27 December 2010

Pablo Neruda

[from Pablo Neruda's Confieso que he vivido, tr. Carol Peters, Plaza & Janés, 1998]

I examined [the toilet] with curiosity. It was a wooden box with a hole in the middle, very like the unit I was used to in my rural childhood, in my country. But ours sat over a deep pit or over a stream of running water. Here the receptable was a simple metal cube under the round hole.

The cube appeared clean every day without my knowing how the contents disappeared. One morning I rose earlier than usual. I stood astonished at what was happening.

From deep inside the house, like a dark moving statue, came the most beautiful woman I had seen up until that point in Ceylon, a Tamil, of the pariah caste. She wore a red & gold sari of the stiffest fabric. Above bare feet she wore heavy anklets. On either side of her nose shone two red studs. They must have been ordinary glass, but on her they seemed rubies.

She headed toward the privy with solemn steps, without seeing me, without giving the slightest sign of my existence, & disappeared with the sordid receptacle on top of her head, moving away at her godlike pace.

She was so beautiful that in spite of her humble task she stayed in my mind. As if she were a wild animal, arrived from the jungle, belonging to another existence, a separate world. I called to her without effect. Later I left some gift in her path, silk or fruit. She passed without hearing or looking. That miserable route had been transformed by her dark beauty into the obligatory ceremony of an indifferent queen.

One morning, totally determined, I took her tightly by the wrist & stared at her, face to face. I had no language to speak to her. Without a smile she allowed me to lead her & quickly she was nude on my bed. Her narrow waist, her full hips, the abundant swell of her breasts, made her the equal of thousands of sculptures in the south of India. The encounter was of a man with a statue. She stayed the whole time with her eyes open, passive. It made me despise myself. It did not happen again.

25 December 2010

Octavio Paz

[from Octavio Paz's The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz: 1957-1987, Bilingual Edition, ed. Eliot Weinberger, tr. Eliot Weinberger, New Directions, 1990]


If you are the amber mare
              I am the road of blood
If you are the first snow
              I am he who lights the hearth of dawn
If you are the tower of night
              I am the spike burning in your mind
If you are the morning tide
              I am the first bird's cry
If you are the basket of oranges
              I am the knife of the sun
If you are the stone altar
              I am the sacrilegious hand
If you are the sleeping land
              I am the green cane
If you are the wind's leap
              I am the buried fire
If you are the water's mouth
              I am the mouth of moss
If you are the forest of the clouds
              I am the axe that parts it
If you are the profaned city
              I am the rain of consecration
If you are the yellow mountain
              I am the red arms of lichen
If you are the rising sun
              I am the road of blood

23 December 2010

Omar Pérez

[from Omar Pérez's Did You Hear About the Fighting Cat?, tr. Kristin Dykstra, Shearsman, 2010]

Some call it the Game, others the Flower or the Mirror. All agree that it deals with an instrument for mutation, a fan that becomes sword, then branch -- dry or covered in flowers -- then a sudden flame, then silence. A fan for a journey.

The creature arrives on the Island with the purpose of mutation, yet the waters of the amniotic ocean cause it to forget. The creature arrives on the Island without a purpose. Later it learns: praxis, poeisis, Kyrie eleison, benedictus qui venit in nomine domini. I can't give you anything but love baby. Il faut être absolumment sincère, Cubanness is love, women are in charge.

The word is there in the game, but it is not the game. Morality and the cyclical working of consciousness are there in the game, but they are not the game. Nation is a woman bearing corn, liberty one of the childish watchwords that the players exchange. The creature practices forgetting and its body catches flame with a memory, one that lances the Island and the water separating it from other islands. O, lightning spreading across the surface of the waters! O creature upright in the body of the lightning!

"It is a technique for sincerity that comprehends all techniques," said the Man of the island mountain.

"I want to learn it," the Creature blurted.

"It's easy. Anchor the improvisational. For example, a kiss. Improvise the anchored. For example, a mountain on an island. Deal a death blow to discernment."

"And my thoughts?" the Creature protested.

"They're worthless. Consider them insects on the bark of a growing tree. That is the sublimity of thought, if you're interested in knowing it."

"I have questions to answer," the Creature reflected.

"Don't answer anything. Don't react to proofs. Another Creature awaits you now. Show it what you have forgotten."

20 December 2010

Pablo Neruda

[from Pablo Neruda's The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems (Bilingual Edition), ed. Mark Eisner, tr. Stephen Kessler, City Lights, 2004]

It Means Shadows

What hope to consider, what pure foreboding,
what definitive kiss to bury in the heart,
to submit to the origins of homelessness and intelligence,
smooth and sure over the eternally troubled waters?

What vital, speedy wings of a new dream angel
to install on my sleeping shoulders for perpetual security,
in such a way that the path through the stars of death
be a violent flight begun many days and months and centuries ago?

Suppose the natural weakness of suspicious, anxious creatures
all of a sudden seeks permanence in time and limits on earth,
suppose the accumulated ages and fatigues implacably
spread like the lunar wave of a just-created ocean
over lands and shorelines tormentedly deserted.

Oh, let what I am keep on existing and ceasing to exist,
and let my obedience align itself with such iron conditions
that the quaking of deaths and of births doesn't shake
the deep place I want to reserve for myself eternally.

Let me, then, be what I am, wherever and in whatever weather,
rooted and certain and ardent witness,
carefully, unstoppably, destroying and saving himself,
openly engaged in his original obligation.

18 December 2010

Audre Lorde

[from Audre Lorde's The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance: Poems 1987-1992, Norton, 1993]

The Electric Slide Boogie

New Year's Day 1:16 AM
and my body is weary beyond
time to withdraw and rest
ample room allowed me in everyone's head
but community calls
right over the threshold
drums beating through the walls
children playing their truck dramas
under the collapsible coatrack
in the narrow hallway outside my room

The TV lounge next door is wide open
it is midnight in Idaho
and the throb      easy      subtle      spin
of the electric slide boogie
around the corner of the parlor
past the sweet clink
of dining room glasses
and the edged aroma of slightly overdone
dutch-apple pie
all laced together
with the rich dark laughter
of Gloria
and her higher-octave sisters

How hard it is to sleep
in the middle of life.

05 December 2010

Rubén Darío

[from Rubén Darío, tr. Lysander Kemp, in Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, Texas, 1996]

To Roosevelt [1905]

The voice that would reach you, Hunter, must speak
with Biblical tones, or in the poetry of Walt Whitman.
You are primitive and modern, simple and complex;
you are one part George Washington and one part Nimrod.

You are the United States,
future invader of our naive America
with its Indian blood, an America
that still prays to Christ and still speaks Spanish.

You are a strong, proud model of your race;
you are cultured and able; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are an Alexander-Nebuchadnezzar,
breaking horses and murdering tigers.
(You are a professor of Energy,
as the current lunatics say.)

You think that life is a fire,
that progress is an irruption,
that the future is wherever
your bullet strikes.

The United States is grand and powerful.
Whenever it trembles, a profound shudder
runs down the enormous backbone of the Andes.
If it shouts, the sound is like the roar of a lion.
And Hugo said to Grant: "The stars are yours."
(The dawning sun of the Argentine barely shines;
the star of Chile is rising . . .) A wealthy country,
joining the cult of Mammon to the cult of Hercules;
while Liberty, lighting the path
to easy conquest, raises her torch in New York.

But our own America, which has had poets
since the ancient times of Nezahualcóyotl;
which preserved the footprints of great Bacchus,
and learned the Panic alphabet once,
and consulted the stars; which also knew Atlantis
(whose name comes ringing down to us in Plato)
and has lived, since the earliest moments of its life,
in light, in fire, in fragrance, and in love --
the America of Moctezuma and Atahualpa,
the aromatic America of Columbus,
Catholic America, Spanish America,
the America where noble Cuauhtémoc said:
"I am not on a bed of roses" -- our America,
trembling with hurricanes, trembling with Love:
O men with Saxon eyes and barbarous souls,
our America lives. And dreams. And loves.
And it is the daughter of the Sun. Be careful.
Long live Spanish America!
A thousand cubs of the Spanish lion are roaming free.
Roosevelt, you must become, by God's own will,
the deadly Rifleman and the dreadful Hunter
before you can clutch us in your iron claws.

And though you have everything, you are lacking one thing: God!

04 December 2010

Carlos Drummond de Andrade

[from Carlos Drummond de Andrade, tr. Mark Strand, in Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology, Texas, 1996]

Um boi vê os homens
An Ox Looks at Man

They are more delicate even than shrubs and they run
and run from one side to the other, always forgetting
something. Surely they lack I don't know what
basic ingredient, though they present themselves
as nobel or serious, at times. Oh, terribly serious,
even tragic. Poor things, one would say that they hear
neither the song of air nor the secrets of hay;
likewise they seem not to see what is visible
and common to each of us, in space. And they are sad,
and in the wake of sadness they come to cruelty.
All their expression lives in their eyes — and loses itself
to a simple lowering of lids, to a shadow.
And since there is little of the mountain about them —
nothing in the hair or in the terribly fragile limbs
but coldness and secrecy — it is impossible for them
to settle themselves into forms that are calm, lasting,
and necessary. They have, perhaps, a kind
of melancholy grace (one minute) and with this they allow
themselves to forget the problems and translucent
inner emptiness that make them so poor and so lacking
when it comes to uttering silly and painful sounds: desire, love,
(what do we know?) — sounds that scatter and fall in the field
like troubled stones and burn the herbs and water,
and after this it is hard to keep chewing away at our truth.

Pablo Neruda

ten ways of looking at a stanza
from Pablo Neruda’s “Walking Around”

[Pablo Neruda]

Por eso el día lunes arde como el petróleo
cuando me ve llegar con mi cara de cárcel,
y aúlla en su transcurso como una rueda herida,
y da pasos de sangre caliente hacia la noche.

[Google translator]

So on Monday as oil burns
when he sees me coming with my convict face,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and take[s] steps of hot blood into the night.

[John Felstiner]

That's why Monday flares up like gas
when it sees me coming with my jailhouse face,
and howls like a wounded wheel as it goes by,
and makes hot bloody tracks toward night.

[Forrest Gander]

That’s why Monday burns like kerosene
when it sees me show up with my mugshot face,
and it shrieks on its way like a wounded wheel,
trailing hot bloody footprints into the night.

[W. S. Merwin]

For this reason Monday burns like oil
at the sight of me arriving with my jail-face,
and it howls in passing like a wounded wheel,
and its footsteps towards nightfall are filled with hot blood.

[Jerome Rothenberg]

So the day called Monday started burning like oil
when it sees me pull in with my face of a jailhouse,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and leaves tracks of hot blood in the direction of night.

[Ben Belitt]

That’s why Monday flares up like an oil-slick,
when it sees me up close, with the face of a jailbird,
or squeaks like a broken-down wheel as it goes,
stepping hot-blooded into the night.

[Robert Bly]

That's why Monday, when it sees me coming
with my convict face, blazes up like gasoline,
and it howls on its way like a wounded wheel,
and leaves tracks full of warm blood leading toward the night.

[Donald Devenish Walsh]

That is why Monday day burns like petroleum
when it sees me coming with my jailbird face,
and as it passes it howls like a wounded wheel,
and it takes hot-blooded steps toward the night.

[Nathaniel Tarn?]

This is why, Monday, the day, is burning like petrol,
when it sees me arrive with my prison features,
and it screeches going by like a scorched tire
and its footsteps tread hot with blood towards night.

03 December 2010

Pablo Neruda

[from John Felstiner's Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu, Stanford, 1980]

Walking Around

It so happens I'm tired of being a man.
It so happens I walk into tailorshops and movies
all shriveled up, impervious, like a swan of felt
steering through waters of origin and ash.

The smell of barbershops makes me break out sobbing.
All I want is the quiet of stones or wool,
all I want is to see no stores or gardens,
or merchandise or eyeglasses or elevators.

It so happens I'm tired of my feet and fingernails
and my hair and my shadow.
It so happens I'm tired of being a man.

Still it would be delightful
to frighten a notary with a cut lily
or do in a nun with one smack of an ear.
It would be great
to go through the streets with a green knife
screaming until I died of cold.

I just can't go on as a root in the dark,
swaying, stretching, shivering with sleep,
downwards, in the soaking guts of the earth,
absorbing and musing, eating every day.

I don't want so much misery for me.
I can't go on being root and tomb,
isolated cellar, warehouse of frozen
stiffs, dying of grief.

That's why Monday flares up like gas
when it sees me coming with my jailhouse face,
and howls like a wounded wheel as it goes by,
and makes hot bloody tracks toward night.

And shoves me to certain corners, certain dank houses,
to hospitals with bones coming out the window,
to certain shoestores reeking of vinegar,
to streets as frightful as crevices.

There are sulfur-colored birds and hideous intestines
hanging from the doors of houses I hate,
there are false teeth forgotten in a coffeepot,
there are mirrors
that must have wept for shame and horror,
there are umbrellas everywhere, and poisons, and navels.

I'm walking around with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with rage, with forgetfulness,
I walk along, I go past offices and orthopedic shops,
and backyards with clothing hung from a wire:
underpants, towels, and shirts that weep
slow dirty tears.