A poem by Lydia Kwa inspired by a painting by Remedios Varo


You went down the river
in male guise

Army fatigues and bowler hat:
symbols of civilizing influence

Save the unavoidable
creature of a womb

Fish fin for rudder
vestigial wings atop your hat

What about the disaster?

Flooding from an untended source



belongs to the willing

Woman who sets out to explore
the origins of her failure

That tree hollowed out
from a sleeping forest

Holds the secret



I was born while she was painting this

She was painting a birth

I was conceived in her birthing



To ask oneself—
why investigate exceptions
while navigating a drowned world?


These lyrics were written in response to Exploration of the Sources of the Orinoco River (Exploracion de las Fuentes del Rio Orinoco, 1959) a painting by Remedios Varo, a remarkable Surrealist painter. Reprinted from Uncommon Magic (2011, Upstart Press, edited by Christina Decarie). Check out the previous poems in this series, “Implicit” and “Light Becomes Music.”

The editors of The Unpublishables congratulate Kwa on winning the Earle Birney Poetry Prize.

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