Jorge Galán

introduced by mario zetino

Jorge Galán is one El Salvador’s most well-known contemporary writers. This selection of poems is drawn from his most recent collection, Global Midnight (Visor Libros, 2016, XVI, Premio Casa de América de Poesía Americana). In this collection, Galán leaps into stunning and humbling depths.  

The first poem, “The Mother,” is a reflection on exile. Death threats forced Galán into exile shortly after the publication of his novel, Noviembre (Planeta, 2015), which recounts the story of the assassination of the Jesuit priests in San Salvador on November 16, 1989. Here, Galán shows us the impossibility of communicating what he is going through: “I couldn’t tell her what was going on, / I couldn’t lie to her again, / tell her: I’ll be back in three weeks.” This impossibility sharpens and comes to hurt just as much as his exile: “Bring me my son, she said. Bring me my son, she said again / … and a hundred blizzards / sealed my mouth.” Nevertheless, in the middle of this emptiness, a glint of hope appears, a transcendence of circumstances, perhaps ephemeral, but nonetheless real: “And everything is good / And everything is absolutely marvelous.”

In the second poem, “The Father,” Galán speaks from one of the voices that appears throughout much of his work: the witness. Here, Galán witnesses death, murder: “I hear death singing over my shoulder / … I know those who were responsible / … I listened to it all unable to move.” The poem asks us (or compels us) to read slowly, to read with the lips of the very speaker, listening to “the sound / of the earth crushing the blind caskets.” Thereby, Galán arrives to the incessant sound of one more thing: the impotence of that father, who can be the father of a family or of an entire people: “And I could do nothing. Not even die, / not even look for them in the afterlife”; “I am the beginning and the end of the procession. I am the center.” This poem gives voice to the damned, condemned to mourn the deaths of their loved ones forever.

In the final poem, “Legacy,” Galán shifts pace. He speaks from a universal voice: “I am not a visitor of the world, // I am the world.” Galán writes in a voice that asks for understanding, a voice that shows us what we do not understand: “You don’t comprehend the beauty of the inexplicable. The sound / of the genuine, where no man exists.” After guiding the reader along dark and violent paths throughout the course of the collection, Galán arrives and tries to take us with him to thunderlight of the essential: “When the origin story is told, / the beginning is the same / in all the tongues we know.”

With these poems, drawn from his own experience and visions, Jorge Galán challenges us to bear witness with all our humanity; to not flee, but to enunciate our night; to feel the immensity and unity of all things.