Janet Galbraith, Between Borders: A reading of Juan Garrido Salgado

The Two Rivers of Granada Descend from the Snow To the Wheat/Los Dos Rios de Granada Bajan de la Nieve al Trigo.

by Juan Garrido Salgado


On opening the envelope that contains Juan Garrido Salgado’s latest offering of poetry: The Two Rivers of Granada Descend from the Snow To the Wheat/Los Dos Rios de Granada Bajan de la Nieve al Trigo, I initially experience this collection as felt rather than seen.  It is the texture of the thick paper against my skin that I notice first.  Like this handcrafted book, these are not flimsy or flighty poems; they are layered with felt histories held in bodies, in countries, poetry and waters that connect across cultures, languages and time. The cover images, photos taken by the poet whilst on his travels in Spain and Greece are of the old bridge that crosses the Guadalquivir river at Cordoba; of a fissure between two rocks that lead to the sun; of Granada, and of the poet clasping his notebook (or is it dictionary) standing on the ancient bridge that crosses the water way.  These images wrap the poems almost as though they are folding in on each other.  I cannot open this book in the same way I would most others. It requires a different approach.

I allow the poet to speak
To write
To sing and cry
‘who will say that water bears
A vain fire of screams’
(Federico Garcia Lorca)

Water and the indefinable character of it pervades this collection. Even the layout of the  longer poems seem to flow. The text is aligned to the right.  Bordered by a straight line they meander to the left. They are not contained by the borders of what I, as an English reader and writer expects.  I am reminded of the notebooks I have received over the past years, hand written in Farsi or Arabic, read right to left, from people who have become political prisoners of the current Australian regime, writers and poets seeking asylum in an era obsessed with the making and remaking of borders.

The title of Salgado’s collection is taken from Lorca’s poem ‘The Little Ballad of the Three Rivers’ and, I suggest, can be read as an ‘intimate dialogue’ not only between Lorca, Salgado and the river but between a present history, between Spanish and English as they lie beside each other, between Chile and Australia and as an intervention in the making of borders that demand closure. Rather than framing the collection – providing a beginning and an end – Lorca’s poem is embedded throughout the book.  It speaks to the reader as the memory of water, like the ‘verses and wounds’ that Salgado finds ‘drowned’ in The River Guadalquivir in Cordoba :

‘Federico was killed’
The water is telling me
Now when my eyes channel its lament.

Here is the body of the river, the body of poetry, the body of Lorca, of history present.  Salgado continually brings the reader back to this, not allowing us to indulge in a nostalgia that would recall a static and disembodied past. ‘The river is not a Museum’, begins the first poem ‘The River of Guadalquivir in Cordoba’.

The bridge is only survival
Screams of wind and birds of death in 1936.

The horror and sadness of Lorca’s execution near the river in 1936, the Spanish Civil War and White Terror are immediately present and the deep abiding sadness of this saturates collection in a way that creates a sense of suspension.  That is, the poetry immediately connect the reader with the lived effects of history without the possibility of endings and resolution.  The poetry, like the river, holds these wounds that will ‘wait until/ five moons embrace the sky and earth again/And no longer tyranny be part of life’(5).

The space in which Salgado writes is concerned not with consolidating borders but in witnessing the spaces between.  He writes in his final poem Waiting for the Train to Granada: ‘we are stuck between the border’(15).  This poetry inhabits this space between, inviting the reader into to some uneasy spaces.

I find you poet
I read your verses
From the translation of Ernesto Cardenal.
You find me Marcial
…We are between the fruits of Gods and water.


These uneasy spaces are often where history sits in the body.
His poem Toledo opens

An ancient gate to enter and exit the city
Our steps were wandering.
Steps that led me to history
Then goes on to speak of the city as a maze that seems to embody a living history:
death whispering colours…
rivers of pods and holes…
walls of shootings…
Habitual solitude…
inquisition of sight and flight…
And finally a space is opened where the visceral presence of  history is firmly placed:
In a corner of absence a verse flowers within me
A shot falls deeply into the animal skin pain.


Salgado is a poet living on Ngarrindjerri land in Adelaide whose lived experience has been defined by borders and spaces between.  He was formerly a political prisoner of the Pinochet regime in his native Chile, arrived in Australia as a political refugee, and works as a poet exiled from his homeland, at the same time attaching to and finding a space for himself in this land where First Nations people are also experiencing exile from their own lands.  It is an uneasy space he occupies but made all the more important as he is able to articulate it, own it and create a dialogue through which more space is opened. ‘Our adaptation to a new life in Australia has remained unfinished ever since we met its Ngarrindjeri people’.

Throughout this collection I am reminded of the unfinished business of violence. These wounds are not healed:  ‘This locomotive is a sick animal(15)’. Salgado returns again and again to the reality of the continuity of violence, especially State based violence. The poem Death Sentenced Republic cascades from 1937, White Terror and the Spanish Civil War,  to 1973, the killing of Allende and the rise of Pinochet in Chile, and finally to present day Australia: ‘In Australia asylum seekers detained/at Manus Island/ & Adriana Rivas a Former Secret police Agent/ And torturer’ of the Pinochet regime that has imprisoned and tortured this poet, now living in Sydney ‘as a citizen’.

Our wounds are reopening
Our wings of eternity have a name: dignity and courage.
Our flight is timeless.

When I send this poem to a man incarcerated in Manus Island Detention Camp his slow reply seems to echo the river’s lament: ‘Our sadness.  Our sadness

Language of water
Falling from the soul of the three cultures
In this wheel of centuries
That feeds us.

Salgado stands on a bridge between two pieces of land, looks out at the reader inviting us to enter this intimate dialogue between country and water, language, history, violence and bodies.

I am sure Guadalquivir is an old poet
reading the rain within the fish dream
at Cordoba last night.

Rich with cultural and historical reference, written in Spanish and translated into English, The Two Rivers of Granada Descend from the Snow To the Wheat, invites us into unfinished spaces where bodies and histories matter.  At a time when the refiguring of borders continues to close some in and others out; when the sacrifice and torture of particular people for politics and profit is further normalized; when publishing companies bow to sales and state-sanctioned stories, this  handmade book, a limited edition of poems is a nourishing intervention.



1.  Juan Garrido-Salgado ‘I have Three Wounds: of Live, Love and Death, Cordite, 1 November 2012. 
2. Name withheld


-Janet Galbraith