Manuel Martínez Forega: Letter to Lola Walquiria

Twenty-three years have passed, Walquiria. That’s how I used to call you, or Lola,  and always for myself. Because, of course, how I really liked to call you, and the way I knew you, was mamá. Mamá, never mother (as I heard other children of my generation calling “their” mother). And you were telling me that it was a borrowing from French, that mamá was a French borrowing. France felt very distant to me back then, even though you described the Eiffel Tower to me several times, you even showed me some photographs. I called you Walquiria, or Lola, every time I used to lock myself in my room when you insisted on speaking German, or Valenciano, every morning, over a cup of coffee, hot and steaming (coffee never made me upset, and surely it was because you, the lover of coffee, prepared just the right amount, the right amount for children) a short while before going to school, every morning, a short while before going to school. I escaped to my room all in a hurry and locked myself in because I did not know you anymore in these foreign languages, it terrified me to hear you speaking like this, it was not you. Later on I always thought what an imbecile I was. But at that time these languages seemed monstrous to me. Your Castilian, on the contrary, was malleable, harmonious, full of words whose full meaning was revealed to me over the course of time, because you never paid attention to my age to adorn yourself and embellish me with language. That Castilian was coming out of your mouth like lukewarm water poured down a gentle slope, caressing and flowing upon my ears like a balsam. It was full of trains laden with the coal of dark eyes, of ports, of Valencian seas, of Castilian orchards, of wars, of losses, of broken loves, of fires, of field hospitals, of soldiers wounded in a battle, of orange trees, of Sorolla and Blasco Ibáñez, of barracks and paellas, of ambassadors, of personalities (like doctor Marañón or Alfredo Juderías), of those times to me now remote whose geography was discovered later in a school atlas. I never told you that I was looking for those names you uttered and that this eagerness made me become an expert in world toponymy.

I came to understand your tragedy many years later. War, always war. First, that German consul in Valencia (Wolfgang Böll) brought to account by Hitler in February 1936 and subsequently shot. Wolfgang, sensing the danger of this consultation took himself off to his country, leaving his family in Valencia. His son Wolfi, precocious painter and pianist, became your protégé in the family house where you served as a nurse. I keep the water-colour the son of Wolfang Böll painted for you and you bequeathed to me. I keep it in its original frame; it shows a castle, probably a German one, with round covered towers and a square courtyard with a moat in front. That death of Wolfgang shocked you, mamá, you were always telling me, although you had not faced the most terrible yet. You never told me his name and you never told me why (neither did I ask for it, perhaps not wishing that the mere mention will wake in you an inexpressible echo of a memory as sweet as surrounded by the tragedy): your first husband, Captain of the Red Army of Valencia died on the front the same day as Lorca, during the heat of the afternoon on the 18 August 1936. You had married him in June of that year. I saw the photograph, he wearing his captain’s cap with three six-pointed stars. With one cut your good luck fell into the trench, mamá, and then, wilder than the history itself of this country overwhelmed by uprisings and riots, you also went on front, between bullets, aerial bombs and grenades, as a field nurse. How much foreign blood on your hands, mamá? Some of it from the living, a lot of it from the dead, from those who still did not understand very well what had happened to them: to me, to this one, to that one; what he had done for that bullet or shrapnel that lodged in the lungs, stomach, throat… Already without voice of the dismembered ones, speechless with horror, completely blinded, absorbed in a light that is suddenly lost, stubborn in their futile search. This is how you related to me the horror of the war front. When it was finished, mamá, you still had time to rescue some books of the republican library of Paterna. I began to read them without order but yes, with accord. Now I remember again (what I remember so many times…) and I am telling it to you here, in this poem:

Republican library

It was not I in those books.
It was you, the saviour of the fire,
the fireproof nurse
who fought with her breast
the flamethrowers of the general
of a brigade of specters.
Later on it was I entirely within its pages
with the seal of shorn defeat.
You were you for me; you saved Imam,
Women’s Prisons, Sapho, Manon Lescaut,
The Red and the Black, The Siege of Mainz,
Les Misérables, Oliver Twist, The Social Contract,
The Market, The Misery of Boots,
Marianela, Cleopatra Pérez,
Sailor on Dry Land…
for him not yet born.


Manuel Martinéz Forega


Manuel Martinéz Forega was born in 1952 in Molina de Aragón, Guadalajara. He is a poet, essayist and translator, author of thirty titles in these disciplines. He is a laureate of two poetry prizes of National Research Council in 1987 and Miguel Labordeta of the Government of Aragón. He was awarded the European prize of Roland Barthes for his translation in 2002.


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