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P2840788 ivo book boceto

boceto – Poesia/Ivo Uquillas – ©2017

Portoviejo/Manabi Province/Ecuador

My friend Alexandra Cevallos Castro recently sent an email, “Lisa… Ivo will be reading his poetry and I’d like to invite you to attend…” – – – and I certainly attended!

P2280650 alexandra y plumeria

Alexandra Cevallos Castro

Alexandra and Ivo Uquillos have known each other/have been friends forever;  we met in 2012 when they graciously supported the opening/inauguration of The Mola Series. Ivo and Alexandra also presided over the opening of “Lisa Brunetti – A Journey” which opened last November in the same Museo Portoviejo.

Between those two events, all three of us have dealt with personal challenges, including the 7.8 earthquake’s collective imprint on our psyches. (April 2016)   I experienced the earthquake from a barely-safe distance in Mindo’s cloudforest, while Alexandra and Ivo witnessed their beloved city of Portoviejo fragmented into crumbles. The people – numbed and trapped in raw emotions of angst, fear, worry and sorrow – often struggle to reclaim a sense of peace, and the trauma is often branded deep into their souls.

Just this past week while I was walking to the market, two ladies stopped me and asked, ‘Where are you from?” and then asked, “Where were you when the earthquake hit?”

When they learned that I was from Jama, their faces sobered. I quickly changed the topic to a slightly-lighter one, that of the dengue/chikungunya epidemic, as many people in this province now identify with chikungunya’s lingering side effects. We swapped stories of cramped hands and crippling gaits, which are often amusing to replicate when one is no longer suffering.   Epidemics and natural disasters often unite people – even years later.

Another friend recently shared greater depth into his own personal hell of the night of the earthquake.  Numbness provides a buffer, and it might take years to process trapped emotions and view them with neutral vision. Sometimes there are no words, no artful ways to deal with emotional trauma, and with time or with a patient listener, we open those windows that we slammed so tightly shut, and we release the pain. Slowly the inner burdens, observations – and sometimes guilt – are acknowledged and eventually released.

P1720633 jamie y dog pescador walking home

Near Rio Jama/Ecuador – The locals and the birds in the canals and ponds kept me entertained!

Almost each week in the six or so years before the earthquake, I walked from Casa Loca (at the last bend of Rio Jama) into town along the same predictable route. I often paused to say Hello to friends at the edge of Jama, and the second stop was to greet friends Chana and Arturo at their small tienda near the center of town. If I bypassed their corner, Arturo might spot me when he rode his bicycle through town. No scolding was needed – Ecuadorians have a talent for speaking without words! My final stop before leaving town would almost always be my friends’ tienda, and I often pulled up a stool and sat for ten minutes or half an hour – depending on the demands of that day. I departed either on foot or via mototaxi, also depending on how many purchases I carried home.

When friends wrote to say that my own beloved town of Jama had been devastated by the earthquake, I made several ‘remote’ imaginary walks through that town. When I ventured near the corner of the tienda, I sensed a great loss. “Chana? — Arturo?” Flitting between the two options, I felt a stronger loss regarding Chana. Each time I did that exercise, I sensed that someone had died there, most likely Chana. Moving on to the center of town, I also paused when I pondered ‘Rosa’ the matriarch who presided over the area facing the park. Several other areas prompted me to pause and ponder, but concerns about Chana and Rosa were the strongest.

I was not surprised when friends wrote to say they were sorry to pass along news of both women’s deaths. My premonitions prepped me and helped to soften the news. Months later I spent several hours at the cemetery and paused at many new graves, including my friends.’ After I left Rosa’s site – lovingly planted with new roses, two Burrowing Owls escorted me out of the cemetery. Coincidence? Naming them Chana and Rosa, I smiled at the thought of my friends watching over those who loved them.


Chanita and Rosita, the guardians of the cemetery.

During October’s (2019) recent protests, I walked the almost-empty streets of Portoviejo. It seemed quite eerie that most businesses were closed, that people were home and unsure about venturing out, that the corner tiendas offered not even a banana for sale – while the absence of traffic sounds and absence of people imprinted on the gringita’s psyche. It was like walking through a ghost city, yet the policemen held silent vigils at strategic points.

P2830253 downtown portoviejo 1 15 oct 9
Perhaps that is why I cried when Ivo’s words captured my own emotions, of another who walks the streets and ponders the silent trauma of the masses. His poem captures universal grief and concern, especially following a disaster.

P2630593 ivo at work para poem post

Ivo Uquillas

With Ivo’s permission, I share one of the poems from page 15 of his book ‘boceto’ – translated by Alexandra Cevallos Castro. He wrote this after the earthquake, when – unable to sleep – he walked the streets of Portoviejo each night. (Ivo’s original Spanish version follows the English one.)

Empty space, no one in the streets,
Face of abandoned cemetery.
City covered by loneliness
No one goes in, no one goes out,
No one goes up, no one goes down.
No one sits outdoors
To see no one pass by,
No one gives out hugs,
No one lives
No one is in the spaces,
No one thinks, no one talks,
No one buys, no one sells
No one gives credit, no one steals,
No one is silent, no one sings,
No one shouts, no one walks,
No one chases, no one runs away,
No one dies,
No one passes by, no one goes away,
No one plays anything
No one cries,
No one moves anything,
No one opens doors, no one laughs,
No one writes love letters,
No one leaves traces in the void.
No one is there,
No one says goodbye,
No one.

Espacio vacio, calles sin nadie,
rostro de cementerio abandonado
ciudad cubierta de soledades
nadie entra, nadie sale,
nadie sube, nadie baja,
nadie se sienta afuera,
a ver pasr a nadie,
nadie reparte abrazos,
nadie habita en los espacios,
nadie piensa, nadie habla,
nadie compra, nadie vende,
nadie fia, nadie roba,
nadie hace silencia, nadie canta,
nadie grita, nadie camina,
nadie persigue, nadie huye,
nadie muere,
nadie va, nadie se va,
nadie juega a nada,
nadie llora,
nadie mueve nada,
nadie abre puertas, nadie rie,
nadie escribe cartas de amor,
nadie deja huellas en el vacio,

Nadie esta ahi,
nadie dice adios,

P2840790 ivo book boceto poem espacio vacio empty space

…and yes, I cried.