He rolls the ‘r’ in my name, and the resentment I’ve felt fades,
resentment for the absence of mi abuelito, and the language
my tongue stumbles over, yet hungers for like tortilla Española.
They greased their rifles with olive oil, with Vaseline, with cold cream, with bacon-fat:¹
an opera, with the occasional death.²
It was pneumonia they were fighting against, not men³
yet some of the voices that cried out in pain were still falsetto,
soon to be broken by the war with thousands dead.
Mi abuelito, my granddad, was born just after the war ended,
but he told me repression, hunger and violence ran through his blood until he grew up.
They call it Civil War, when men, women and children fought
for and against Franco’s dictatorship. My grandfather told me
the war divided the country, but not the family.
His mother was an Anarchist, took the children to the mountains for safety.
His father was conservative, but not political, worked as a nurse in Masnou.
And the poets? The poets went into exile.
War destroying words and music, books trembling
like houses on a street falling down in an earthquake,
a gunshot in a canvas where red only ever tastes of blood. The metallic smell left on fingertips, gripping guns and bombs, anything they could get their hands on.
He said his father was not a hero, but a cross in a box for an abstained vote.
Most of his father’s brothers fought on the side of Franco;
filtered from the stern voice of his paternal grandmother, Catholic and contradictory
from the teachings. He told me how he hated her, mi abuelito.
A granddad I’ve never named as such, now through phone-lines brought closer,
he tells me at the end of the conversation how proud he is
to have another poet in the family. I smile, as my bloodline extends back in time.
My family, I think, with war wedged between them, yet in the end, they remained intact.
We were the lucky ones. Other ghosts roam concentration camps, execution grounds.
My grandfather tells me I might need to find another story to tell;
we were okay, we were okay, blood still ran through our veins. Until Franco’s death,
war and religion and politics ran like rivers through their lives,
but he told me the one thing that could not be killed was their sense of humour.
It was 1975. Even now, the water shows a hint of the blood of history,
bones buried under rivers. In Barcelona, they cry out in Catalan
when the country’s skin is pulled so tight, it’s like a gag.
He tells me, after the war, it was not something the family would talk about.
And I wonder when the unspoken becomes an elephant, or if it is better left unsaid.
¹ George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, p. 37
² George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, p. 34
³ George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, p. 37
Featured image: Marina Ginestà at the top of Hotel Colón in Barcelona, 21 July 1936. Photograph by Hans Gutmann.