The Brush


Translated from by

Published: April 2, 2024


ISBN: 9781953861863



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Book Description

Pablo Rodríguez steps thirteen paces out into the night and buries a wooden box. Its contents: a chain, a medallion, a few overexposed photographs, and finally, a deed. He burrows into the ground without knowing quite why, but with the certainty of a heavy change pressing through the air, of fear settling “like a cat in his throat.” Meanwhile, his wife Ester a sharpshooter and keeper of all village secrets slips into her fifth dream of the night. As Ester tosses and Pablo pats his fresh mound of earth, another character emerges in Eliana Hernández Pachón’s vivid and prophetic triptych.

The Brush is a tangled grove, a thicket of vines, an orchid pummeled with rain. Told from the voices Pablo, Ester, and the Brush itself, Hernández Pachón’s poem is an astounding response to a traumatic event in recent Colombian history: the massacre in the village of El Salado between February 16 and 21, 2000. Paramilitary forces tortured and killed sixty people, interspersing their devastating violence with music in the town square. The Brush is an incantatory, fearless exploration of collective trauma and its horrific relevance in today’s Colombia, where mass killings continue. It is also an extraordinary depiction of ecological resistance, of the natural world that both endures human cruelty and lives on in spite of it.

The narrative unfolds at a slant via three acts . . . in a tone that is at once factual and filled with palpable dread . . . For a poet writing about a catastrophe, using artifice to generate pathos can be difficult, as the reader knows that the events in the book are true. Hernández-Pachón resolves this by animating the forest, who is a compassionate observer, with a distinct persona and all the eccentricities of being a speaking-forest. 'During the concert, / rain is generality. / Every I and every mine / is open sky or moss.'
Janani Ambikapathi, Harriet Books

Flowers, bleeding bodies, and all that blooms from itself—we need poetry that sends us directly into this blossoming in all its agony, horror, and beauty. Eliana Hernández-Pachón has given us this with The Brush, a book I want everyone I know to know about.

A poetic, polyphonic work that explores what the El Salado massacre might have been like... As the story progresses, so does the Brush, which gains ground—including the ground of literature. It has no limits... Hernández’s work, her fragmented narration, takes an oblique approach to horror—or, in the words of artist Juan Manuel Echeverría, it observes via reflection, to keep from being paralyzed by horror. For the author, this kind of gaze avoids two possible risks: narrating violence as a spectacle and looking away.
Beatriz Valdéz Correa

"I want to tell you" says an unnamed woman traveling with Ester in The Brush, but the desire to name horror struggles against the need to survive it. Hernández-Pachón's words at turns circle, allude, describe and pulse with the events and legacy of the massacre at El Salado. This book is stunning, painful, beautiful, horrible, human and full of abundant, rich, throbbing language.
Jessica Rankin

A disconcerting calmness rests over this book-length sequence of poems that, in a mere 57 pages, manages to capture the contradictions and harmonies that arise in response to acts of extreme violence. That calmness serves to unsettle the reader and honour the survivors, while placing this event within a wider ecosystem and granting a voice to nature, the one force, perhaps, that can truly offer both understanding and healing.
Joseph Schreiber, Rough Ghosts

The Brush is not just a poem about the massacre in El Salado, at least not in a documentary sense. It is a work of fiction, built out of multiple poetic voices—peasant farmers Pablo and Ester, the witnesses, the researchers, and the brush itself, the most artful and profuse of these voices, a solitary observer of horror—encircling the event, trying to make contact with a more intimate, sensorial experience of violence.
Lina Vargas

The Brush doesn’t stop at what we already know, because, twenty-two years later, condemnation is no longer enough: it’s a story that recounts, both starkly and sensitively, a terrifying event in sharp-edged verses... It is the fact of acknowledging horror, as Eliana Hernández does, that another soul-state may emerge. Literature as redemption: daring to tell the story and confront the gruesomeness of human beings and society, because it’s there, in absolute abjection, that we will all recover our dignity—not just Pablo and Esther or the Brush, but also the writer and her readers. In this sense, Eliana Hernández’s fresh literary exercise is a precious one: she dares to tell the story of her time... A book-length poem that could easily be a fixture in literature classes and contemporary Colombian history.
Diana Castro Benetti

Each poem is autonomous, but linked together in a kind of sequential chronicle... Fusing together numerous voices, this narrative poem is a work of genre hybridity. The author’s investigative labor is also worth emphasizing: the work is inhabited by a plurality of voices, gazes, and practices of memory... the author addresses, names, and depicts nature as the living being it is, not as just another element of the landscape; there is an ecopoetic impetus in this book that also traces a physical and spiritual map of the events it describes.
Colombia National Poetry Prize jury

A beautiful, harrowing book of poetry that recounts the massacre of villagers in El Salado and Montes de María by paramiltary forces, that chooses as its focus not the bloodshed, but the peripheral experiences of two main characters, plus “the brush,” the landscape itself. The violence thus emerges from the tranquility of the setting as the true aberration that it is, with the earth as its truest witness. A moving example of poetry “telling it slant,” capturing the ravages of war from the vantage points of sky, earth, fauna.
Kristen Iskandrian, Thank You Books

This poignant account of the tragedy still resonates powerfully today, more than two decades after it occurred. 'When what happened happened and they made us watch, it was as if Earth revolved around our eyes, as if space opened up between our eyes, as if lava flow erupted from within.' Breathtaking.
Leo Boix, Morning Star

There is something that literature can do and do very well, and that is act as witness, offering a way to document and acknowledge, to process, and The Brush shines a spotlight on Colombian history perhaps little known across North America, writing on what can’t be imagined, but an event that leaves its scar across not only history, but on the lives of those that remain . . . This is a powerful and evocative collection, devastating for its subtlety, and composed with enormous care and unflinching gaze.
Rob McLennan

Powerful and devastating. The language is so concise and brilliantly moving. Every word makes a massive impact in this slim, arresting poem.
Emily Tarr, Thank You Books

In this book, nature speaks for the victims and against the perpetrators. The Brush humanizes and honors the survivors and victims of this horrific crime, and rebukes and questions the integrity and morals of the perpetrators (the paramilitary officers, the bystanders, the politicians, those who knew and walked away). The Brush is a grim yet powerful portrait on this tragic massacre.
Huzaifah Anuar

The Brush is an incredible example of the power of storytelling . . . arresting and beautiful.
Achylla Jones

As we continue to develop our understanding of our relative place in the Earth's ecosystem, it becomes increasingly apparent that our histories are inextricably entwined with that of our planet. This is a story of violence; against people, against planet, and against history. Hernandez-Pachon's poem is a recuperation of memory which would be otherwise lost beneath the onslaught of colonial violence.
Luke Murphy, Dubray Books

So beautifully written and heartbreaking, shows you the quiet and mighty power of poetry. This book made me reconsider what poetry can do — that it can be used as an archive, as a way of detailing inhumane horrors and the griefs that haunt time in a way that honours those subjected to the worst violence. Poetry as reclamation, poetry as preserving history. A beautiful read.
Aphra Bennett, Brompton Library

An essay on Eliana Hernández-Pachón by Robin Meyers was published in Poetry Society of America.