015)

The flight of cranes

cuts across an ashen sky 

                 it predicts the first to rise 

black lines
cleave into black air

                 an obscured alphabet

its dead trees


roots raising cathedrals

songs of a single stone
that my hands translate

I was born
not to miss
a movement in its writing

its priests are a rare 
and incomparable fog

                  they open the flame

they tread on

                   they disappear.


Thematics of the night, death and disappearance, and the sacred repeat through the poems in this book, suggesting the deeper presence, or resonance, of history. As a result, for these and other poems throughout her obra, the direction or final destination of her poems can be hard to glimpse – shifting, not rooted – making the poems seem infinitely present, circular, each one like a moment in time that is simultaneously deepened with the scent of primitive myth. 

Es costumbre (from El círculo de la memoria, 2008)

voy a verla bajo el puente de Java                                          
                                                    Su cuerpo
ya es como el cristal
y su rostro amargo          
                                                   como el color  
                                                   de las ortigas
Largas horas de buscarla                
                                                   – de buscarme en ella –                           
                                                  me han hecho paciente
Hay un reflejo de flores abatidas
en el agua que la cubre                                
                                             Soy su memoria más cercana 
                                             por eso no la abandonado 
                                             La ahogada es el filo

de mi propia muerte

It is Customary (trans. E. Paskevics, 2015)

I’ll see it below the Java bridge:
                                                 Her body
already it is like glass
and her embittered features 
                                                 like the colour
                                                 of nettles
Long hours of searching
                                                – searching for myself in her – 
                                                has made me patient
There is a reflection of dejected flowers
in the water that covers her
                                               I am her closest memory
                                               therefore she won’t be abandoned
                                              The drowned woman is the brink
of my own death


This near-contradiction is perhaps best conveyed with the final lines from the collection as a whole, closing off the “circle of memory” that this volume investigates: 

... Cuando la noche se inclina y parece que pronuncia tu nombre,
hundes tus manos en la oscuridad 
y buscas a tientas el cuerpo inabarcable de tu memoria.

"When night reaches down and seems to speak your name,
sink your hands into the darkness
and fumble with the boundless body of your memory. " 

Thus Estrada has opened the scale, from the circular trajectory of a single poem into the wider and perhaps infinite circle that shapes both individual and collective memory. 

Lucía Estrada blogs occasionally at

Emily Paskevics is the author of The Night Was Animal, or: Methods in the Art of Rogue Taxidermy (Dancing Girl Press). Her work can also be seen in Hart House ReviewVallum MagazineActa VictorianaSan Pedro River ReviewBranch Magazine, and UofT Magazine. Emily was born and raised in a semi-suburban ravine in Toronto, Canada.