For our Stanzas web feature, we ask writers to introduce us to their favorite poets by way of a handful of lines. This week, Katy Didden, whose poem “When Early Dawn Revealed Her Rose-Red Hands” appears in our Spring 2021 issue, takes a closer look at “Noche de Lluvia, San Salvador” by Aracelis Girmay.
Rain who nails the earth,
whose infinite legs
nail the earth, whose silver faces
touch my faces, I marry you. & open
all the windows of my house to hear
your million feral versions
of si si
I love this single-stanza poem full of space, this room open to rain. The poem is only two sentences. In it, the speaker calls out to the rain “who nails the earth,” a rain that is active, alive, a force the speaker addresses intimately, though it is strange: “whose infinite legs / nail the earth, whose silver faces / touch my faces.” What creature has infinite legs and silver faces? It is as if, to assign the rain human anatomy, the speaker must at the same time glimpse her own plurality: if rain’s like us, then we’re like rain, and maybe we, too, have infinite faces that only rain can name for us.
It is the end of the first sentence that stuns me. At precisely the center of the poem, the speaker says to rain “I’ll marry you.” Wait, what? The speaker envisions a collaborative future with rain to which she says “I will.” The joining of the speaker and the rain is echoed by many features of this poem: the joining of two sentences in a stanza, the joining of inside (house) and outside (rain), of earth and sky, of the immediate and the infinite, of human and inhuman. Perhaps most significantly, this joining is mirrored in the joining of languages—first Spanish + English, and then Spanish, English + Rain, as rain transforms one set of sounds into another, re-patterning the syntax.
In fact, once the speaker declares she’ll marry rain, a vow, the poem shifts toward the spatial. The second sentence begins with “&” (a symbol that in another poem Girmay compares to the heart for how it pulls “thing close to every thing”). The ampersand disrupts reading just a bit; it unlocks the gate between spatial and temporal, visual and verbal, left and right brain, and then we see the speaker “open / all the windows of [her] house.” The consequence of saying yes to rain runs contrary to domestic logic, where we rush to shut windows so rain won’t wreck indoor things. But this poem shows how yes can transform us, if we listen for it, if we dare to say it: the house stays open, the outside comes inside, and what was inside turns untamable, toward
[rain’s] million feral versions
of si si
A few weeks after my second round of Pfizer, I took this invitation on the road. I traded my closed house for the single stanza of my car and drove west toward ones I love. In Albuquerque, I ate dinner every night with Martha, my cousin’s wife. After months of only meeting friends outdoors, of letting snow and wind rename my skin, after a long, cold spring when I was very alone, the light in Albuquerque was amazing. I could not step outside without squinting. But Martha’s house is shady—adobe pink and turquoise walls, shelves filled with objects beautifully arranged, each one a way to a story. We talked for hours over beans and veggies and beers. One night, it rained. I took out this poem and read it for Martha. I read it slowly, but maybe too solemnly, maybe too drawn by the weight of the past year. Then Martha sang the last “si’s” back to me, clear notes in the key of the rain we were hearing, and then the walls and the evenly-spaced lines dissolved through the newly open doors into si (yes), sí (if), si (sibling of do re mi).
Aracelis Girmay, “Noche de Lluvia, San Salvador” from Kingdom Animalia. Copyright © 2011 by Aracelis Girmay. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.