from The Other Music

Francisca Aguirre


I'm doing fine;
I'm doing
better and better.
I'll lose heart.
But that doesn't matter.
The main thing
is efficiency.
I'm doing fine;
I'm doing
better and better.

The Stranger

(There's a stranger who visits my home.
He comes at the same hour he used to come.
He speaks a similar language, although with a different accent.
I don't know where he comes from, how long he plans to stay.
He treats me affectionately and sometimes with a little weariness.
He worries about my troubles — knows a lot about me —.
I think he must be a friend of his,
but without a doubt he's a disloyal friend:
I have a feeling he hates him.
This is all very scary to me.
I don't know how I should treat him,
how I should tell him this isn't his home.
I wouldn't want to offend him;
he's too much like the other one I love.
When he's quiet, even I confuse the two of them.

I'm very scared:
I'm afraid he will stay forever.
If he stays
I know the other one will never return.)

translated from the Spanish by Montana Ray

Read the original in Spanish

Read translator’s note

Francisca Aguirre was born in 1930 in Alicante, Spain, and fled with her family to France at the end of the Spanish Civil War, where they lived in political exile.  When the Germans invaded Paris in 1942, her family was forced to return to Spain, where her father, painter Lorenzo Aguirre, was subsequently murdered by Francisco Franco's regime.  Aguirre published Ítaca (1972), the only book currently available in English (Ithaca [2004]), when she was 42 years old. Her work has garnered much critical success, winning the Leopoldo Panero, Premio Ciudad de Irún, and Premio Galliana, among other literary prizes.  Aguirre is married to the poet Félix Grande and is the mother of poet Guadalupe Grande.

Montana Ray is a feminist writer and mother.  A chapbook with more of her translations of the early work of Francisca Aguirre, The Other Music: Selected Poems from the 1970s, is available from Argos Books.  Ray's concrete poetry appears in La Petite Zine and is forthcoming in Lana Turner Journal (guns & butter), her chapbook of concrete gunpoetry and cake recipes, is available from dancing girl press.  Ray's fiction appears in Narrative Magazine.  She lives in Brooklyn with her son Ami.

Francisca Aguirre was recently awarded the Premio Miguel Hernández for her book Historia de una anatomía.  A significant cultural achievement, it is also one of personal importance because, as she explained to me, a great poet and an honorable man, Miguel Hernández was incarcerated by Franco, writing some of his most enduring poetry in prison, where he ultimately died of tuberculosis.  Translating Aguirre's work continues to be an education, literary and political, on the act of being oneself in a context.  The two poems published here are some of Aguirre's earliest works.  "The Stranger" comes from Aguirre's first book Ítaca, 1972, and "Masterpiece" from her second book, Los trescientos escalones, 1976.  The 1970s was a decade of political importance in Spanish history.  Franco died in 1975, though his regime lasted until 1978, and the release in Spanish cultural expression following nearly a half-century of artistic suppression is palpable.  By 1984, we get Pedro Almodóvar's drug-selling lesbian nuns.  The 1970s was also an important decade in women's history—indeed, the inception of women's history as a mainstream field of scholarship. Aguirre's poetry is an antidote to a US-UK construction of second-wave feminism. These poems are second-wave feminist poems, yet Aguirre writes about ownership and exploration of the internal self rather than ownership and exploration of the body.  Ítaca, the story of the Odyssey from Penelope's point of view, can be read as a critique of patriarchy through the disturbance inflicted on Penelope's psyche. In Women poets of Spain, 1860-1990: toward a gynocentric vision, scholar John Chapman Wilcox suggests one reason Aguirre began publishing later in life was because her husband's work took priority within the couple.  Aguirre explains this delay as prioritizing life over art. Indeed, being a wife and mother seems integral, rather than antagonistic, to the work of writing: the urgency of this poetry is to communicate with loved ones.