28 January 2012

João Cabral de Melo Neto

[from João Cabral de Melo Neto's Education by Stone: Selected Poems, tr. Richard Zenith, Archipelago, 2005]

Party at the Manor House [excerpts]
(Congressional rhythm, Northeast accent)


– The sugar mill worker
   in a large or small mill
– Is the same mill worker
   with a different rhyme.
– The sugar mill worker
   in a raw mill or refinery:
– "Sugar mill worker"
   is the crucial denominator.
– Any sugar mill worker
   from any Pernambuco:
– When he says "sugar mill worker"
   will have said everything.
– Whatever his name,
   position or salary:
– By saying "sugar mill worker,"
   he will have said it all.


– The sugar mill worker
   in female form
– Is an empty sack
   that stands on two feet.
– The female mill worker
   is essentially a sack
– Of sugar without
   any sugar inside.
– The sugar mill worker
   in female form
– Is a sack that cannot
   conserve or contain,
– She's a sack made
   just to be emptied
– Of other sacks made in her
   nobody knows how.


– The sugar mill worker
   looks like us from a distance:
– Looking closer one sees
   what sets him apart.
– The sugar mill worker
   up close, to a sharp eye:
– Is in all respects human
   but at half the price.
– He is missing nothing
   that you and I have,
   down to every detail,
   like any normal man.
– He's the same, yet seems
   to have been cut out
   by the dull scissors
   of a third-rate tailor.


– The sugar mill worker
   looks like flesh and blood:
– Looking closer one sees
   just what substance he is.
– The mill worker's body
   when actually touched
– Proves to be different,
   of a thinner consistence.
– Its texture is rough
   and at the same time slack,
   like cheap cotton cloth
   or like cotton scraps.
– Like well-worn cloths
   torn and tattered
   to where, in our language
   cloths become rags.


– The sugar mill worker
   seems to be of our clay:
– Looking closer one sees
   that his clay was grayer.
– The sugar mill worker
   is shadowy and dim:
– He never learns to shine
   like the sugar mill's steels.
– He can't even shine
   like the duller copper
   of the vats he stirs
   in the smaller mills.
– He never even learns
   to shine like the hoe handles
   he dry polishes daily
   with his sandpaper hand.


– The sugar mill worker
   when he's at work:
– Everything he works with
   feels heavy to him.
– It's as if his blood,
   though thinner than ours,
   weighed on his body
   like juice when thick.
– Like sugarcane juice which,
   after much cooking,
   gets thicker and thicker
   until it's molasses.
– The sugar mill worker
   has a heavy rhythm:
– Like the final molasses
   leaving the final vat.


– The sugar mill worker
   yellowishly lives
   among all that blue
   which is always Pernambuco.
– Even against the yellow
   of the canefield straw,
   his yellow is still yellower,
   for it reaches his morale.
– The sugar mill worker
   is the quintessential yellow:
– Yellow in his body
   and in his state of mind.
– This explains his calm,
   which can appear as wisdom:
– But it's not calmness at all,
   it's nothingness, inertia.

João Cabral de Melo Neto, 1935