The Magdalena


The Magdalena

The Rio Magdalena in Colombia
washes up the no-named
washes their feet
on its strands, laps
eyelids that catch
the sky’s tears, unwinds
river weed.

Near villagers wear
funeral weeds
for the no-named
and as supplicants to a God
who might pick them too
from dark currents.



I often call my poems drafts as I am unbelievably indecisive about editing.  Here’s a poem that was relatively simple last night when I wrote the first draft–then grew very long and explanatory–then got simple and even shorter again, thanks to the brutal eye of my husband (who is a far better editor than I–why I don’t always show him things.)  I was going to post both poems, as they really are quite different from each other, but decided not to press my luck.  (And I even edited again since posting–agh.)

The poem was written for Grace’s prompt on With Real Toads, to write a poem responding to the work of Claribel Allegria, a Central American poet.  It was also directly inspired by the work of a filmmaker and photographer, Juan Manuel Echavarria, who’s made a film called Requiem NN, and also put together an exhibition of photographs, about Puerto Berrio, a town on the banks of the Magdalena, where many unnamed bodies have washed up (during periods of drug war violence).  Various townspeople would safeguard the remains and sometimes even adopt the unnamed victims, entombing them in large walls of sarcophagi.  (Of course, many townspeople had also lost family members to the violence.)

The above video is the trailer of the film, but does not really describe the adoption of the dead so much as the video below, an interview with the director.



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20 Comments on “The Magdalena”

  1. ManicDdaily Says:

    I am just going to note that this poem is painful to me mainly because of the subject matter, of course, which is so sad. Then there’s the writerly aspect of the reams of stanzas discarded. This is such a silly complaint on my part–and only goes to show how one gets up in one’s work and forgets the whole point. k.

  2. This works so well as written. Staggering tragedy.

  3. Grace Says:

    What a tragedy K ~ The imagery of the no-named dead with sky’s tears being washed ashore just terribly wrong ~ The ending of dark currents speak volumes ~

    Thanks for linking up with Sunday’s Challenge & wishing you happy week ~

  4. Mama Zen Says:

    That second stanza is so perfect! Hits you right between the eyes.

  5. grapeling Says:

    shattering, k. spare, with so much bobbing beneath the surface ~

  6. lynndiane Says:

    Powerful poem, K, telling of these unknown victims of horrible crimes.

    (Since i like to edit, may i suggest deleting “The” in first line and changing “near” to “nearby” in 2nd verse…just my thoughts on minor details). But editing huge chunks is painful!

  7. Your topic is such a painful one, and I felt the loss of life resonate from every line. The descriptions of the first stanza are particularly affecting. So hard to think of human beings becoming the detritus of rivers in distant lands.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Awful. And at least in the U.S.–it is hard to absolve ourselves of some responsibility for the drug wars in terms of driving demand, at least in part. k.

  8. brian miller Says:

    wow, what an interesting story on the adoption of the dead….and painful too…i have been caught up in the stories of the children in south america on the border….painful for sure….

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Yes, terribly sad. Obviously, all hard questions to answer. I do think people should keep in mind that the U.S. has not exactly been distant from some of the problems in the home countries, if one thinks historically. All very sad. k.

      On Mon, Jul 14, 2014 at 10:10 AM, ManicDDaily wrote:


  9. hedgewitch Says:

    I think the sparseness of this is quite effective,k–which of course doesn’t mean that there is not another way to tell the story. I find it very hopeful in some ways–that the dead are adopted, that there are those who have hearts large enough to feel they belong to them to remember and to grant them respect, though I don’t feel that the dead have a great deal of need for either–it’s the living that need them, and your point about our responsibility (America’s) here is well-taken. Sadly, we seem to be becoming a hateful, small, selfish people, filled with fear,groundless hostility, and no respect at all for human things. I hope you’ll be able to find some use for your discarded words–the topic seems broad enough to support many poems.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Yes– a big topic and I have all the bits to maybe use.

      I think the world feels just so crowded and threatening to people that they behave worse than they really would want to if they could just stand back.


  10. Helen Says:

    What is happening to us? To our sense of humanity? You’ve made your point ~ beautifully.

  11. Susan Says:

    “There but for the grace of God,” and so the action is also insurance: When I go may someone honor me so. Oh yes. We may not know how to stop the killing, but we are getting better and better at mourning Loss.

  12. As a Latin American I feel touched by your poem. Beautiful and direct. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  13. mhwarren Says:

    How many no-named souls have been lost to this insane “war”. I love this version.

  14. Karen S. Says:

    Simply lovely. You touched me with the no-names, for it’s always so sad to be nameless.

  15. margaret Says:

    … in the video, the man says “it happens a lot” – the vultures really sent chills through me. Adoption of the NN’s . Bless them for their caring. In your poem, I like the image of the river washing their feet.

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