poems from Las Mujeres no hablan así

(Hoy canto a las mujeres tierra)


Today I sing to the Earth Mothers

Luisa Capetillo, Lola Rodriguez de Tió

Mariana Brascetti, Lolita Lebrón

To Julia de Burgos

and all of history’s

anonymous women

who yesterday and today build our tomorrow

who hour after hour bear life

with the promise of coconut groves

dancing to liberty

And I am with Luisa galloping

through hillside and city

And I hear her in the cigar factory

reading to the workers

giving back the power

they spin with their hands

And I am with Lola and Julia

writing verses

for an enslaved people

And I am with Mariana

unraveling the thread she uses to stitch

the flag of the future

And I am with Lolita

in the beauty of her anger

rescuing the present from shame

And the galloping and the verses

the stitches and bullets

of these Earth Mothers

ignite in my body

a revolution



(Esta noche escribo mi nombre en las paredes)


Tonight I write my name on the walls

with the blood of my pussy

I paint my lips and my face with the blood of my womb I wet the earth

with my blood under the full moon in Lunallena

calling out to my sisters hiding in the woods

covered with leaves and cursed blood Howling

together at the moon Lunatics clamoring for our disappeared sisters


!Cacica Loíza, María Leoncia, Anacaona! Invoking

the ancestral power of our spiralwomb galaxyvortex

Intoxicated with the blood of life and not that of death

We shall reclaim the night











Desire is a wild colt roaming the smooth plains of your body

Naked you are desert   You bring me to the point of vertigo   you thrust me into an abyss

by your hands dunes or mirages   isthmuses or mirrors of my body

indistinguishable from yours You are a bird   reptile   vibrating to the rhythm of my pulse

all the more excited by the contact of your waves and worked up

salty   saline   sea of seaweed in my mouth   river flowing into an ocean

no no let it not end




Translator’s Note:


In 1981, Nemir Matos-Cintrón and Yolanda V. Fundora self-published a portfolio of poetry and art, Las Mujeres no hablan así [That’s Not How Women Talk], to push against the Puerto Rican patriarchy in their unapologetic reclaim of raw feminine beauty, anatomy, and sexuality from the male grip. More than thirty years have passed since Las Mujeres no hablan así was published, and women’s rights to their own bodies are still under attack by men in power.

Matos Cintrón’s poems often contain derisive language to confront contentious topics, such as lesbian sexual exploration and the position of women in a male-dominated society; but what many might label as deviant sexual behavior, Matos-Cintrón turns into a poetic act. For example, in her poem “Oleajes” [Swells], the body parts of one woman become “dunes or mirages, isthmuses or mirrors” of her female lover’s body during intercourse. In contrast, “Me robaron el cuerpo” [They Stole My Body] touches on sexual and physical violence towards women. In the poem, the female body is objectified by the male gaze and raped at the end because “that’s what all women want anyway.”

Many of Matos-Cintrón’s poems explore the forgotten matriarchal society that was supplanted by the spread of Judeo-Christianity. At times, this exploration takes the reader through a diverse list of creationary goddesses from Greco-Roman, Egyptian, Yoruba, Maya, Aztec, and Taíno pantheons. In “Soy el principio” [I Am the Beginning], salvation from “centuries of men and of war” will only come from the mother goddess embodied in such deities as Ishtar, Hecate, Isis, Omecihuatl, and Coatlicue. In other poems she invokes African deities, such as Yemayá and Changó, which were brought to the Caribbean during the colonial period and have since become integrated into many aspects of Caribbean culture and identity through syncretism.

The complexity of Matos-Cintrón’s poetry presented various difficulties during the translation process. For instance, the omission of punctuation often creates ambiguous relationships between words on a single line or between multiple lines of a verse. I was thus confronted with the question of how I, as the translator, could recreate the same ambiguity. The poet’s use of neologisms presented further challenges: do I create my own neologisms, or do I explain the inimitable words for the English reader? Perhaps, however, the most troublesome obstacle I faced was Matos-Cintrón’s regular invocation of Yoruba, Taíno, Aztec, and Maya goddesses for two reasons: their name variants and their foreignness to English-speakers.

Orally-transmitted religions allow for variations in spelling, and the multiplicity of spellings is compounded when the religion is transported to new regions with cultural and linguistic differences. Such is the case with Yoruba in Latin America. For example, the goddess Yemayá, which is the predominant spelling used in Puerto Rico, is often spelled as Yemoja, Ymoja, or Yemowo in Africa; Lemanjá or Janaína in Brazil; Yemayá, Yemayah, or Lemanya in Cuba; and Yemalla, Yemana, or Yemoja in the United States. The Aztec goddess Coaticlue is also called Coatlicue, Cihuacoatl, with classical Nahuatl spellings of Cōhuātlīcue and Cihuācōhuātl. Because of all the variances, I decided to maintain the original spelling that Matos Cintrón uses for goddesses outside of the Western tradition. Readers who are familiar with the goddesses she references will be aware of the spelling variations. For those who are not, one spelling over the other will not distort their function or alter the overall meaning of the poem. The Greco-Roman goddesses, however, are very familiar to an English-speaking audience and are thus rendered in the traditional English spelling.

The second consideration was whether or not the readers’ familiarity, or unfamiliarity, with the various deities mentioned would affect their comprehension of Matos-Cintrón’s poems. This is especially relevant because the power of the poems depends on the emotional impact created through the relationship of the words to each goddess. My own unfamiliarity with many of the Aztec and Yoruba goddesses required extensive research so that I could confidently recreate the internal working of the poems in English.

The poems in Las Mujeres no hablan así are raw, salty, explicit, and polytheistic. Through uninhibited language, Matos-Cintrón exalts the female body sexually and spiritually, and she attributes a sense of superiority to womankind. Whether invoking female deities or singing to the Earth Mothers—“history’s anonymous women,” Matos-Cintrón’s poems seek to reclaim the night by “invoking the ancestral power of [woman’s] spiralwomb galaxyvortex.”



Nemir Matos-Cintron is a queer writer born on November 19 in Puerto Rico. She has published four books of poetry: Las Mujeres no hablan así, dealing with lesbian love; A través del Aire y el Fuego, pero no del Cristal (1981), a collection of early poetry; El Arte de Morir (2010), an homage to friends who died from AIDS; and Aliens in NYC (2011), portraits of immigrant life in the big city. She has also published in several literary anthologies both in Puerto Rico and the United States including: The Other Bodies (2007) and Abriendo Caminos: anthology of Puerto Rican writers in New York (2012). She is working on As time goes by, a new poetry collection on queer love and the passage of time.

Joseph Ellison Brockway is a poet, translator, and Spanish professor. He holds a BA and MA in Spanish, and he is currently working on his Ph.D. in Studies of Literature and Translation through The University of Texas at Dallas. He has translated poems from That’s Not How Women Talk by Puerto Rican poet Nemir Matos-Cintrón, and he is translating Island Mythical Coffer by Spanish surrealist Eugenio F. Granell. Joseph is currently working on a manuscript about identity, family, and depression after a DNA test revealed that the man he knew as his father is not his biological father. Joseph’s literary translation interests include surrealism, mental illness, and Latin American poetry. Joseph’s poetry has been published in The Rising Phoenix Review, Dirty Chai, Full of Crow, L’Éphémère Review, The Perch, and Surreal Poetics. You can interact with Joseph on Facebook and Twitter at @JosephEBrockway.





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