was born 1930 in Germany and grew up in Argentina.
Her oldest son was disappeared by the military junta in the late seventies.
She went to exile in Spain. Etelvina published several volumes of poetry.
Her poems were published in the Massachusetts Review and the International Poetry Review, among other journals.
When the hordes came
The hordes came
and sacked homes, towns, cities–
they seized control of the living and the
day, night, hopes, dreams,
the wind, rain, forests,
calendars, hands, books,
parents, children, grandparents.
The hordes came,
dogs and rats
gnawing flesh and guts
and thus the dead were created,
in the streets, on rooftops, in factories,
in schools, offices, on doorsteps,
in churches, in jungles, in the sea,
in barracks, in prisions.
The hordes came
and put through legal channels the death
Pedro, Luis, Jose, Graciela, Alicia,
Julian, Oscar, Miguel Angel, Thelma,
Raimundo, Haroldo, Rodolfo, Roberto,
offspring of all the children, friend of
and the missing among the missing.
The hordes came
with their flies neat and bottoned up.
Three polluted asses
and a single face truly sinister.
Three professional buzzards
sitting on the despot seat
in this time of funerals
and what good eggs they lay
hatching perpetual crimes.
Beneath the nation’s flag
under the boot everything goes,
even the sky goes underground.
There are the military virtues we have to
Translated by Zoe Anglesey
She was tortured and spent time in jail and under house arrest.
She is living in exile in USA where she is practicing medicine and specialied
in rehabilitation of torture victims.
A Visit to My Mother
It happened many years ago. It was a very warm winter. July, the sun was bright, the air fresh, transparent, pure; even some birds were singing. However, I couldn’t be happy. My body was heavy, numb, and tense. My head was spinning; I was trying to breath slowly and deeply, like in a yoga class, to relax. It didn’t work. My voice was not my voice; I wasn’t myself, I wasn’t there, another person walked for me. Finally the bus came. “A ticket to Belgrano, please.” I deposited my body on the front seat, right behind the driver.
“Sir, would you please let me know when we get close to the school?”
“My mamy has been working there for five years but this is the first time I take the bus to see her, you know?”
After the big turn we left paved streets. The bus jumped. My numb and tight body shook like a bag full of potatoes. Even though I tried hard to concentrate, I couldn’t remember the night before. What sound had really woken me up then? It Had happened at 3:00, the right time for “the others” to come. The shadows that hit homes. But it had been him. Pale, tense, he had whispered in quick words.
“They, the shadows, visited Sara’s place. They only looked for her. I was there but they covered my eyes and left me lying on the floor.” Then He left and I had gone back to bed. At that moment, I realized I was not myself.
“Here is the school, senora,” the driver voice reached me. I got up, slowly, with difficulty. I walked off the bus, landing on firm ground. I walked into the school, entered the principal’s room and asked for the second grade teacher, my mother.
“She is busy now, you’ll have to wait until the break,” the secretary told me, and left he room. I felt like screaming. I wanted to tell her that that teacher was my mother, that she was first my mother. I fel angry and jealous. I hated all the students, the same way I did when I was a child and I couldn’t have her at my school during the festivities because she was with her students. Oh, how I hated to share her!
I walked to the cental square, that brown and muddy spot called the “patio.” Nobody was there; the wind lifted the dust, and I could her the noises, laughter or silences coming from the classrooms.
I heard the bell, and one minute later she showed up. My mother, the teacher, in her light blue uniform, her pockets filled with pencils, pieces of chalk, paper, scissors. Her hair short, uncombed, her face with that eternal worrisome expression, that face that can light up and change so much when she smiles. That time there was nothing in her face, not even surprise. “Hola,” she said, “what are you doing here?”
“I came so say hello; well, I really came to say goodbye, mami. From now on, for your own safety, for mine, you can’t know where I am or what I am doing. I won’t go home any more, at least for a while. Last night they took Sonia, and I don’t know what will happen next. The police and the army deny having her. I hope she is alive.”
My heart was pumping so hard that I could barely hear my voice. There was a silence, the air became dense; her voice got through.
“That is not possible! What do you mean? I must know where you are, I promise I won’t tell anybody. I need to know if you eat, sleep, if you are safe. . . You can’t leave this way. . . and what should I tell your father?”
Mami, you can’t. This way is better, don’t you understand?” I was using up my last drops of energy. Listen, I’ll call you. . . I’ll let you know about me. I’ll call you to find out about the family, to see if there is news, if they went to look for me.” Words sounded sharp as knives. “I must go.”
Silence. No air. No sound. No laughter. A terrible smell covered us. The acid smell of fear. I kissed her and left. I don’t think I hugged her; I didn’t turn my head. My vision was blurred, but there were no tears.
I had to keep going. I left her in her light blue uniform in the middle of the brown spot. How did she get to the end of the school day, how did he reach her classes, how did she sleep that night and other nights? How did she cover my absence? What emotion did she hold in her chest after I denied the right to her daughter and gave her, in return, fear and incertainty? I don’t know. I have never asked you. mami. What happened to you during all the years that followed that afternoon? Because, after all, those dark shadows found me and took me away from everything, as you know, mami.
Matilde Mellibovsky, mother of a disappeared child, is one of the founding members of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Matilde wrote the book Circle of Love over Death: Testimonies of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in 1990. This was her first book and also the first book of its kind. When a foreign writer approached her at a conference in Buenos Aires, looking for a book in Spanish with testimonies by the Mothers, she had to admit that no such book had been written. Mellibovsky decided then to face the hard task of interviewing the other mothers of the organization, taping or writing their painful experiences as well as her own. “I want to write this book so that the next generations can have an exact image of what happened, so that they know us, the Mothers, as if we were their contemporaries. So that they know how we felt and how we lived out this part of Argentina’s history, which scarred our families forever,” she wrote. In a chapter where she discusses the difference between death and disappearance we can read: “A disappearance places you in a very large, dense cloud from which you cannot escape, because in the unconscious a hope always survives, while you can rationally assume the absoluteness of death.”
Arriving at the Plaza
ARRIVING AT THE PLAZA
One Thursday, during our walk in the circle, I feel the urge to find out what exactly the Plaza had like in earlier days. So I delve into a fat book of Argentinean history: “The Plaza was always bustling, movement never ceased. Around 1810 neighborhood people would come: children, black women and vendors. They would add to the shouting and the din.” Looking at the illustrations from that time, my own childhood memories of them come alive: countrymen on horseback, poultry vendors, black women selling pastries or sweets, above all the water sellers’ carts.
Washerwomen on their way back from the river carrying enormous bundles on their heads. Lots of dogs. And strolling ladies wearing dresses with very white skirts. By 1844 we can already see the “pyramid” in the Plaza, a new market, the Government House, the Cabildo’s outline, and coaches drawn by four or six horses. . .
Actually, I always thought of it as a foolish place and to me it still seems so; but not when I find myself there together with the Mothers.
But after so many marches I came to imagine it a small liberated zone separated from the rest of the country. Then I began to discover that it has beautiful trees, and I started to look for some beauty in its two or three standing monuments. On Thursdays when we are there, I love to see the children running, climbing onto the “pyramid”. . . At that moment I feel as if I were in a very intimate place. We have stepped on each street-tile surrounding the “pyramid” so many times. . .Invariably, I ask myself how many miles have we Mothers walked around this monument. . .
When we are all together, the Plaza is my place, it is our Plaza, and all the disappeared are there and everybody is there.
Moreover as we Mothers have sometimes commented, it was in this Plaza that the
Assembly of 1813 resolved that all the instruments of torture had to be burnt: “The use of instruments of torture to get information about crimes is forbidden,”and they decreed that “all the instruments of torture should be burnt by the executioners’s hands on May 25 at the Plaza Victoria.”
Over a hundred years later, we stand in horror in this place thinking about our savagely tortured children and their fate.
It is true that the Mothers di not choose the Plaza de Mayo because it is itself a political center or because it is very close to Argentina’s great political center, still. . . how very odd something like destiny came about, because it is precisely in the Plaza de Mayo that very important events in the life of the country had occurred.
This place, center of celebrations and of rejoicing during colonial times, was also the place where tragic sentences of justice were executed. . . before everybody’s eyes. . . It is not mere happenstance either that Garay, the founder of Buenos Aires, had the “Tree of Justice,” or “el Rollo,” erected nearby. An it is here that we Mothers come every Thursday to demand that justice be done.
The Plaza is a throbbing heart. . . I appears to be a spot predestined to be a center of world interest, a window to the world, for half an hour one day a week. . .
Yesterday I went to the Plaza and I was watching my companions-and everybody else-observing that takes place there, and I insist that at these very moments the Plaza is a throbbing heart, perhaps with a touch of tachycardia. . . People approach full of curiosity, some from California, others from Australia. One of these foreigners, who could not express himself very well, said something like: ” What is it that keeps you in a state of such high emotion besides the suffering, of course? What makes you keep moving? And I spent the night asking myself that question until I found the answer: the fact that they have eliminated
the generation that comes after me, that they have isolated me from the future, that they have separated me completely from my sense of continuity. . .and that I want to recover it, through Memory.
Without memory, continuity in life does not exist.
Memory is the well-hidden roots which nourish the flowers with their sap and the fruits that we can see. Without the roots neither the flowers nor the fruits are possible.
I would say that Memory is the root that culminates in the seed which makes de circle of life cycle.
“You have to feel the fire of the desert under the soles of your feet,” Rabbi Marshal Meyer used to tell us Mothers.
Memory gives life. An the Plaza, with all its multitudes, is the perennial Memory of all that had happened since its origin. . .Everybody leaves their testimony. . . but the children? Where are they? I miss something. . .those children who made me thrill more than I ever had before, who jumped so happily that it looked as if they caused the clouds to run faster. . .To see them so united by their songs and cath-words filled me with illusion and brought me closer than ever to a faire, more human world.. . .Never in my entire life have I spent such happy hours. . .of real fellowship.
That is why when I walk around the Plaza I fell the Plaza asking me: What has happened? I miss those children.
Excerpts from the book “Circle Of Love Over Death” by Matilde Mellibovsky.
Transladed by Maria and Mattew Proser.
With the authorization of the tranladors to be published in this site.
Carmen is a human rights activist and has three children. Her sister had disappeared in Argentina 1976, and also her mother
who had returned to Guatelmala, disappeared at the hands of the military.
Buenos Aires, July 22, 1987
Let me introduce myself through this letter. I’m the daughter of Maximina Valdez, disappeared in Guatemala City on September 9, 1982, under the government of Efrain Rios Montt. My sister, Norma Leticia Batshe Valdez, disappeared in the Republic of Argentina on December 15, 1976, under the government of General Jorge Rafael Videla, I live in Argentina because my mother found asylum at the Argentina Embassy in 1954. That is why I write to you from this country where I have my home.
My mother, my father, my sister and I– all Guatemalans. I was three years older than my sister. We taveled with my mother, who came to an exile to Argentina. At that time, we had just lost the wonderful democracies of Arevalo and Arbenz, two great presidents of Guatemala. My mother was active in politics and, when the gobernment felt, we had to leave the country. Here in Argentina, Peron had decided to bring the families along with the exiled. My sister and I came with my mother. My father came later.
We started to fight to make our home in this land. My mother and suffered a lot; we wouldn’t adapt. But my father and sister felt very comfortable here–my sister considered herself an Argentine to the point of fighting against the military dictatorship and being disappeared in 1976.
In 1966, when we applied to become permanent residents, something shameful happened. There was a discussion that made us feel bad. We, the girls, were considered to be under political asylum; it was absurd that two children who had come at the ages of six and nine could be under political asylum. Well, that was our case. We didn’t think that it was bad to be under asylum. but we believed that the immigration authorities were acting in an extremely wrong way.
After our arrival in Argentina. we were kept in the Hotel for Immigrants, where they used to house all new immigrants. Each time we entered or left the hotel we had to go through a check point. Afterwards, each family found their own place. The Eva Peron Fundation helped us a lot with food, beds, mattresses. But the absurd thing was that many exiled men were detained in the Villa Devoto prison. My mother, along with the people from the Liga Lucha por los Derechos del Hombre (Fight for the Rights of Humankind), the only organization that helped the political prisoners, used to visit the detainees. My mother visited them for more than a year until they were released. They were given ID’s, they had to check in with the authorities every month, and renew their ID’s every six months.
This history is to show you how the “yankees” can control a constitutional government, and never leave it free to do its will. It is a hard thing, that of the people who want to achieve real freedon of thought, speech and action. I say goodbye now, Carmen.
Published in the book “You Can’t Drown The Fire” by Alicia Partnoy
Translated by Alicia Partnoy.
was born in Rosario/Argentina. She is a member of several writers collectives. Her work was selected by the Argentine Writers Guild for the anthology “Histrias sin fin” (stories without end).
She is the author of several video scripts – “Guernika: A War Rehearsal”, “Quinquela Martin: His life and his work”, “The Little Prince” – a free adaptation of St.Exupery’s work. Her work “La Huida” can be read on http://raquelpartnoy.tripod.com/ArtProject/id10.html (Spanish)
The very same look in his eyes. His deep black eyes moved me so much that I began to shake. But I was not able to keep looking at him for a long time. The memory of those other eyes had not left my thoughts yet.
As usually, the coffee was getting cold, and I had to swallow it at once.
Then, the game began, or rather, it continued like every morning.
I hid my face in the newspaper, faking to read it carefully, moving my lips along with the words.
He was looking at the door, as if waiting for somebody. Or maybe with the certainty that somebody would approach his table.
The time was exactly ten o’clock. I had to leave.
However, that morning I was decided to take every risk. No longer was I going to spy from behind my newspaper the way he held his cup with both hands, the perfect line that parted his hair.
This time he had to notice me. So many times I had rehearsed that moment!
Dialogue would be tough, I knew my purpose but I was not aware of his possible reactions.
I couldn’t, rather, I shouldn’t tell him who I was.
My hands were shaking and I could hardly hold on to the paper. I folded it and placed it on the table. I began to think of ways to start a conversation. It would be interesting to pass out when he walked by my table, then I would be able to appreciate that he was a good person, somebody that could help a stranger.
The thought made me laugh, and I discarded that possibility; it was absurd, ridiculous.
Now, he was looking for something in his pockets. He found a comb and fixed his hair. When we get acquainted, I’ll remind him of that move, I’ll scold him. A young man from his background should not comb himself in public. I wonder what kind of home he comes from. He probably ended up with a couple with no class whatsoever.
I would drink another coffee. Maybe not, too much caffeine is going to keep me awake all night.
I could send him a note with the waiter, although I wouldn’t know what to write on it, what could I discuss to spark his interest?
Now he stands up, he gets his backpack and, carelessly, he pockets a couple of sugars. I am dismayed by that move. It is not him, it cannot be him. He is too young, his walk is different too, I do not recall his height but it is surely not his.
I stay on my chair. I would order another cup of coffee. I would drink it right away, hot this time, with lots of saccharin.
At my age, and sick with diabetes, I cannot take any sweets.
Tomorrow, perhaps, someone else will come and I will see if I can find in his eyes the black eyes of my own son. An his look, the one that pierced my heart the morning they came to take him away.
Translated by Silvia Lorenzati and Alicia Partnoy