The Red Song
Melisa Machado

Translated by Seth Michelson
Edited by Michelle Gil-Montero

ISBN 978-0-900575-98-3 | 75 pp, $16.00 | May 15, 2018

Thin and brittle,
with legs of smoke,
I float in insomnia.
I write as a red fruit,
bloody as hibiscus water.

If Paul Celan’s ghost sang from inside the pit of a cherry… if each slow stroke of a comb through cool, dark hair could be graphed into language, it might sing The Red Song. Melisa Machado’s first collection in English is a subversive, prophetic incantation and a magical geography of the body. In short, pulselike refrains, first published as text messages, talismans of the body’s fragility — collarbones, ear bones, mouths, tongues, waists — become so many zones of alchemical opening:

Octopus hair tangled in fingers.
Legs pure as sluices.
There’s no higher power than these, my clavicles

In lucid, spacious translation by Seth Michelson, lapped by the ghosts of Celan and Marosa di Giorgio, The Red Song is at once ritual and meditation, confession and encryption, “abyss and sky”, “vocal prayer” and vision.


Melisa Machado was born in Durazno, Uruguay, in 1966. She lives in Montevideo. She is a poet, journalist, writer, art analyst and therapist. Her books Ritual de las Primicias (1994), El lodo de la Estirpe (2005), Adarga (2000), Jamba de Flores Negras (2006) and Marjal o Animal (2008) were collected in Rituales (2011). El Canto Rojo was first published by the Sediento Ediciones (Mexico) in 2013. Her poems have been included in several anthologies, including El Amplio Jardín (2005), Nada es igual después de la poesía: Cincuenta poetas uruguayos del medio siglo, 1955-2005 (2005) and The World Record (2012). Her work has previously been translated into English, Italian and Swedish.


Seth Michelson is an award-winning poet, translator, and professor of poetry. He teaches the poetry of the Americas at Washington and Lee University, and he has been invited to read his poetry across the United States, as well as in Argentina, Uruguay, Armenia, Kenya, Germany, Mexico, and India, among elsewhere. After teaching weekly poetry workshops for several years in one of the two maximum-security detention centers in the United States for undocumented, unaccompanied youth, he recently edited and translated the anthology Dreaming America: Voices of Undocumented Youth in Maximum-Security Prison (Settlement House, 2017), with proceeds from its sale going to a legal defense fund for the incarcerated children. His recent books of original poetry include Swimming Through Fire (Press 53, 2017) and Eyes Like Broken Windows (Press 53, 2012), winner of the poetry category of the 2013 International Book Awards. An NEA award-winning translator, his nine books of poetry in translation including The Ghetto (Tamara Kamenszain, Argentina), Poems from the Disaster (Zulema Moret, Argentina/Spain), roly poly (Victoria Estol, Uruguay), and Scripted in the Streams (Rati Saxena, India.)