Medellin turns 335 years old on Tuesday. Or, at least this is what the city Mayor’s office is celebrating. The territory’s history, however, can be traced further back.
In 1616, Spaniards officially founded Medellin in El Poblado. However, the valley and the area were explored by them as far back as 1541. This, of course, does not mean that indigenous peoples did not reside here before the conquistadores supposedly “discovered” America. The Aburra Valley, for example, was named after the region’s ancient pre-Columbian inhabitants. We should not overlook the longer history the valley shares that predates 1675.
Nevertheless, along with the 30,000 gifts Paisas have donated to the city in lieu of its recognized 335 birthday, I too would like to dedicate the following three poems in memory and honor of the Aburra Valley and Medellin – the seat of the country’s International Poetry Festival and one of the only places in the world where reciting a couplet or a sonnet can fill a stadium.
Happy birthday, Medellin!
I. Aburra Valley
I was born at a young age, and though conceived in New York City at around 120 feet above sea level, I was given birth in Medellin at an elevation of 5,000 feet. “The City of Eternal Spring” cradled me with the arms of her Aburra Valley, looked at me with her emerald eyes – lined with a gilded iris – and asked for my untainted embrace. She understood I could not squeeze too hard because the frailty that comes with brittle youth, and accepted my humble and intuitive cry as a sign that no matter what distance my soon-to-come wandering life would put between us, that home would never be near the ocean, but, instead, up in the elevated mountains of the Colombian Andes, where mate de coca could help me fight off elevation sickness.
This embrace is my earliest memory. And as I make my way around the world, I am always homeward bound. I don’t want to be uprooted and transplanted to some far off land where I may forget the look in my mother’s eye and that smile when I would try to call out her name but only bubbles would form around the edges of my lips. Every step I take is somehow guided by this memory.
The mountains are my family, and though they may be distant cousins and aunts, I still know we are somehow related. On fogless days I climb on their backs, as I did when I was a child, so as to get a better view of home.
This is I
twenty-two years, fifty-nine days, and
twenty-one hours on the road…
hitchhiking back to my birth.
Walking backwards into the future facing the past,
reading back the words of my autobiography,
looking for any clue that may lead me to the womb of my conception
— the land that gave me birth —
I retrace my steps and here I am
back to Chapter 1
on the mountain tops of Andes
a day away from meeting my mother
For tomorrow I enter the town of my birth,
or at least that is what I am told,
for I do not remember being born,
but I do remember being alive.
If all I have is memory then
how do I know I truly exist?
for my existence is then taken
from the collective thoughts and words of others.
I rely on them for my existence…for my worth.
Tomorrow I enter the town of my birth
and when I get there
my pilgrimage will not end,
but finally commence.
I hope I am recognized,
for I know I must have changed some
in the process of aging,
or at least that is what I am told
For when I grow old and gray
I never want to be that guy
who sits in his rocking chair,
on his porch, smoking cigars,
trying to fog up reality,
regretting his past because he didn’t care enough
to try and find his essence.
So, rather, when I finally enter the town of my birth
I will be that guy
standing at the edge of the mountain top of Medellín,
the town I am told saw me before I was able to see it,
and it will see me again,
but this time I will be regarding it,
hoping that in its old age it will remember me.
So there I’ll be,
hollering to my mother for the first time
words I’ve wanted to say,
words I’ve wished to say
and words I have needed to say
since I can remember:
oh sweet mothering beginning,
I never thought I would meet you
I. My Shadow
To Medellin, the 335-year-old woman in her wedding dress, still waiting at the altar for her kiss.
Medellin, the number of wrinkles around her eyes match the ones around my cheeks. We tried to laugh as we counted them. With senility we lost track of age, so for fun we used our smile lines not only as our very own tree rings but as our life records, memoirs, chronicling our most recognizable moments. The depth of her wrinkles remained around her lips even after the laughter had ceased; they spoke of the permanence of her joy: a memory complete and intact.
Still in our towels, we would mark one another’s faces with eyeliner trying to remember the stories of each. There was one, however, I couldn’t decipher: the one labeled # 23.
“Could you share the story of that one with me?” I once asked as she put on lipstick. While looking into the mirror she knew exactly which I was speaking of. “Weird,” said she, “I’ve never seen that one before,” then asked if she looked old in her skin.
I didn’t answer, like usual, and proceeded to kiss her at the speed of growing trees.
Medellin, her shadow walks by me every time I think of her. Even in the dark I recognize her complexion. I chase it around the house, candle in hand, trying to avoid entangling myself in the hanging hammock, and we play hide-and-go-seek. She always wins. But at night, when we are both tired, she follows me to my bed, blows out the flame, and beneath the covers we become one and the same, so much so that my own shadow becomes jealous.
Julián Esteban Torres López is an editor, writer, researcher, and educator with nearly two decades’ experience working with publications, historical societies, and cultural and research institutions, and has held leadership positions in the academe, the arts, journals, the business sector, and history museums. You can follow him on Twitter.