Still Life

A poem from Survival Kit #3, presented by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest

A poem by Cindy Jiménez-Vera
From the anthology The Sea Needs No Ornament/El Mar No Necesita Ornamento, edited and translated by Loretta Collins Klobah and Maria Grau Perejoan
Published June 2020 by Peepal Tree Press

the sea needs no ornament



Select a simple object,
like the fingernails of your dead mother.

When you have chosen the object,
place it on a table or on the floor.
Sometimes, the object is located in a casket.
In such cases, there isn’t an option.

Make sure there is a source of direct light.
Funeral parlour lamps can work.
If no electric power is available,
bring a candle and a box of matches to light it.

Gaze closely at the object.
Take six minutes.
That’s enough time for you to believe it.
The one who lies in the coffin
gave you life a few years ago.
Very few. Maybe less than what you have left.

Begin to draw the object,
starting with any part
that makes you feel comfortable:
the plate, cuticle, lunula,
or side walls of the nail.
Avoid drawing the matrix.
It’s the living and most important part.
The nail matrix produces healthy cells
— that’s why nails of the dead keep growing in the grave —
and the object that we have to draw
must be completely inanimate.

After shading the nails with graphite
or with the technique of your preference, add details:
stains, chips, flecks of polish, grime.

Rest when needed,
it’s a process that takes time.
Think about the trees she planted with these nails.
Did they just grow from one day to the next?

When you finish the drawing, observe it closely.
Keep practising.


Translation of the poem “Still Life” by Thaís Espaillat
Translated by Loretta Collins Klobah and Maria Grau Perejoan

Courtesy Peepal Tree Press

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