Transregional Center for Democratic Studies

A Letter from New York: Elzbieta Matynia introduces a very special poem by Gema Santamaría

Interview with an Expert on Violence

by Elzbieta Matynia and Gema Santamaría

In late September the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies arranged a talk by Anabel Hernández, a Mexican journalist and courageous writer whose book, Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords And Their Godfathers, has just been published in English by Verso. I had heard about Hernández and her work, but I thought a better person to moderate the evening would be our doctoral student in Sociology, Gema Santamaría, who works on problems of violence in Mexico. I had gotten to know Gema quite well during our 2009 Democracy & Diversity Institute in Wroclaw, where I taught a seminar called Romancing Violence. I knew that though born in Nicaragua she wanted to work on Mexico, where she grew up. I could see that she is a brilliant student and I learned that she is also an accomplished poet. So I thought that she and Anabel – who had not been at the New School before — would make a good team. We had a full house that night, and though some people had to stand on the sides of the Hirshon Suite, nobody moved. Anabel gave an engaging though disturbing presentation, analyzing the tight linkages between Mexico’s political class and its drug economy. Gema was a graceful moderator, and when necessary an on-the-spot translator. After the lecture, some of us went on talking over supper at a nearby Thai joint. Gema pulled from her bag a piece of paper and said she had brought something for me. I glanced at the page, and asked whether I could read it aloud so that Anabel could hear it.

I read Gema’s poem:

Interview with an Expert on Violence

So, tell us,
what is the wound, what is its color,
what is the color of the wound that follows
from the closed fist
from the closed anger
of the one against another
the one that is a fire,
the other that is an abyss,
the other that will
from now on
be known as “the victim.”

What is the fear, what is the rhythm,
what is the fear’s rhythm
is the mouth bitter,
is the tongue drier
when the fear crawls like an injured
like a tense, intimate, trembling rabbit?

And the eyes?
Do they close at the blow,
do they stare at the blow,
do they stare at the nightmare
do they think in the caprice
of day and night
of darkness and light
wanting to escape it,
like the dreamer that witnesses the dream and dreams of herself saying:
“now, open your eyes.”

And the knees?
Is it true that they lose control,
that the bone is no longer a stone
a stone that allows to stand up,
that it fills up with water,
with tender, bloody water,
until the legs go strayed,
missing, disjointed,
the liquid substance of cowardice.

And the stomach?
How long does it revolve,
How long does it tremble,
how long, until it becomes
a long knot of nausea?

And the sound of the scream?
The sound that is born in the heat
of the knives,
in the heat of the face that faces the knives,
what does it say?
does it

Tell us

What is the smell of death?
What is the weight of death?
Where do you write death?
Where do you understand death?

What is the name of your next article?

Originally published on November 12th, 2013 by Public Seminar.


Gema Santamaría is a Democracy & Diversity Wroclaw 2009 alumna and a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology and Historical Studies at the New School for Social Research. Her dissertation topic is on violence and extralegal justice in Mexico. She is a member of the Nicaraguan Association for Women Writers (ANIDE) and of the International Council of Gaceta Literal in Mexico.


The New School for Social Research
6 East 16th St., Rm 921, NY, NY 10003
212-229-5100 ext. 3136

Elzbieta Matynia, Director
212-229-5580 ext. 3137

Lala Pop, Program Manager,
PhD Student, Politics
212-229-5100 ext. 3136

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