The Language of Loss by Mariela Griffor,
Exiliana, Poems, Luna Publications,
© 2006, 73 pp. $14.95 Paper.
A Review by Hope Maxwell-Snyder
Exile is a form of death. Nowhere is that more clearly stated than in Mariela Griffor’s poetry. Her book, Exiliana, deals with the loss of her native country, language, family, and friends. Departure may save one’s life, but it carries the burden of fear for the lives of those who stay behind and a feeling of guilt about their future. Memories freeze but wounds continue to lacerate. While exiles leave their countries hoping to return, to pick up where they left off, time conspires against them. “Distance is only temporary/ Griffor writes, but so is life. “I spend nights sleepless/thinking about what to do/with the love if you die. /” Her poetry addresses the suffering of her countrymen, “Dreams and/ambitions lost in many graves. /In the silent goodbyes/of Chileans/” and the alienation experienced by others. “Detroit, so full of churches, /so where is God? /
A bilingual reader would have benefited from seeing the poems originally written in Spanish next to the English translation. Yet, the language Griffor uses to mourn her losses is one, the language of the heart. “What to do with the love/if you die? /” she asks in “Love for a Subversive Man.” Do the departed live in the memories of those who love them? “I ask myself if my mother/thought about me when/her fingers touched my picture/taken twenty years ago when/we still had tenderness, / Griffor writes. Her experience as an exile includes living in two countries (Sweden and the United States).
While the self adapts to new circumstances, the only way to salvage anything from the past is by conversing with places and people that may never be seen again. Griffor seems comfortable talking to the absent and the dead, more so at times than addressing the present and the living. She does not seek to forget loved ones, but to celebrate having known them while mourning their demise. Questions for the departed are abundant in her poems. “I ask myself what I would say/If you were to enter my door/at this very moment. /If you could lift the iron gate/of your coffin/and walk through the hemisphere/from south to north /just to find me. /I would ask you:/What have you been doing / the past twenty years?” “How would I explain now,” she writes in another poem, “that in a lonely night without stars,” which evokes Pablo Neruda’s “Poema XX” in reverse, “in a place whose name I don’t remember, /” a reference to Cervantes’s masterpiece, “my solitary and tired spirit/succumbs to the enchantment of a sweet and/dangerous craziness?” The fascination with Don Quixote and his quest is evident. “Where does our knight/start this endless search/that converts him into/a hero for those without dreams? / The poet asks in “Quixote as a Dream,” while insisting, in “Sunday Walk, Urban Talk,” “Myself, I wanted a garden,/big, full of plants and eccentric flowers,/read the newspapers in the morning,/write a bit about things I couldn’t say/and love ‘Phillip’ as always. /” The poet seeks normalcy in a world and within an existence that have been anything but normal. In her struggle to deal with a past measured by loss she continues to live, to write, to dream.
Hope Maxwell-Snyder is the founder and director of The Sotto Voce Poetry Festival. Her work has appeared in Archivio storico italiano, Quaderni del Castello di Gargonza, Atalaya, Cuadernos de ALDEEU and GNP.