Among the Angels of Memory: Entre los ángeles de la memoria

Among the Angels of Memory: Entre los ángeles de la memoria

by Marjorie Agosín

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This bilingual (facing-page English and Spanish) poetry collection documents the Jewish-Chilean-American author's search for remnants of her grandmother's life during the Holocaust in Prague and Vienna, and later in Chile.


This bilingual (facing-page English and Spanish) poetry collection documents the Jewish-Chilean-American author's search for remnants of her grandmother's life during the Holocaust in Prague and Vienna, and later in Chile.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Agosín is a poet of enchantments—an enchanted poet—who has declared war on forgetfulness and oblivion. She is one of our necessary voices, a magical singer who will not be defeated by history. —Edward Hirsch, author, How to Read a Poem

"Agosín is a mystic poet whose clarity of vision is superceded only by her courage. Among the Angels of Memory is her most ambitious and perhaps best book to date."  —Demetria Martinez, author, Mother Tongue

School Library Journal
Adult/High School
This is an expanded and newly translated version of a privately published book, Angels of Memory . Agosin's poetry is a cathartic cry against the Holocaust and present-day wars and atrocities. The writer begins with a short prose introduction to the story the poems will tell of her grandmother's journey from the Nazis of Vienna to her new home in Chile. Immediately well oriented, readers are quickly drawn in through the poems' intensely personal and touching tone. Her deceased grandmother speaks plainly through her granddaughter as Agosin admits: "I take dictation./And you, on the other side of the words,/in the resonant clarity of light,/smile." So intimate, the poems seem to whisper, as in, "telling you this story/distresses me,/I can only say it in a poem/as I am unable to tell it to anyone." The bilingual format creates an additional sense of closeness, allowing readers to experience the poet's pieces in her native tongue. Her poems are sometimes angry, sometimes tenderhearted, always brutally honest, and their accessible intensity will capture teen readers.
—Joy MurphyCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Wings Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.75(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Among the Angels of Memory/Entre los Ángeles de la Memoria

By Marjorie Agosín, Laura Rocha Nakazawa

Wings Press

Copyright © 2006 Marjorie Agosín
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60940-060-6


The Old World

* * *

El Viejo Mundo

    Helena Broder: Angel of Memory

    Por la noche son
    tan solo tus pasos,
    memorias sagradas
    de otros tiempos.

    Y eran los días
    como una fragancia,
    la claridad del otoño,
    un ruido de pasos
    sobre el viento.

    At night,
    only your steps,
    sacred memories
    of other times.

    And the days
    were like a fragrance,
    autumn lightness,
    a sound of steps
    on the wind.

Helena Broder, Vienna, 1939

What should I take to start a new life: photographs of my beloved parents, a book of Goethe's poems? Of course, I will have to leave the keys with the police, the Gestapo, and yet I don't think I shall return. I am leaving for the New World. I am filled with hope. Fate tells me that I should go; that this journey is the beginning of a new life. Have you noticed how perfect Nazi uniforms are? I pity the seamstress who misses a button. It has been very difficult for me to sew this Star of David on my blue coat. But the star is as beautiful as a promise. And yet I must confess that sometimes I cheat the Austrians; I quickly take off my star to go into those stores forbidden to Jews. This is my revenge. Still, I continue to be beautiful and radiant; I love life, garnet rings, and mink stoles. I also love to sing the way my mother taught me, a way to lighten up sorrows. But what should I take? Cooking recipes? I wonder if there will be apples in the New World? My son Joseph is already there, in a port named Valparaíso. They say it is full of beautiful women with naked torsos, and the lights above the hills resemble fireflies.

I am leaving today. Last night I made up my mind, or maybe it was a long time ago. Leaving, fleeing is not foreign to me. I am always ready to pack my bags; this is the destiny of my people. How shall Chile be for us Jews?

Even though the future is becoming undone, and hope is ever so tenuous, I decide to dance. I perfume myself with lilacs, take out my garnet ring, the bracelet Isidor once gave me, and I open my balcony's window. I listen for signs of life, while I remember my mother's face, like that of a full and mischievous moon, radiating light. It is then that I start to move slowly, as if my body responded to the caresses of the wind, and my hands, open palms that know how to love, give and receive, touch the wounds of those Jews forced to clean the sidewalks with acid. My feet, initially resembling small and tender roots, dance as if the world were to end, as if we had arrived at the end of this life. Who could stop dancing? I dance to honor history and memory. My hands are two wings, my feet know all paths, and my voice no longer inhabits a smoke-filled throat.

Light is always present, at the edge of fear, at the edge of history. I have grown accustomed to lighting candles on Friday. Even though I have frequent discussions with God, I still believe in prayer, in the power of prayer as the most clear of miracles, the proof of survival.

My son Mauricio and I have not been able to sleep in several days, hounded by soldiers' boots, the dreadful noise of doors calling the names of those arrested, the decrees dictating who will live, who will die. If I could only remain asleep in the balcony of my house until the war is over, there is so much fear and nightmares. We have no rice, no chicken, nothing to eat; even the birds have prematurely died. And yet, here I am, preparing the trip, full of hope for this new path.

I know that I shall sleep in different countries and learn another language just as you, Joseph, son of mine, had to do upon your arrival in that new land. And yet, I know I will be faithful to my old accent as you were faithful to yours, Josele, my beloved son. But there is eagerness in me, a desire to begin. I am filled with faith and hope.

Yesterday I received a letter from Josele. It had a stamp from Valparaíso with a huge mountain range that reminded me of the Alps. Josele writes sporadically, though he did have a talent for writing love letters; but for me, his mother, it's another story.

I shall wait for the truce. At night it is always the horrific goose-steps, the sound of military boots, with their symmetric and hateful steps, and those carts of death always surrounding the living, picking up the wounded. The nights of Vienna are very strange: nights without fragrances, nights where my memory turns into an abandoned and empty well. Still I cover myself with perfume and read the letter from my son in the New World, here amid a sky full of dreadful scars and omens.

What shall I bring from Vienna, from this house and garden? The world looks like a pile of rubble to me, filled with disjointed doors and windows, lost children and old men. The forced labor camps have been operating for the past two years. We are in the grip of silence and fear. You cannot see the elderly of Vienna. They have crossed borders in the gravity of a savage night, or they have died a few days after their arrival at those infernal camps.

What shall I take for my Josele, the one who left because of love and who will now save our lives, the one who had a very bad temper, but who can now calm me down with his sporadic letters, in the hope of a different life? I know what I shall give him: a bouquet of lilacs from the Pratter. I shall hide leaves inside the feather eiderdown and the fragrance shall be my compass during the crossing of the wild seas of Europe.

It makes me feel safe to leave, not to have to worry about the arrival of my deportation order, or where to spend the night. I have rationally, cautiously thought about who could hide my son Mauricio and me, but truthfully, I don't think there's anyone. The neighbors spit at me when they see me pass by; they close their shutters and call me "Juden." I just smile and think of clouds, perhaps a rainbow or a red poppy. I must hold on to my dreams.

At night a dream keeps recurring; it overflows the evening's horizon. I see fields of red poppies, like dark blood, reassuring us about the persistence of life, the consequences of death, or those unruly poppies, always upright, next to a rusty bicycle in a field of abandoned flowers. I dream with an open-air dance, and the beautiful dresses of women rustling in the wind.

But the question that keeps haunting me is, What to take? It is good to travel light. I will carry a handful of salt to season all the meals and bring good luck to the table, candles for the Sabbath, china for Passover, and our feather eiderdown under which Isidor and I dreamed of love, made love, and did not speak of the past or the future, but just rejoiced in each other's kisses. That's what I'll take: my eiderdown, the china, and the candelabra to light the way.

All the glass of Vienna's Jews is broken. Last night it was only a giant scream; strident, frozen in fear. I saw how they hurled our elderly neighbors out of balconies. And still I am certain I'll be able to make a beautiful jewel, even out of that broken glass. I shall smooth the edges to fashion a talisman for my trip.

I put on my garnet rings; I am a beautiful woman, a woman alive, full of love. I choose the dress with the lowest cut to seduce the police. I smell of lilacs and violets. I am a garden, an omen of wind. Nothing can stop me from believing in the astonishing power of destiny that today opens in front of me. It is a good sign among the shadows. I close my eyes and see a garden path and imagine love.

Vienna's night is dark and filled with vigilant eyes. Yesterday, Mauricio was forced to clean the sidewalks on his knees. My aunt Loricia is in a staging camp, my aunt Stephania fled to Hungary. I shall never see my cousins again, only in the well of dreams. But today I remember picking up a shard of crystal, and seeing inside it the full possibilities of light.

I have planned everything elegantly and soberly. I cannot be afraid, I will not be afraid because I have faith; I am a woman alone on her way to the New World. I am a worn-out, broken-down island willing to travel. Before I go to the work camp with my deportation order, I hand in the keys at the police. I tell them I am headed for Hamburg.

At night I board a train headed for Hamburg, to catch the ship to Valparaíso. There, in the New Word, Josele is waiting for us. The cards will tell whether I ever return or not. What is essential is to survive; I must overcome the vicissitudes of history. We travel all through the night. I don't think about all my belongings left behind; I am my house, my lighthouse, and my history. Embarking at Hamburg, we sail on a cargo ship from that Europe, slashed with rains and ashes.

My imagination seems blocked, I cannot dream nor sleep, I just hold on to hope, to the power of faith. I left the shadows and ashes with the pyre of burning books. I only imagine that the wind at sea kisses my hair and someone lights the way with a poem.

We sleep on the lower deck. The sea is a sad vault, sometimes it roars, others it is soft like a whisper; in the distance, stars grow smaller and foreign. Most of the time, the refugees sleep on deck, some make love. It is possible to see their faint dance under the covers. One lady has a passionate love affair with a dentist; the next day I find out that he pulls out all of her teeth and replaces them with gold ones. We laugh with the unique joys of love.

Aboard the ship, my son learns to bake pastries. He also falls in love with all the girls on board. I think about Josele and my granddaughter Frida, whom I have only seen in a photograph I brought with me hidden among my feather eiderdown. War goes on in all its fury. I know that some of my friends have committed suicide; others have answered the call to the camps. More than painful, life is absurd to me. War has made cowards of us all, useless, scared beings. I can't sleep, I dream with Nazi boots, I have nightmares of being decapitated; my chocolate cake is cut open. Life is a bottomless ocean.

We still have two more days of sailing; we approach the coast of Perú. I don't look back; I don't want the specters of memory, only the angels of memory. I love to see the stars; luminous bunches over our eyes. I must learn Spanish. I must learn the names of the stars; the different types of potatoes. This new world is intoxicating in its newfound happiness, and I ask myself how they will greet foreigners in Chile? Shall I be a temporary guest or will I adapt to the sun of this land resembling a rose petal, where volcanoes still roar? How will I be in a different language? Will I be able to translate the darkness hidden within me in bundles of light?

We arrived in South America one dawn, when the Pacific Ocean was a ribbon of sinuous, rose-colored waves like the body of a woman in love. The first thing I saw of this new land was the hills of Valparaíso at dusk, when lights were like dancing fireflies and the savage flowers bent to welcome us into a twilight of unexplored dreams.

Frida will remember with precision the date of your arrival in Chile, in 1939. She will recall the translucent tulle bonnet flowing in the wind, the delicate neckline that insinuated the softness of your neck, still fresh, your delicate breasts, your silver candelabra and the garnet bracelet that has inherited the fate of all our migrations, and now rests peacefully in the hands of your great-granddaughter.

    Helena Broder

    Se llama
    Helena Broder.
    Es mi bisabuela
    a un linaje de viajeros magos.
    Tan solo recuerda
    una fecha:
    la noche en Hamburgo
    sobre su estola de fuego.
    Nunca discutimos el
    ni los objetos transitorios,
    la tentacióAn era
    olvidar las cenizas
    abrazar los espejos
    con el rostro encendido de amores.
    Eran precarias
    nuestras genealogías
    grandiosa la memoria.

    Helena Broder

    Her name is
    Helena Broder.
    She is my great-grandmother,
    belonging to
    a line of magician-travelers.
    She only remembers
    one date:
    the night in Hamburg,
    on her stole of fire.
    We never discussed
    nor passing things,
    the temptation was
    to forget the ashes,
    to embrace the mirrors,
    like ardent lovers.
    Our precarious
    made memory magnificent.

    Noche de Viena

    En la noche de Viena
    acudiste ligera,
    como en un sueño de nubes,
    a la casa de la vecina,
    la que te hablaba de sus geranios,
    la que te regalaba el trozo de strudel
    y llevaba las llaves de tu casa.

    Ella no te reconoció.
    Ya eras una judía.
    Todo a tu alrededor
    era de judía
    con olor a judía,
    con ropa de judía,
    con la muerte de judía.

    Dijo que tenía prisa,
    que no tenía tiempo para rescatar a otro judío
    mientras quemaban en el jardín de geranios.

    Viennese Night

    One Viennese night
    dressed lightly
    as a dream of clouds,
    you went to your neighbor's house,
    the one who talked about her geraniums,
    who gave you a slice of strudel,
    who kept your house keys.

    She did not recognize you.
    You were a Jew.
    Everything around you
    was Jewish:
    Jewish smell,
    Jewish clothes,
    Jewish death.

    She said she was in a hurry,
    she had no time to rescue another Jew,
    while books burned in her garden filled with geraniums.

    Maletín de viaje

    En un claro
    del bosque,
    cercano a los precipicios
    de la noche cabizbaja
    y las ausencias,
    ahí estaba
    una pequeña maletita
    de niña.
    Podría haber sido
    como la de tu hija,
    llena de gracias,
    piedras diminutas
    y salvajes,
    joyas imaginadas.
    Podría haber sido la
    valija de la novia
    con su vestuario de color malva
    como el amor
    o la lluvia en el alma
    después del amor.

    Sin embargo,
    era la maleta de una
    niña judía
    la que cantaba de noche
    y que vivió tal vez en Praga,
    o Amsterdam,
    o en una aldea nevada de Rumania.
    Su crimen era haber nacido judía
    y nada más.

    Traveling Bag

    In a clearing
    of the forest,
    close to the edge
    of melancholy night
    and emptiness,
    there lay
    a small traveling bag
    of a child.
    It could have belonged
    to your daughter,
    full of charms,
    wild and tiny pebbles,
    imagined jewels.
    It could have been
    a bride's bag
    with her mauve wardrobe
    like love
    or rain in the soul
    after love.

    it was the bag
    of a Jewish girl,
    one who sang at night,
    who lived in Prague, perhaps,
    or Amsterdam,
    or in some snowy Romanian village.
    Her crime was to be born Jewish,
    nothing more.

    De pronto, su maleta se halla
    entre las nieblas
    y el humo azul,
    a la deriva.
    No tenía destino
    ni dueño y
    tan sólo decía

    ¿Es Auschwitz una ciudad
    de muertos o vivos?
    preguntó la niña sorprendida.

    Era una maletita pequeña
    con los tesoros de las niñas
    y sus delirios de primavera.
    Era una maleta sola,
    sin destino y
    sin dueño.
    Esa maletita fue a dar a
    un lugar donde, al llegar,
    los niños se llenan
    de canas blancas y
    ya no miran al cielo.

    Más que seguro
    en el tiempo del hielo
    sin fronteras
    algún gendarme nazi
    se debió quedar con el botín:
    tal vez una muñeca
    o un diario,
    tal vez semillas de girasol
    pero tan sólo un recuerdo.

    Suddenly, her bag is found
    amid the mist
    and blue smoke,
    It had neither destination
    nor owner and
    it only said,

    Is Auschwitz a city
    of the dead or the living?
    asked the girl, surprised.

    It was a small bag
    with the treasures of little girls
    and their spring longings,
    an abandoned bag,
    without destination,
    without owner.
    This little bag was returned
    to a place where,
    upon their arrival,
    children's hair turned white
    and they no longer looked at the sky.

    It is more than certain,
    in that time of frost
    and obliterated borders,
    some Nazi soldier
    must have kept the loot:
    perhaps a doll
    or a diary,
    maybe sunflower seeds —
    no more than a memory.

    El impredecible tren del norte

    Como un oscurecido viajero,
    el conductor del tren
    seguro, preciso,
    vigila que todos los pasajeros,
    inclusive las mujeres calvas,
    las vestidas de novia y muerte y
    los ancianos jadeantes,
    se suban a ese tren
    que los llevará
    al lugar de la ausencia
    más segura,
    al lugar de los espantos sin nombre,
    al secreto más inexplicable,
    el secreto que todos conocemos.
    El conductor del tren
    es prestigioso en su oficio,
    merece una condecoración
    por su puntualidad.
    Sabe el destino de aquellos trenes:
    las estaciones de gas azul,
    los parajes de la niebla,
    el silencio más allá de todos los silencios,
    los cuerpos que arden cuales flores muertas.

    El conductor del tren
    se considera noble en esa obediencia.
    Después de todo
    son sólo los judíos que viajan en
    esos trenes
    y su deber,


Excerpted from Among the Angels of Memory/Entre los Ángeles de la Memoria by Marjorie Agosín, Laura Rocha Nakazawa. Copyright © 2006 Marjorie Agosín. Excerpted by permission of Wings Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Marjorie Agosín is the author of dozens of books of poetry, criticism, cultural history, and memoir. She is also the recipient of the UN Human Rights Award and the Jeanetta Rankin Human Rights Award, as well as the Latina Literature Prize and the Premio Letras de Oro. She is a professor of Spanish and Latin American studies at Wellesley College.

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