“¡Es cultural!”

Biblioteca Municipal de Puno

My mum came to Peru to visit me. When I told her we would be staying on the floating islands of Uros on Lake Titikaka in Puno, the first thing she asked was: “will we be able to watch the Champions League final there???”

The day we arrived, after we had been told about the history of these amazing islands and met the family we were staying with – who have lived and maintained their island with reeds and roots for generations – we asked for a lift back into Puno to watch the big English final.



During half-time, I popped out to hand out the poem ‘Compañera’ by Carlos Oquendo de Amat, and my translation ‘Companion’. It comes from his book 5 Metros de Poemas (1927) – and it really is five metres of poems! Each page of the book folds out to make one long poem. I bought the book in Cusco for 20 soles (about 5 pounds) after being introduced to it by a good salesman who told me the price was offensive to Carlos, who was never appreciated in his own time, and died penniless in Puno.

I wandered out of the fancy, empty restaurant where we had found to watch the game, and was just about to ask tourist information if there was a library nearby when I saw the words ‘Casa de la Cultura’ on the high street, and a little library right under it. It was closed but it would do.

The people of Puno seemed very friendly, and lots of them stopped to ask me what I was doing. I met Olid who works in the National Archives of Puno: “con muchos documentos importantes” (with many important documents!). He said he he likes poetry: “¡es cultual!” and had heard of Carlos before.

I also met two friends Liliana and David, who tried to read the poem out in both English and Spanish but mainly just giggled a lot. They thanked me for: “la oportunidad” and ran off, still giggling.




Tus dedos sí que sabían peinarse como nadie lo hizo
mejor que los peluqueros expertos de los transatlánticos
ah y tus sonrisas maravillosas sombrillas para el calor
tú que llevas prendido un cine en la mejilla

junto a ti mi deseo es un niño de leche

cuando tú me decías
la vida es derecha como un papel de cartas

y yo regaba la rosa de tu cabellera sobre tus hombros

por eso y por la magnolia de tu canto

qué pena
la lluvia cae desigual como tu nombre





Your fingers knew how to comb like no one else
better than expert hairdressers from across the atlantic
and your marvelous smiles umbrellas for the heat
you who wear a cinema on your cheek

when with you my desire is a child of milk

when you told me
life is right like a piece of white paper

and I watered the rose of your hair around your shoulders

because of this and because of the magnolia in your song

it’s such a shame
the rain falls uneven just like your name

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