In this collaboration, a selection from Seth Michelson’s bilingual heroic crown of sonnets, “A Crown for Sonia,” was set to original music by the composer Zhou Tian. The piece won first prize at the 2009 ASCAP and Lotte Lehmann Foundation Art Songs Competition.
Below is the text being sung. The complete crown of sonnets can be found inEyes Like Broken Windows.
My wife’s family fled Argentina
a tiros de bala, los milicos
firing shots at them, bullets sizzling
past their ears. Así the family, five in all,
two parents con sus pibes, ran in tears,
death be not proud, my wife was nine, her
siblings littler. Behind, they left a dog, ferns
unwatered, plates in the sink, stuffed animals
forever silent on children’s beds, forever.
Here now, my wife’s mother, una brava
científica, teaches cowgirls to swap
shotguns for lives in cancer research,
y mi suegro, a scientist, too, plays Bach on piano,
explaining, note by note, Yo no fui un desaparecido.
así: “like this”
brava: “brave”, “strong”, “fierce”
desaparecido: “disappeared”; used as a verb, the word refers to the process by which the military forcibly “disappeared” people during the genocide in Argentina (1976-1983); used as a noun, the word refers to the people who disappeared during that time, most likely after being kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by members of the Argentine military; the symbolic figure for the number of desaparecidos (“disappeared” people) in Argentina during the genocide is 30,000; in the poem, the line “Yo no fui un desaparecido” is a claim of defiance against the fascists meaning “I wasn’t disappeared” or “They didn’t manage to disappear me!”
milicos: a common term of derision for members of the Argentine military during the genocide; the vehemence of the derision depends upon the context and inflection of the noun in its delivery.
pibes: “children”, “kids”, the term is a colloquial, tender, and somewhat dated Argentine word, and here “con sus pibes” roughly means “with their kids” or “with their children”
tiros de bala: “gunshots”.