Leticia Hernández-Linares


Cumbia de Salvación*

Cumbia sabrosa cumbia para ti yo bailo hasta el amanacer**


wrapped around

each other

on the floor


kisses lines on skin  


to the right

to the left

hip bone fat swing

floating over rhythm

hitting notes  

to the side

what it is

that en realidad

manda en mi país

no es

el ritmo sabrosón del Salvador

es el peso

el dolar

el  colón

paper money

any type of exchange

pedazitos of broken bone

pieces in our teeth

spitting them out, we mark

steps, sweep splinters

soarness in my joints

wish I could say, oh the dancing

tired arms scrub

greed from the corners,

from the floor boards





through all kinds of beats

First, I go to el 99, después

to la carnicería

shiny dishes, new towels

red juice of tripas, are you

watching as I take lessons

in how to make deals

that keep me slaving

Save my pennies here,

so when I return

I can fly under neon lit

duty free sign, fill my bag

with brand names




Pa pa ra ra pa rap cu cu cumbia

yes girl, it’s the remix

used to think that meant

the record skipped, repetition

but of footsteps

over same places on concrete

stains, dotted lines where limbs

and wallet part ways

sellers nodding heads, unfolding

carpet of welcomes

Es dinero el  que manda en mi país

Es el ritmo sabroson del Salvador

Para alla, para aca,

ay y para qué

Girl, you don’t need

to buy another useless thing

did you hear about  la fulanita

out of work, never goes dancing

¿y eso ? es que

she danced right into the store

choked on her debt

Cumbia de mis amores

*Cumbia of Salvation

**(words in italics are sung, most are samples or twists of the song

Sabrosa Cumbia by Marito Rivera y su Grupo Bravo)

La Cuchillera


En el barrio de Santa Bárbara vive la cuchillera

trae preguntas

no aguanta nada

ella te marca la piel

con sus verdades, con sus lenguazos

con la memoria del pueblo

Allí va la cuchillera

luchando la cuchillera

gritando la cuchillera

deshace la letra de la mentira

baile con nuestros recuerdos

mujer de fuerza, mujer de fuego

ella es la  Santaneca

Allí va la cuchillera

baliando la cuchillera

cantando la cuchillera

En el barrio de Santa Bárbara, en el barrio de Santa Bárbara

en el barrio de Santa Bárbara

vive la cuchillera

es de las que,  no se dejan

Canta el gallo en la distancia

el aire, seco,  cubre la cuidad.

The rooster didn’t call that morning.

His long distance bill, unpaid, left him

disconnected, the dawn lonely

for his echo.

Cars piling, honking fists shatter

tangled dreams of blanket-like waves, pushing

Dolores out of bed. Feet to floor. Mouths

waiting to be fed float in the limbo

between sky opening

its eyes,  thick air settling in, the day, waiting.

Word skyscrapers rising around them, one voice

louder than the next,  pushing

shoving to be first. What’s 

for breakfast, did you iron my shirt, Mami.

Numbers, scribbled reminders, pieces of names

flapping in the wind, falling




Francissscoooo, don’t

forget the phone bill.

Counters cringing under stacks of notices

make Dolores hate the carriers who deliver them.

Their bags bearing no benevolence, only balances,

shut off dates. Deadlines demand too much,

she admits to Estella who’s husband indulges,

but at least he doesn’t beat her.

If Dolores could write cumbias, she would sing

stubborn men strong, erase

complacent women choruses, glue unpaid bills

to the trunks of trees,where weather

and hungry insects would reject the math.

Back home, in Santa Ana, El Salvador,

full moons round like the bottom of music notes

keep time to cantos crafting tales about  how women

from the barrio, Santa Bárbara,

are cuchilleras who dance with Changó. Son

de las que no se dejan.

Cuchillera, knife woman, you will need this lesson

when your days begin and end in that  displaced desert of a city.

Santa Bárbara, Changó, pokes holes

through the nighttime shroud over El Salvador,

marks the soles of women born under his sign

switching out the ribbons tying up their silences

with razor edged tongues so they can cut 

their words.

Ay, pero esa Dolores sighs as she smoothes

the edges of her path with the end of a nail file.

Traded in her knife for a sandpaper stick she bought

at Thrifty, Sav-On. Can’t keep track of  revolving letters.

Only keeps tabs on how much more she has to pay for once

15-cent single scoop ice cream.  However many coins

to hold sweet in the middle of a gripping, breathless day. Drops

licking the back of her calves, reluctant to wake.

Dolores sits with Estella dreaming

of cumbias with sugar on top,

that sing stories of women who aren’t gonna take it no more,

wishing rain on this parched pedazo de cuidad

where she resigns to stay, taking stock of all the girlfriends

she’ll need to call when her phone bill gets paid.

Cuchillera, knife woman, you will need this lesson

when your days begin end, begin end,

in that displaced desert of a city, with no person, no

amount of change in your purse, able to quench your thirst.

Writer and educator, Leticia Hernández-Linares has performed her poemsongs throughout the country, and in El Salvador, for over ten years. Her writing has appeared in newspapers, literary journals and anthologies, some of which include This Bridge We Call Home and the Arizona-banned, Cantos al Sexto Sol. Hernández-Linares has taught university literature courses and worked with community-based organizations. The San Francisco Arts Commission funded her poetry CD and manuscript, Mucha Muchacha, Too Much Girl and has funded her first play, Mortaja. She is currently working on a collection of poetry and multimedia performance about motherhood in collaboration with teen moms in her neighborhood. She has lived in the Mission district, San Francisco since 1995.


“Cumbia de salvación” (first published in U.S. Latino Literature Today, ed. by Gabriela Baeza Ventura, Pearson Longman 2005).