David Brunson translates Miguel Ortiz Rodríguez

The word city

The word city


an animal dust


A city is always



A city is born         shits        eats


            knows itself as fleshless bone

and tomb of all of the dead


In the word city

            there’s no real sign


The word city

            is always an extinct map

an outline of what it should be


The word city erects itself

            as a vertebral monument

            born of the same blood as the living

            a city like an immense jungle

            a house

            like a nest

            like a honeycomb

            about to be burned


La palabra ciudad

La palabra ciudad

esconde un polvo

inherente a lo animal


Una ciudad es siempre



Una ciudad nace       caga      come


           se sabe hueso pulcro

y sepulcro de todos los muertos


La palabra ciudad

           adolece de un signo real


La palabra ciudad

           es siempre un mapa extinto

un calco de lo que debía ser


La palabra ciudad se erige

           como un monumento vertebrado

           nacido de la propia sangre de lo vivo

           una ciudad como una inmensa selva

           una casa

           como un nido

           como un panal

           a punto de ser quemado


I already recognize myself

I already recognize myself

in the streets of Santiago

in the overwhelmingly contradictory nature

            of its blood,

certainly in its rebellion

           and its graffitied walls,

in the unforgivable speed

           of its busses,

in its ransacked

           or burned-down corners,

in its icy mornings

           and merkén.

I believe in Santiago

like I believe in myself,

            beast born

of indignity. I believe

in its thrushes, in

the tiuque’s caw

            resounding of summer,

in the canyon’s dawn

           with the river to wake us.  


Ya me reconozco

Ya me reconozco

en las calles de Santiago

en lo abrumadoramente contradictorio

           de su sangre,

por supuesto en la insurgencia,

           en sus paredes rayadas,

en la velocidad imperdonable

           de las micros

en sus esquinas ruinosas

            o incendiadas,

en las madrugadas heladas

            y el merkén.

Creo en Santiago

como en mí mismo,

            bestia nacida

de la afrenta. Creo

en sus zorzales, en

los graznidos del tiuque

             resonantes de verano,

en la amanecida en el cajón

             con el río para despertarnos.


Venezuela is currently facing the world’s second largest migratory crisis—over six million people have left the country over the past decade, pushed out by hyperinflation, violence, corruption, and democratic backsliding since Hugo Chavez first came to power. Many of those people have made their new home in Chile, with Miguel Ortiz Rodríguez among them. Of course, adapting to a new life in a new country can be difficult. Challenges arise from lack of documentation, xenophobia, trouble finding work, and differences related to language and culture. In Chile, these issues have been further compounded by the 2019 estallido social, when Chileans, protesting the economic and social legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship, took to the streets to demand a more dignified existence. However, these protests, alongside the pandemic, have led to economic instability. For many Venezuelans in Chile, the estallido social was reminiscent of political violence in Venezuela, characterized by a brutal police response and an uncertain economic future.   

These poems by Miguel Ortiz Rodríguez explore life in both Caracas and Santiago, putting the ideas of these cities—and the people that occupy them—into conversation. As an immigrant adapting to life in a new country, the poet is able to drift between an insider’s and an outsider’s perspective to explore the limits of the language that we use in our political and social discourses. He writes “The word city / is always an extinct map / an outline of what it should be.” The Platonic ideal of the language we use to describe the world rarely rises to the task of accurately depicting material reality. By referring to this gap in meaning, Ortiz’s work draws attention to the instability of both of the poet’s homes, of the promises made, but never realized by the leaders of both countries. In Venezuela, the promise of economic equality and Latin American independence fell to corruption and state-sponsored violence; in Chile, the post-dictatorship promise of democracy and opportunity has been undermined by an overly-privatized society that treats citizens as resources rather than people, thus widening the gap between the rich and poor.     

When systems—whether political or linguistic—fail, people rise up to fill the void. This can be seen in the popular protest movements of both Chile and Venezuela. Ortiz writes that “I already recognize myself / in the streets of Santiago / … / certainly in [the city’s] rebellion.” As migrants carve out lives between these spaces, Miguel recognizes that these spaces are, in fact, alive, that “The word city erects itself / as a vertebral monument,” that “is born     shits” and “eats.” The city, wherever it may be, is a living, pluralistic space that must include everyone, including those fighting for better lives. In Ortiz’s writing, at least, this hope has come to fruition: “I believe in Santiago / like I believe in myself / … . I believe /in its thrushes, in /the tiuque’s caw / resounding of summer, / in the canyon’s dawn / with the river to wake us.”


Miguel Ortiz Rodríguez (Caracas, 1993) holds a degree in Literature from the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello and has lived in Santiago, Chile since 2017. He is the author of the chapbook Lengua de ángel/Angeltongue (above/ground press, 2017, Canada). His poetry has appeared in various anthologies, such as Una cicatriz donde se escriben despedidas (Libros del Amanecer, 2021, Chile) and Amanecimos bajo la palabra (Team Poetero, 2017, Venezuela). His poems have also been published in literary magazines such as Furman 217 and Revista Grifo, among others. In 2017, he was named a finalist in Duende’s literary translation contest.

David M. Brunson has an MFA in Poetry and Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His poems and translations have appeared in or are forthcoming from Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing, Booth, Waxwing, DIAGRAM, On the Seawall, Split Rock Review, The Bitter Oleander, Nashville Review, Asymptote, Copper Nickel, Washington Square Review, and elsewhere. He is the editor and translator of A Scar Where Goodbyes Are Written: The Poetry of Venezuelan Migrants in Chile, forthcoming from LSU Press.