El sol y la carne by Camila Charry Noriega

El sol y la carne. Camila Charry Noriega. Madrid: Ediciones Torremozas, 2015. 56 pages.


Human Uncertainty in El sol y la carne by Camila Charry Noriega

According to Plato, the purest relationship with reality is silence. The writers of mysticism shared this idea: falling silent allowed one to reach the ineffable, “the corollary of the feeling of totality, of mystical feeling.” Nonetheless, this same reality has been penetrated by a harshness that has alienated the world and that deserves to be exposed. Think, for example, about Mexico, the war without quarter against the drug cartels, the hidden mass graves found in Coahuila and Veracruz, the forced disappearances, or the increase in femicides - a wave that has stricken other Latin American countries like Guatemala and Argentina. Undeniably, silence comes as a first reaction to the news that a place is bleeding dry. But it is also undeniable that violence awakens an urge to denounce and narrate these terrible events, so as not to forget that there is also resistance in a country’s history. For this reason, the act of silencing is insufficient and uncomfortable. Why close our mouths, why remain paralyzed? Although Wittgenstein suggested at the end of his Tractatus that “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent,” he also said that it is preferable to expose the violence implied by language rather than saying nothing.

Colombia has endured a hundred years of crimes and massacres. Liberal and communist guerrillas, as well as narco-trafficking, have unleashed this violence. The recent referendum to arrive at a peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC has been far from encouraging. Unfortunately, a minority sector of the population decided against peace.

El sol y la carne [The sun and the flesh] (2015) by the Colombian poet Camila Charry Norieta (Bogotá, 1979) turns language into resistance against the cruelty that Colombians have suffered in recent decades, confronting both reality and silence with a poetic voice of tremendous magnitude. It is impossible not to be affected while reading the book’s thirty-three poems. The desolation of a place ravaged by barbarity attains a disturbing clarity in Charry’s verses; she uses poetry to show us a razed country in which being alive has been deprived of meaning. The verses strip down and display the most human language. Her texts cannot be classified as improvised protest poems - they are not enumerative or sensationalist, and they have no irregular or ragged versification. Neither does she seek to write historical poetry. This is no cheap poetry for political pamphlets. She shows the open wound of Colombia with a marked labor that is lyrical and interior, understood as the result of an appropriation of reality that shows itself to be honest and vulnerable in her words. One of the book’s most touching poems is “Anatema” [Anathema], in which a bull calf searches for his mother among the dead bodies of the cows dragged along by the river while her killers move further and further away. Animals are also victims of the violence. Nevertheless, this poem also allows for a different reading as the story of a boy looking for his murdered mother:

Floating in the river
the bodies of many young cows.
Behind the bushes
and troubled by the water
that moved in the midst of death
a bull calf appeared.
He groaned and ran behind the current
to reach the mud
that had beaten the bodies.

not understanding the whims of God
or the blows of misfortune
or that it was his turn
he cried toward the afternoon
and with his steps
he left a shining stream of blood.
He ran among the branches
wounded and sad.
Far off, on the plains,
still the gallop of the horses
spurred on the assassins’ shouts
coming over the mountains;
echo of battle that lasted all night
although there were no more
men or cows
with whom to celebrate this killing.

Eduardo Chirinos, in his prologue to El sol y la carne, aptly describes Camila Charrys’ poems: “one cannot read them without feeling cold in the soul.” In the quotidian state the poet presents, there is no hope in a world consumed by the ignominy of humans alienated by avarice and the gun. It seems there is no place for salvation. Death forms a part of the landscape, showing through, for example, in the final lines of the poem “Páramo de la Sarna” [Wasteland of the mites]:

Sometimes it seems
as if all the bones that still hang from the trees
were endemic flowers crystallized from the wasteland.

For the philosopher Vicente Sanfélix, language - in order to be violent - demands an asymmetry between the power of the attacker and that of the attacked. Camila Charry Noriega turns on herself, reversing in the way she displays her outrage such that the power of the discourse is equal to the injustice; they hang from the same string with brutal symmetry. In her poems, the witnesses are the dogs, the cattle, boys who run through the countryside not knowing when they’ll be caught, an imaginary bird that represents the hope for justice because pleading to god is not enough. If praying cannot save us, at least what comes out of the human mouth is worth something in itself, or gives a sign that not everything will be exterminated, as is expressed in the poem “La palabra ha muerto” [The word has died]:

-God, spare me from your fury, give me light and thirst
protect me from myself,
no matter what, make my words say something
bring something
reveal some truth
if you even exist-.

The silence of the condemned is not enough - nor is the silence of Christ, who likewise refuses to respond - but it is necessary to continue with the exhortation. God is absent, God answers no call, but this is known and does not inspire anger. The conduct of the poetic I reminds one of Verse 31 of the fifth book of John: “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”

A piece of meat surrounded by flies, a humanity abandoned by mercy and invaded by ambition and hunger, the sum of horror, are the constants in this book. You need strong lungs to breathe after reading these poems by Camila Charry. Each text is a horseman holding firmly to the bridle because the horse is running at great speed. It is easy to think that, sooner or later, the animal could collapse to the ground, but all the poems ride with potency and security. The ineffable is touched through the harshness. In this poetic work, there is no verse without tension, without meaning, and when we read them we feel a deep sense of being in eviction, of language “made of human whim / of human uncertainty,” and of love as a set of trembling bones:

Love, like the fiercest sea
will return   to our feet   the warm skeleton
of what life demanded so that happiness or boredom
could have their way with us.

Lorena Huitrón Vázquez

Other Reviews in this Issue

Tierra roja by Pedro Ángel Palou
Lengua de señas by Enrique  Winter
Yo también me acuerdo by Margo Glantz


LALT Vol. 1 No. 1
Number 1

The first issue of Latin American Literature Today features a dossier of Argentine writer Ricardo Piglia, who passed away in January of 2017, and short stories by the outstanding young Mexican author Nadia Villafuerte.

Table of Contents