Every Atom | No. 197

Bessy Reyna

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

ea logo


It is September, 1990. I'm back in Panama City, a few months after the USA invasion and capture of Noriega. As I step from my hotel the doorman warns “be careful.” I run through the pouring rain to meet a political prisoner of the Torrijos-Noriega dictatorship, who awaits me in an eerily darkened office building. There is no electricity. I use my lighter to find his office number. I record the words he has not shared till this moment, desperately wanting to find any trace, any “​truth of humanity” in them.

Shivering in my rain-soaked clothes, I strain to hear him calmly describe the boat ride to Coiba, the island prison for dictators’ captives. Suddenly, memory and terror fills his voice. The soldiers threw all of  them overboard into the shark-infested waters, to die or to swim and survive to be imprisoned and tortured. This was only the beginning of what happened to this courageous man. I have listened to his story, translated it, and I'm still at a loss trying to find “truth of humanity here” to understand the horrors inflicted on him.


I try to “see myself in prison shape like another man, and feel the dull unintermitted pain” he, and so many others, were forced to endure.

placeholder width 225px height 300px

Bessy Reyna was born in Cuba and raised in Panama. She is a former opinion columnist for the Hartford Courant and a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in Service to the Literary Community by the Connecticut Center for the Book of the Library of Congress, and the Outstanding Latina in the Literary Arts and Publications Award of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education. She’s the author of  Memorias de la Amante Infiel/Memoirs of the Unfaithful Lover.


Cover art by Sarah Pauls