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The opportunity to translate three poems from Susan Vespoli’s poetry chapbook, Blame It on the Serpent, was tougher than I had expected. But the grit of sweating over every word and phrase made the reward infinitely greater.

The topic of alcoholism and drug addiction is taboo in the Latino community. It hangs in the air, invisible, never acknowledged. So, when I read Susan’s work, I wanted to see if these stories could be told in another language. Maybe these poems could help others describe the pain they felt. And maybe they could give a voice to that feeling of loss and powerlessness.

The project began when I emailed Susan in early 2022 asking for her permission to translate some of her work. She graciously agreed. The process took much longer than I had expected, all while I was living out of a suitcase.

At times, these poems felt like the serpents on the cover: unwieldy, uncompromising, and set on destruction. Whether I prevailed, is something that I am still asking myself.

Translating is not the easiest task. There were many moments when I sat at my computer late at night doubting if this could be done. Honoring the poet’s voice was of prime importance to me.

The process forced me to dig deep and find just the right words, and the right rhythm, to bring together these stories. I had to get it right, to be precise. If I leaned too far in either direction, it could subvert the foundation of the entire poem, or even worse, fail to bring it to life.

But I could not do it alone. I was fortunate to have the assistance of two editors, Beth Priego and Ileana Chavarin, who helped find the keywords and phrases as certain stanzas felt more resistant, and unwieldy, not wanting to change their voice to another language. And that is something where all three of us were cautious to tread, respecting the original intent as best we could.

These aren’t cutesy poems by any means. And that’s why I love them. They fully expose what one thinks, and what one is not supposed to say. And they do so in the pursuit of healing, of being strong enough to say, “This situation is really fucked up and somehow I have to get through it.”

Go ahead. Have a read. You won’t be disappointed.

Translated by: Ricardo Moran
Edited by: Beth Priego & Ileana Chavarin

Madre Santa

Me gusta pensar que soy una santa,
Madre Teresa renacida como rubia.

Me gusta pensar que traigo un halo
de luz, mis brazos

abrazando a un bebé qué calmé
con una canción de cuna. Pero me dicen

que mis palabras pueden ser navajas
suficientes filosas para hacer sangrar

y esto, no lo creo

hasta que mis hijos arremeden
¡Dios mío! “¡Qué pendejo!", a su padre.

o gritan "¡Mierda!" desde sus asientos del auto
a los conductores que me cierran el paso.

o esa vez que mi hijo de 13 años llevaba
una grabadora en el bolsillo, provocándome

hasta que le grite "¡Maldita sea! ¡NO!"
y me la volvió a tocar como chantaje.

Saint Mom

I like to think of myself as a saint,
Mother Teresa reborn as a blond.

I like to think of myself with a halo
of light, my arms

circling a baby I've calmed
with a lullaby. But I've been told

that my words can be razor-
blades, sharp enough to draw blood

and I don't believe this

until my kids mimic
my, "what an asshole," at their father

or spit, "Shit!" from their car seats
at drivers who cut me off

or that time my 13-year-old carried
an audio recorder in his pocket, needling

me till I snapped, "Goddamn it, NO!"
Then played it back to me as blackmail.

Décadas después de casarse con un adicto

Te encontrarás aquí
sentada en un círculo de sillas
con otros padres de adictos
en una iglesia a la que no asistes.

Todos traen puestos gafetes,
sonrisas forzadas, inclinan sus cabezas
cuando se eleva una oración, enseguida
toman turnos para compartir sus experiencias

de hijos en prisión, rehabilitación,
salas psiquiátricas, hijos adictos al meta cristal,
Oxy, heroína, Xanax, ácido,
de los nietos que algunos crían

y no te quebrantaras
cuando hablas
de tu propio hijo adicto

hasta que la mujer a tu izquierda
habla del fallecimiento inesperado
de su esposo alcohólico,
la policía tocando

a su puerta, buscando a su hijo,
sus hombros temblando, ella sollozando,
"Tengo miedo," escondiendo su rostro
entre sus manos
y entonces es cuando tú también
te quebrantas.

Decades After Marrying an Addict

You'll wind up here
sitting in a circle of chairs
with other parents of addicts
at a church you don't attend.

You'll all wear name tags,
forced smiles, bow your heads
as a prayer is said, and then
take turns telling tales

of kids in prison, rehab,
psych wards, kids on meth,
on oxy, heroin, Xanax, acid,
of the grandkids some are raising

and you won't crack
when you speak
of your own hooked kid

until the woman on your left
tells of the unexpected death
of her alcoholic husband,
the police knocking

at her door for her son,
her shoulders shaking, her sobbing,
"I'm scared", into her hands
and that's when you'll break down, too.

Mi Hijo Ya No Está Desaparecido

Me gusta pensar que se graduó
de la clínica de metadona,
que ahora hace yoga, que dejó

de fumar. Me gusta pensar que le salieron
dientes nuevos
para reemplazar los que se pudrieron.

Me gusta pensar que renta un estudio
con un patio cercano al canal
el cual está lleno de peces

sin cabecear con indigentes drogadictos.
me gusta pensar que descansa
en una cómoda silla, después de llenar

el lavaplatos con moldes de panecillos
como aquellos de cumpleaños
que me horneaba
cubiertos con velas

que trajo al lugarcito mexicano
donde contrato un trío
de mariachis con trajes de lentejuelas
para darnos serenata

mientras cenábamos enchiladas de queso.
Me gusta pensar que solo espera
el minuto perfecto de la hora perfecta

del día perfecto para reaparecer

para decirme que está viviendo

libre de píldoras y alcohol y meta cristal
y "chiva" y al finalizar
cada largo y caluroso día en Phoenix,

se deja caer
en la piscina azul y refrescante del complejo,
emergiendo reluciente y mojado

My Son No Longer Missing

I like to think he graduated
from the methadone clinic,
now does yoga, gave up

smoking. I like to think he grew
a new set of teeth
to replace the ones that rotted.

I like to think he rents a studio
with a patio near the canal
filled with crappies and sunfish

not nodding off with homeless junkies.
I like to think he leans back
in an Adirondack, after loading

the dishwasher with cupcake pans
from birthday muffins like the ones
he baked
for me topped with candles

that he brought to the Mex place
where he hired a trio of sequined
mariachis to serenade us

as we dined on cheese enchiladas.
I like to think he is waiting
for just the right minute of the right hour

of the right day to reappear

to tell me he is living

free of pills and booze and meth
and smack and at the end
of each long hot Phoenix day,

he drops himself
into the cool blue complex pool,
then emerges shiny, dripping.

          Susan Vespoli                  (photo credit: Susan Vespoli)