This entry is part 27 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Juana de IbarbourouSuccessful from early in her writing career, ceremonially baptised “Juana de América,” and once popular way beyond her own country and continent, the face of Juana de Ibarbourou (1892-1979) is on thousand-peso notes in her native Uruguay, but she seems no longer to be as well known internationally or as much published in translation as one might expect. Read more (if still frustratingly little) about her on Wikipedia.

Surfing through online poetry sites, skittering through countries and centuries, pulling out a few – not necessarily the most representative – poems that grab me and having a bash at translating them, is an ahistorical and superficial approach, perhaps. But it’s a bit like being an inexperienced prospector panning for gold – and finding it. The second of these poems, Bajo la Lluvia, is set to join my all-time favourites.

What I Am for You

           A doe
eating fragrant grass out of your hand.

           A dog
that follows everywhere in your footsteps.

           A star
twice as bright and sparkly just for you.

           A spring
rippling snake-like at your feet.

           A flower
whose honey and whose scent are yours alone.

For you I’m all of these,
I gave you my soul in all its guises.
The doe, the dog, the heavenly body and the flower,
the living water flowing at your feet.
           My soul is all
           for you, my

Lo que soy para tí

que come en tus manos la olorosa hierba.

que sigue tus pasos doquiera que van.

para ti doblada de sol y centella.

que a tus pies ondula como una serpiente.

que para ti solo da mieles y olor.

Todo eso yo soy para tí,
mi alma en todas sus formas te dí.
Cierva y can, astro y flor,
agua viva que glisa a tus pies,
            Mi alma es
            para tí,

Being Rained On

How the rain is sliding down my back!
How it’s soaking into my skirt
and planting its icy cold on my cheeks!
It’s raining, raining, raining.

And I’m off, I’m on my way,
with a lightness in my soul and a smile on my face,
with no emotions, no dreams,
just full of the pleasure of not thinking.

Here’s a bird taking a bath
in a muddy puddle. Surprised by my presence,
it pauses… looks me in the eye… feels like we’re friends…
We’re both in love with sky and fields and wheat!

Then the startled face
of a passing labourer with his hoe on his shoulder
and the rain is drenching me in all the scents
of October hedges.

And, soaked to the skin as I am,
a kind of wonderful, stupendous crown of crystal drops,
of flowers stripped of their petals,
pours over me from the astonished plants I brush against.

And I feel, in this mindless,
sleepless state, the pleasure,
the infinite, sweet, strange delight
of a moment’s oblivion.

It’s raining, raining, raining,
and in my soul and in my flesh, this icy cold.

Bajo la lluvia

¡Cómo resbala el agua por mi espalda!
¡Cómo moja mi falda,
y pone en mis mejillas su frescura de nieve!
Llueve, llueve, llueve.

Y voy, senda adelante,
con el alma ligera y la cara radiante,
sin sentir, sin soñar,
llena de la voluptuosidad de no pensar.

Un pájaro se baña
en una charca turbia. Mi presencia le extraña,
se detiene… me mira… nos sentimos amigos…
¡Los dos amamos muchos cielos, campos y trigos!

Después es el asombro
de un labriego que pasa con su azada al hombro
y la lluvia me cubre de todas las fragancias
de los setos de octubre.

Y es, sobre mi cuerpo por el agua empapado
como un maravilloso y estupendo tocado
de gotas cristalinas, de flores deshojadas
que vuelcan a mi paso las plantas asombradas.

Y siento, en la vacuidad
del cerebro sin sueño, la voluptuosidad
del placer infinito, dulce y desconocido,
de un minuto de olvido.

Llueve, llueve, llueve,
y tengo en alma y carne, como un frescor de nieve.

The Fig Tree

Because she’s rough and ugly,
her branches uniformly grey,
the fig tree moves me to pity.

At my country place are a hundred lovelies,
bushy plum trees,
upright lemons,
shiny-leaved orange trees.

Every springtime,
clothed in blossom,
they crowd around the fig tree.

Poor thing, how sad she looks,
with her twisted, truncated branches
that never sport tight little buds…

That’s why
each time I’m near her
I murmur, summoning
my sweetest, blithest tones:
“the fig tree is the loveliest
of all the orchard’s trees.”

And if she hears me,
if she understands my words,
what a deep sweetness will make its nest
in her sensitive tree-soul!

Perhaps, in a trance of pleasure,
while the wind fans her topmost branches,
she’ll tell the night:

Today I was called beautiful!

La Higuera

Porque es áspera y fea,
porque todas sus ramas son grises,
yo le tengo piedad a la higuera.

En mi quinta hay cien árboles bellos,
ciruelos redondos,
limoneros rectos
y naranjos de brotes lustrosos.

En las primaveras,
todos ellos se cubren de flores
en torno a la higuera.

Y la pobre parece tan triste
con sus gajos torcidos que nunca
de apretados capullos se visten…

Por eso,
cada vez que yo paso a su lado,
digo, procurando
hacer dulce y alegre mi acento:
«Es la higuera el más bello
de los árboles todos del huerto».

Si ella escucha,
si comprende el idioma en que hablo,
¡qué dulzura tan honda hará nido
en su alma sensible de árbol!

Y tal vez, a la noche,
cuando el viento abanique su copa,
embriagada de gozo le cuente:

¡Hoy a mí me dijeron hermosa!

This entry is part 26 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Alejandra PizarnikI’ve long admired the writing of Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972), but her mastery of the short poem has become an especially important inspiration for me in the past two and a half years since I began my Pepys Diary erasure project, as I’ve struggled to make whole-seeming poems with very few words. During this same period, a new Pizarnik translator has appeared on the scene, Yvette Siegert. Her translations of El infierno musical (A Musical Hell, New Directions, 2013) and Árbol de Diana (Diana’s Tree, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014) are so perfect, I almost didn’t bother attempting any of my own translations from those collections. But finally I couldn’t resist, telling myself it would be a worthwhile exercise to deliberately make my versions as different from hers as I could, since of course there’s never such a thing as a definitive translation. Nevertheless, I still think hers are better in every instance. (Check out her essay “Forgetting Language: Translating Diana’s Tree.”) As for my other translations below, they too should be left in the dust in two months’ time, when Siegert’s translation of all of Pizarnik’s middle and late poems, Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962 – 1972, is due out.

Somewhat shockingly, this will be, as the publisher (New Directions) notes, “The first full-length collection in English by one of Latin America’s most significant twentieth-century poets.” For those who have some Spanish, there’s a generous selection of Pizarnik poems at a website devoted to poètes maudits: Escritores Malditos. (Pizarnik certainly deserves inclusion in such a gathering, especially since Rimbaud and Lautréamont were among her biggest influences.) Finally, for anyone with even a passing interest in Latin American literature or the relationship between writing and mental illness, let alone the background and tumultuous life of a great poet, I highly recommend the award-winning documentary Alejandra, by Argentine filmmakers Ernesto Ardito and Virna Molina. It tells Pizarnik’s story through interviews with her sister, her biographer, and various friends and lovers as well as through excerpts from her diary, letters and poems. It’s a highly poetic documentary in the way it was written and shot, and is simply an outstanding film in every way (except for the English translation in the subtitles, which is slightly dodgy in places).


from Tree of Diana (Árbol de Diana)


for one minute of fleeting life
the only one in which eyes are open
for one minute of seeing
small flowers dance in the brain
like words in a mute person’s mouth

por un minuto de vida breve
única de ojos abiertos
por un minuto de ver
en el cerebro flores pequeñas
danzando como palabras en la boca de un mudo


you’ve built your house
you’ve put feathers on your birds
you’ve struck the wind
with your own bones

alone you’ve finished
what no one began

has construido tu casa
has emplumado tus pájaros
has golpeado al viento
con tus propios huesos

has terminado sola
lo que nadie comenzó


a glimpse from the gutter
can become a complete worldview

rebellion consists of gazing at a rose
until your eyes are reduced to dust

una mirada desde la alcantarilla
puede ser una visión del mundo

la rebelión consiste en mirar una rosa
hasta pulverizarse los ojos


for André Pieyre de Mandiargues

We live with one hand on the throat here. Those who used to invent the rains and spin words from the torment of absence already realized that nothing is possible. That’s why their prayers had the sound of hands in love with fog.

Aquí vivimos con una mano en la garganta. Que nada es posible ya lo sabían los que inventaban lluvias y tejían palabras con el tormento de la ausencia. Por eso en sus plegarias había un sonido de manos enamoradas de la niebla.

a André Pieyre de Mandiargues



for Emily Dickinson

On the other side of the night
her name is waiting for her,
her surreptitious urge to live—
on the other side of the night!

Something cries in the air;
sounds are sketching out the dawn.
She ponders eternity.


para Emily Dickinson

Del otro lado de la noche
la espera su nombre,
su subrepticio anhelo de vivir,
¡del otro lado de la noche!

Algo llora en el aire,
los sonidos diseñan el alba.
Ella piensa en la eternidad.



Miniscule lady
tenant in the heart of a bird
she goes out at dawn to pronounce a single syllable


Dama pequeñísima
moradora en el corazón de un pájaro
sale al alba a pronunciar una sílaba


Like Water Over a Stone

whoever goes back to pursue a former pursuit
night closes over her like water over a stone
like air over a bird
like two bodies closing to make love

Como agua sobre una piedra

a quien retorna en busca de su antiguo buscar
la noche se le cierra como agua sobre una piedra
como aire sobre un pájaro
como se cierran dos cuerpos al amarse


Vertigos, or Meditation on Something that Ends

The lilac sheds its leaves.
It falls away from itself
and conceals its old shadow.
I should die from things like this.

Vértigos o contemplación de algo que termina

Esta lila se deshoja.
Desde sí misma cae
y oculta su antigua sombra.
He de morir de cosas así.


The Musical Inferno

They beat with suns

Nothing connects to anything else here

And with so much dead animal in the graveyard of my memory’s pointed bones

And with so many nuns like crows flocking in to peck between my legs

I’m broken by the weight of these shards

Tainted dialogue

A desperate dice-throw of verbiage

Liberated in herself

Sinking like a ship into herself

El infierno musical

Golpean con soles

Nada se acopla con nada aquí

Y de tanto animal muerto en el cementerio de huesos filosos de mi memoria

Y de tantas monjas como cuervos que se precipitan a hurgar entre mis piernas

La cantidad de fragmentos me desgarra

Impuro diálogo

Un proyectarse desesperado de la materia verbal

Liberada a sí misma

Naufragando en sí misma


This entry is part 25 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Anne BrunelleA really neat piece by Anne Brunelle. Quite tricky in places with the tension between the literal & the dreamlike nature of memory, so I’d welcome suggestions for improvement.

Anne Brunelle is a poet & novelist, born in Montreal in 1956. Published in many journals & with two collections out.


blood-gold reflections of the kir
in the milky half-light
of a storm in apostrophes
gouts of mustard
on our forks of broken sticks

the swarm of babbled memories
buzzing through the dialogue
barely concealing the startled joy
of our vigilant bodies

an arabesque of pointillist brush-strokes
between the watercress beds
and the saffron of your eye

an old man busy on the pavement
pushing flakes with slow strokes of his broom

the candle snickers
our bubble reforms
your lips against my palm
sew the stitches of our reunion
whispering a picture clear and open
out of the incarnation
of a still unconsummated desire.



reflets d’or sanglant du kir
dans la demi-nuit laiteuse
d’une tempête en apostrophe
éclats de moutarde
sous nos fourchettes à bâtons rompus

la nuée de souvenirs babillards
effleure le dialogue
dissimule à peine l’euphorie étonnée
de nos corps à l’écoute

arabesque de frôlements pointillistes
entre le lit de cresson
et le safran de ton oeil

un vieil homme s’affaire sur le trottoir
dissémine à lents coups de balais
flocons et modestie

la chandelle ricane
notre bulle se reforme
tes lèvres sur ma paume
ourlent la saveur de nos retrouvailles
murmurent un portrait ouvert
sur l’incarnation
d’un désir toujours vierge

TROIS, volume 14, numéro 1, p. 136 (1999).

This entry is part 24 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Yves PréfontaineQuite a challenge, this one. It’s always a delicate balance that has to be maintained between ‘translation’ and ‘version’ so I shall be interested in any feedback from other Francophones.

I found a brief biog of Yves Préfontaine at the Electronic Poetry Centre (which, incidentally, opened for business way back in the mid ‘90s when there was virtually no poetry presence on the internet at all).

Born in 1937 in Montréal, poet Yves Préfontaine is an anthropologist by training. He published his first poems at the age of fifteen and released his first collection at twenty. At eighteen, he began his career as radio script writer at Radio-Canada, with some incursions into television. He organized, amongst other things, a series of fourteen shows with Oscar Peterson, the great jazz pianist – who was also originally from Montréal. In 1959, he co-founded the journals Situations and Le Québec libre; later he joined the editorial board of Liberté, of which he was the editor-in-chief from 1961 to 1962. […] His poems have been translated into English, Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, Romanian, and Croatian.

Read the rest.

Population void

I live in a region where the cold has beaten down the grass, where grey gloom lies heavy over the ghostly trees.

I live in silence amongst a dormant population, shivering under the frost of their words. I live amongst a people who have lost all words both fragile and forceful.

I live inside an all-embracing cry –
Speechless stone –
Sudden clifftops –
Naked blade in my chest in winter.

A snowdrift of exhaustion gently stifles this land in which I live.

And I prevail within the fog.
And I persist in speaking out.
And from my pain no echo returns.

A people’s language is their bread.
A small substance amongst the rotting wheat.

I live amongst an uprooted people.
And the spreading fields of their joy wither beneath this endless tundra
This great disowned abundance.
I live inside a cry powerless now to pierce, to strike, to knock through
these barriers of spittle and masks.
I live amongst a phantom people cast out like an ugly daughter.
And my footsteps mark a circle in this desert. A tirade of furious white faces surrounds me.

The land that I inhabit is a marble tableau under ice.
And this land empty of the men of light whispers in my blood
like a lover.
But I fight against this absence between my teeth, a poverty of words
that scintillate and then are lost.


Peuple inhabité

J’habite un espace où le froid triomphe de l’herbe, où la grisaille règne
en lourdeur sur des fantômes d’arbres.

J’habite en silence un peuple qui sommeille, frileux sous le givre de ses mots. J’habite un peuple dont se tarit la parole frêle et brusque.

J’habite un cri tout alentour de moi –
Pierre sans verbe –
Falaise abrupte –
Lame nue dans ma poitrine l’hiver.

Une neige de fatigue étrangle avec douceur le pays que j’habite.

Et je persiste en des fumées.
Et je m’acharne à parler.
Et la blessure n’a point d’écho.

Le pain d’un peuple est sa parole.
Mais point de clarté dans le blé qui pourrit.

J’habite un peuple qui ne s’habite plus.
Et les champs entiers de la joie se flétrissent sous tant de sécheresse
Et tant de gerbes reniées.
J’habite un cri qui n’en peut plus de heurter, de cogner, d’abattre
Ces parois de crachats et de masques.
J’habite le spectre d’un peuple renié comme fille sans faste.
Et mes pas font un cercle en ce désert. Une pluie de visages blancs
Me cerne de fureur.

Le pays que j’habite est un marbre sous la glace.
Et ce pays sans hommes de lumière glisse dans mes veines comme
Femme que j’aime.
Or je sévis contre l’absence avec entre les dents, une pauvreté de mots
Qui brillent et se perdent.

This entry is part 23 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Ricardo MazoParaguayan poet Ricardo Mazó (1927-1987) worked as an engineer and geologist. He is regarded as one of the Promoción del 50, a group of 1950’s poets, mainly from the Academia Universitaria and the Faculty of Philosophy in Asunción, who wrote socially engaged poetry during Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship (1954–1989). Briznas: suerte de antología (Scraps: A Kind of Anthology), 1982, gathers together 73 poems written between the years 1940 and 1980. Solitude, absence, nostalgia, distance, boredom, as well as a constant search for the self, a recurrent encounter with time, and fixation on an unceasing memory, are the dominant motifs of his poetry. He’s also known for his Spanish translation of Hegel’s Introduction to Aesthetics. (Cribbed from the Wikipedia. Read the rest, or see the Spanish bio at Portal Guarani.)

Repeating Myself


Here it comes again
the disturbing presence of hours
my relentless
awareness of time
and the constant
repetition of a single souvenir.


Now that the moment’s gone
carnation’s sudden blossom,
face no sooner seen, instantly befriended,
premonitory sigh, ingenuous love.

Now that I can’t shake hands
without missing a beat,
now that the moon’s a symbol, and my deserted
heart lowers the sluice and locks the gate
for fear of drowning
in bitter blood, stagnant blood.

…in two words,
barely a fraction of myself,
still I had to see you, so many times
that finally, loving you was my only option.


I had to love you even though it was no more
than a wasted clarion call, I regret
leaving misleading tracks in the sand.

I’ll tell you my love:
—a rush of blood, a delirium
of contrary and untamed feelings—

arteries open and words spoken
and the expectations such audacity reveals.


Because of the way things are we will never
be able to share Christmas Eve.

December 1953

Repetición de mi mismo


Otra vez hoy conmigo la inquietante
presencia de las horas,
la continua
apreciación del tiempo
y la constante
repetición de un único recuerdo.


Ahora que ya ha pasado el tiempo
del clavel florecido en un momento,
del rostro que se mira y se hace amigo,
del suspiro precoz y del amor sencillo.

Ahora que no puedo dar la mano
sin que sienta un latir destituido,
que la luna es el símbolo, y desierto
mi corazón se rige con compuertas
por temor que se me inunde el cuerpo
de sangre amarga -y de sangre muerta-.

y, en dos palabras,
una fracción apenas de mí mismo,
he tenido que verte tantas veces
que al fin no pude menos que quererte.


He tenido que amarte aunque no fuera
más que un clarión gastado, arrepentido
de hacer trazos mentidos en el suelo.

Y decirte mi amor:
-un tumulto de sangre, un desvarío
de sentires opuestos e indomables-.

La arteria abierta y la palabra dicha.
y la espera que sigue a tanta audacia descubierta.


Porque así son las cosas se que nunca
podremos compartir la nochebuena.

This entry is part 22 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

A translation of a pyramid poem by Québécois poet, writer, artist, and musician Raôul (or Raöul) Duguay. I’m not sure quite what to make of it, but I do like the chords and discords that result from reading it out loud. It comes across as a sort of Lucky’s speech from ‘Godot’ without any syntactical architecture!

ah ah
mine thine
yes          no
all       nothing
flower        nettle
bird               viper
universe              cell
order a             disorder
starfishy                nebula
atom    bread      butter   fire
air    freedom    water   slavery
sun        field       town         alley
plane       earth         globe       lunar
light       garden     shadow      asphalt
tree    delight    day    night   tear   fear
house     table     wheat   room     province
state   stone     weather     space     particles
east      full     love      west    empty    hunger
smile      caress      you       him      fear      work
luck   spring   someone   theirs  muscles  iron   foot
hand   breast   sweet woman  sex   arms   wife    rock
heart  essence  thirst   faith    flesh   existence   prison
light   summer    leaf    juice    autumn    plastic   concrete
mountain     horse       pathway      valley       car     cement
egg    hatching     health    mother     bomb     blood      scratch
music    star    snow    pine  tree     cry     sleep     twilight    law
color rhythm butterfly game earthworm grey speed stop wolfpack
dance    wave    ocean    shoreline   salt   accident   face    foam   slide
singing  prayer speaking book sun  machine radio television plan caress
drawing     line    curve    volume    step    building    silver   electricity   go
fruit   vegetable    milk   honey  cereals   hot  dog  hamburger  steak  potatoes
child   woman   beauty   peace   MAN   MAN   animal   vegetable   mineral  moved

Due to the difficulty of having a poem formatted in HTML appear the same in all environments, we present an alternate version in image form below:

oh by Raôul Duguay

Here’s the original (not to be confused with another Duguay pyramid poem of the same title):

a  a
ma ta
oui  non
tout  rien
fleur   ortie
oiseau  vipère
univers   cellule
ordre un désordre
astérisme nébuleuse
atome pain beurre feu
air  liberté   eau  esclave
soleil  champ   ville   ruelle
planète  terre   globe  lunaire
lumière  jardin  ombre  asphalte
arbre   joie   jour   nuit  pleur  peur
maison  table  blé   chambre  province
pays  pierre  temps  espace   poussières
orient   plein   amour  occident  vide  faim
sourire    caresse   toi   lui    crainte   travail
bonheur  printemps  on eux  muscles  fer pied
main sein femme bonté sexe bras femme roche
coeur  essence  soif   foi  corps  existence   prison
lumière   feuille  été  jus   automne  plastique  béton
montagne  cheval  sentiers   vallée   automobile  ciment
oeuf  éclosion  santé  maman  bombe explosion sang bobo
musique   étoile  neige  sapin   cri  sommeil  crépuscule  loi
couleur  rythme   papillon   jeu  ver  gris  vitesse  stop meute
danse  vague  océan  rivage  sel  accident   visage  écume  coulée
chant prière parole  livre sol machine radio télévision  plancaresse
dessin   ligne  courbe   volume  pas  building   argent   électricité  go
fruit  légume  lait   miel  céréales  hot dog   hamburger  steak   patates
enfant femme  beauté paix HOMME HOMME animal végétal minéral  mû

This entry is part 21 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Gabriela Mistral in 1945The Chilean poet, schoolteacher and diplomat Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957) was the first Latin American to win a Nobel Prize in Literature (but curiously, not the first Mistral), and though she remains much less known in the English-speaking world than her countryman Pablo Neruda, she’s widely read in Latin America, especially her poems about motherhood. (I’ll give an example of those in the form of a videopoem made with someone else’s translation.) I have several volumes of Mistral’s poetry in English translation, and all of them have their good points, but I can only wholeheartedly recommend the most recent one: Madwomen: The “Locas mujeres” Poems of Gabriela Mistral, a bilingual edition edited and translated by Randall Couch. Written late in life, the “locas mujeres” poems are among her most complex and rewarding, and I didn’t attempt to translate any of them myself since Mr. Couch has pretty much aced them. But I did translate her earlier poem “The Foreigner,” which is a portrait kind of in that same vein, albeit more satirical. Her poems of mourning are especially effective; “One Word” (“Una palabra”) is an example. Though she was a very private person, she’s known to have been deeply affected by the suicides first of a lover in 1909, and then in 1943 of a teenaged nephew she’d raised as a son.

As a progressive reformer and early feminist with many traditional, Catholic beliefs, Mistral is difficult to pigeonhole, which means that everyone from the left to the right can claim her as their own. It would be difficult to over-emphasize her prominence in Chile, where her portrait appears on the 5000-peso bill—which would be rather akin to the U.S. putting the combined portraits of Eleanor Roosevelt and Emily Dickinson on the ten-dollar bill. (Not a bad idea, come to think of it.)

The Sad Mother

Video by Harry Garcia. The (uncredited) translator is Maria Giachetti, in A Gabriela Mistral Reader. Here’s the original:

La Madre Triste

Duerme, duerme, dueño mío,
sin zozobra, sin temor,
aunque no se duerma mi alma,
aunque no descanse yo.

Duerme, duerme y en la noche
seas tú menos rumor
que la hoja de la hierba,
que la seda del vellón.

Duerma en ti la carne mía,
mi zozobra, mi temblor.
En ti ciérrense mis ojos:
¡duerma en ti mi corazón!


A video of my own, made back in 2011 with a reading by Nic S. and some footage I shot of my friend L. See the original post on Via Negativa for some process notes.


I have a steadfast joy
and a joy that’s lost:
one like a rose,
the other a thorn.
That which was stolen from me
is still in my possession:
I have a steadfast joy
and a joy that’s lost,
and I’m rich with purple
and with melancholy.
Ah, how beloved is the rose,
how loving the thorn!
Like the double outline
of twin fruits,
I have a steadfast joy
and a joy that’s lost…


Tengo la dicha fiel
y la dicha perdida:
la una como rosa,
la otra como espina.
De lo que me robaron
no fui desposeída;
tengo la dicha fiel
y la dicha perdida,
y estoy rica de púrpura
y de melancolía.
¡Ay, qué amante es la rosa
y qué amada la espina!
Como el doble contorno
de dos frutas mellizas
tengo la dicha fiel
y la dicha perdida.

The Foreigner

for Francis de Miomandre

“She speaks with the lilt of her barbaric seas,
salted with who knows what wrack and sands,
prays to a formless, weightless god
and is so ancient she seems about to die.
Our garden has become foreign to us
with the cactus and clawed herbs she’s planted.
Raised on the breath of the desert,
she has loved with a white-hot passion
she never talks about, for if she told us
it would be like the map of a different star.
She will live among us for 80 years
but it will always seem as if she just arrived,
speaking a language that pants and growls
and is only understood by small animals.
And she will die in our midst
one night when her suffering is greatest
with only her fate for a pillow—
a silent, foreign death.”

La extranjera

A Francis de Miomandre

—«Habla con dejo de sus mares bárbaros,
con no sé qué algas y no sé qué arenas;
reza oración a dios sin bulto y peso,
envejecida como si muriera.
En huerto nuestro que nos hizo extraño,
ha puesto cactus y zarpadas hierbas.
Alienta del resuello del desierto
y ha amado con pasión de que blanquea,
que nunca cuenta y que si nos contase
sería como el mapa de otra estrella.
Vivirá entre nosotros ochenta años,
pero siempre será como si llega,
hablando lengua que jadea y gime
y que le entienden sólo bestezuelas.
Y va a morirse en medio de nosotros,
en una noche en la que más padezca,
con sólo su destino por almohada,
de una muerte callada y extranjera».

One Word

I have one word in my throat
and I can’t get it out, can’t get free of it
however hard its throb of blood pushes.
If I did spit it out, it would scorch the grass,
drain the lamb of blood, make birds fall from the sky.

I must excise it from my tongue,
find a beaver den
or entomb it beneath a ton of lime,
because unguarded, its flight is like the soul’s.

I don’t want to give any sign of what I’m living though
as it comes and goes with my blood,
rises and sinks with my mad breath.
My father Job may have uttered it, blazing,
but I don’t want my pathetic mouth to give it voice—
it might roll off and be discovered by the women
who go to the river, get tangled in their hair,
and leave the pitiful thickets burnt and ravaged.

I want to scatter seeds of such violence,
they’d overwhelm and smother it in one night
without leaving a single, pulverized syllable.
I want to break with it the way an adder parts
with half its teeth,

and returning home, go in and sleep—
cut free of it, severed from it—
and wake up two thousand days later,
birthed anew by sleep and oblivion,

never again to know that I’d had
a word of iodine and aluminum on my lips,
nor to recall that fateful night:
the residence in a foreign country,
the ambush, the lightning at the door,
my flesh continuing to function without a soul!

Una palabra

Yo tengo una palabra en la garganta
y no la suelto, y no me libro de ella
aunque me empuje su empellón de sangre.
Si la soltase, quema el pasto vivo,
sangra al cordero, hace caer al pájaro.

Tengo que desprenderla de mi lengua,
hallar un agujero de castores
o sepultarla con cales y cales
porque no guarde como el alma el vuelo.

No quiero dar señales de que vivo
mientras que por mi sangre vaya y venga
y suba y baje por mi loco aliento.
Aunque mi padre Job la dijo, ardiendo
no quiero darle, no, mi pobre boca
porque no ruede y la hallen las mujeres
que van al río, y se enrede a sus trenzas
y al pobre matorral tuerza y abrase.

Yo quiero echarle violentas semillas
que en una noche la cubran y ahoguen
sin dejar de ella el cisco de una sílaba.
O rompérmela así, como a la víbora
que por mitad se parte con los dientes.

Y volver a mi casa, entrar, dormirme,
cortada de ella, rebanada de ella,
y despertar después de dos mil días
recién nacida de sueño y olvido.

¡Sin saber más que tuve una palabra
de yodo y piedra-alumbre entre los labios
ni saber acordarme de una noche,
de una morada en país extranjero,
de la celada y el rayo de la puerta
y de mi carne marchando sin su alma!

The Redistribution

If they put me next to
a woman blind from birth,
I would tell her in a low voice—
so low it would be full of dust—
Sister, take my eyes.

After all, what do I need eyes for
up above, brimming with light?
In my homeland, I’ll have to don
a body made entirely of pupil,
mirror returning
one wide eye without an eyelid.

I’ll cross the country
with eyes in my hands,
the two hands happily employed
in spelling out the unseen
and naming the guessed-at.

Let my knees go to someone
whose own have been rendered
stiff and inflexible
by snows or frost.

Let another take my arms
if hers have been amputated.
Others may have my senses
with their thirsts and hungers.

In this way, let me be used up
and shared out like a loaf,
crumbs tossed to the north or south
so I’ll never again be one.

I will be lightened
as if by coppicing,
limbs falling and unburdening me
of this tree-like self.

Ah, what a relief! Oh sweet reward,
vertical descent!

El Reparto

Si me ponen al costado
la ciega de nacimiento,
le diré, bajo, bajito,
con la voz llena de polvo:
—Hermana, toma mis ojos.

¿Ojos? ¿para qué preciso
arriba y llena de lumbres?
En mi Patria he de llevar
todo el cuerpo hecho pupila,
espejo devolvedor
ancha pupila sin párpados.

Iré yo a campo traviesa
con los ojos en las manos
y las dos manos dichosas
deletreando lo no visto
nombrando lo adivinado.

Tome otra mis rodillas
si las suyas se quedaron
trabadas y empedernidas
por las nieves o la escarcha.

Otra tómeme los brazos
si es que se los rebanaron.
Y otras tomen mis sentidos
con su sed y con su hambre.

Acabe así, consumada
repartida como hogaza
lanzada a sur o a norte
no seré nunca más una.

Será mi aligeramiento
como un apear de ramas
que me abajan y descargan
de mí misma, como de árbol.

¡Ah, respiro, ay dulce pago,
vertical descendimiento!

This entry is part 20 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

France ThéoretMore of a version, an approach, somewhere towards a translation of this experimental work from the 1970s. Probably no coincidence that, of all the random selection of poetry from Quebec to be found on the web, this impossible text drew me, since I’m more or less of the poet’s generation and marked by the explosion in women’s lives, identities and language forty years ago. Anyway, I love it. It’s incantatory. It’s feelings trying to burst out of language and almost managing to do so.

Born in Montreal in 1942, France Théoret became in the 1970s a leading figure in avant-garde and feminist writing and publishing in Quebec. She remains a prominent and prolific author of poetry, novels and socially and politically engaged non-fiction and won Quebec’s major literary award in 2012. This is from her first published work, Bloody Mary (1977).

So Rigid is the Desert of the Other

the his the hers the him the her the words of love of dreams misspoken phrases I mistake myself misspeak the dumb the dumb-arse phrases in my head yes what I said clear little words dear little girl yes she who juggles lazy afternoons of missed appointments secrets secret rendezvous where nothing happens cries and thirst the mental dumping ground so vast so dispossessed walled up in fear of words of where we’re headed of disorder right inside this body clenched so tight the belly gripes the lofty ceilings shift look fit to burst I dream it standing up or lying down I speak to you of nothing such sweet nothings these damp thighs take all the space so nothing’s left and every joint has stiffened up no circulation obligation I’m obliged to speak how could I have believed when every phrase is back-to-front when words come from behind beginning at the end unmaking discourse bit by bit as if these phrases really could read backwards or as if there were a hole as my own body has a hole through which I might reverse my skin from end to end might turn it inside out all red all rough as I imagine it a torture to the eyes and dumb with terror then my body not my words Oh I misspeak! I have misspoken as I see you as I saw you raging fires of Saint John these words that should be chased away pushed back not gone but silenced silenced silenced not the same at all the sign in place the arse the innocence of head of arse from arse to head from head to arse a bridge of words


The hours the days the years the depths the weariness of lazy afternoons. I watch myself. I’m keeping a close eye. So rigid is the desert of the Other.

Si rigide le désert de l’Autre

d’il d’elle de lui d’elle les mots de l’amour rêves phrases déparlantes je me dépare je déparle les phrases si muettes dans ma tête je me répète comme une petite fille si claires oui oui jongleuse des fins d’après-midi rendez-vous manqués puis masqués masque rien n’arrive les cris la soif l’ordure mentale si grande si dépossédée emmurée dans la peur des mots du sens de la marche le désordre jusque dans le corps crispé ça serre au ventre ça remue les hauts plafonds qui vont éclater je rêve debout couchée je te parle de rien de tellement rien les cuisses humides prennent toute la place plus rien toutes les jointures se bloquent finie la circulation l’obligation je suis obligée de parler pourquoi l’avoir cru les phrases s’inversent les mots viennent par-derrière commencer par la fin défaire bout pour bout le discours comme si c’était possible les phrases commencent par la fin comme s’il y avait trou comme il y a un trou dans mon corps à partir duquel je pourrais retourner bout pour bout ma peau par l’envers rouge j’imagine rugueuse torture pour les yeux muette de terreur mon corps non mes phrases oh ! je déparle oh ! j’ai déparlé comme je te vois comme je t’ai vu les hauts fourneaux de saint-jean-de-dieu les mots qui devraient filer vite nets ou bloquer non pas bloquer mais se taire se taire se taire ça n’est pas pareil le geste à la place le cul est innocence de la tête et du cul du cul à la tête de la tête au cul une traversée des mots


Les heures les jours les années l’épaisseur le sommeil les fatigues des fins d’après-midi. Je me surveille de près. Je me tiens à l’œil. Si rigide le désert de l’Autre.

This entry is part 19 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Cesar Vallejo in 1929I have been revisiting these poems off and on for thirty years, relishing their fire and their dissonances, but that doesn’t make them any easier to translate. César Vallejo probably doesn’t need any introduction, but the first paragraph of the English Wikipedia article is nicely done and worth quoting:

César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza (March 16, 1892 – April 15, 1938) was a Peruvian poet, writer, playwright, and journalist. Although he published only three books of poetry during his lifetime, he is considered one of the great poetic innovators of the 20th century in any language. He was always a step ahead of literary currents, and each of his books was distinct from the others, and, in its own sense, revolutionary. Thomas Merton called him “the greatest universal poet since Dante”. The late British poet, critic and biographer Martin Seymour-Smith, a leading authority on world literature, called Vallejo “…the greatest twentieth-century poet in any language.” He was a member of the intellectual community called North Group formed in the Peruvian north coastal city of Trujillo.

I’ve selected five of his poems, beginning with his most famous of all and going more or less in chronological order. Rachel Rawlins, Jean Morris and Alicia E-Bourdin each helped me better understand the second poem, “Voy a hablar de la esperanza.” As Jean commented on Facebook, it’s nearly impossible in English “to capture the depth and build-up of feeling in so much wordiness and repetition, as demonstrated by the many not very good translations available online.” But the experience of depression isn’t easy to convey in any language, I gather, which is what so makes that particular poem worth the struggle. And Vallejo was about nothing if not struggle…

The Black Heralds

There are such hard blows in life… I don’t know.
Blows as if from God’s hatred. As if before them,
the undertow of all we’ve suffered
wells up in the soul. I don’t know.

They’re rare, but they exist. They open dark gullies
in the fiercest face and in the strongest back.
They might be the shaggy mounts of barbarous Atillas,
or the black heralds that death sends.

They are the long falls of the Christs of the soul,
of some cherished belief cursed by fate.
These gory blows are the crackling of bread
that burns us in the oven door.

And man: poor, poor man! He rolls his eyes,
the way we do when a slap on the shoulder summons us.
He rolls crazed eyes, and all he’s lived through
wells up like a guilty puddle in his gaze.
There are such hard blows in life. I don’t know.

Los heraldos negros

Hay golpes en la vida, tan fuertes… ¡Yo no sé!
Golpes como del odio de Dios; como si ante ellos,
la resaca de todo lo sufrido
se empozara en el alma. ¡Yo no sé!

Son pocos; pero son. Abren zanjas oscuras
en el rostro más fiero y en el lomo más fuerte.
Serán tal vez los potros de bárbaros atilas;
o los heraldos negros que nos manda la Muerte.

Son las caídas hondas de los Cristos del alma,
de alguna fe adorable que el Destino blasfema.
Estos golpes sangrientos son las crepitaciones
de algún pan que en la puerta del horno se nos quema.

Y el hombre. Pobre. ¡Pobre! Vuelve los ojos, como
cuando por sobre el hombro nos llama una palmada;
vuelve los ojos locos, y todo lo vivido
se empoza, como charco de culpa, en la mirada.
Hay golpes en la vida, tan fuertes. ¡Yo no sé!


I Will Talk About Hope

I don’t suffer this pain as César Vallejo. I don’t suffer pain as an artist, as a man, or even simply as a living being. I don’t suffer this pain as a Catholic, as a Muslim, or as an atheist. Today I only suffer. If my name weren’t César Vallejo, I would still be suffering this same pain. If I weren’t an artist, I’d still suffer it. If I weren’t a man or even a living being, I’d still suffer it. If I weren’t a Catholic, an atheist, or a Muslim, I’d still suffer it. Today I suffer from much deeper down. Today I simply suffer.

I suffer pain now without any explanation. My pain is so deep that it never had any cause—nor lack of a cause. What cause could it have? Where is there something so consequential that it stopped being its cause? Nothing caused it—and nothing can stop causing it. How has this pain been birthed all by itself? My pain is from the north wind and the south wind, like those sexless eggs laid by rare birds fertilized by the wind. If a lover had died, my pain would be the same. If they’d cut my throat to the root, my pain would be the same. If life—in short—were otherwise, my pain would be the same. Today I suffer from much farther up. Today I simply suffer.

I look at the pain of the hungry and I see that their hunger is so far from my suffering, that I could keep fasting until death and at least one blade of grass would always spring from my tomb. The same with lovers. How much more stirred is their blood compared to mine, that has neither source nor use!

Until now I’d thought that all things in the universe were inevitably either parents or children. But look: my pain today is neither parent nor child. It doesn’t have a back to get dark, it has too much breast to dawn, and if they put it in a darkened room it would not give light; if they put it in a bright room it would not cast a shadow. Today I suffer no matter what happens. Today I simply suffer.

Voy a hablar de la esperanza

Yo no sufro este dolor como César Vallejo. Yo no me duelo ahora como artista, como hombre ni como simple ser vivo siquiera. Yo no sufro este dolor como católico, como mahometano ni como ateo. Hoy sufro solamente. Si no me llamase César Vallejo, también sufriría este mismo dolor. Si no fuese artista, también lo sufriría. Si no fuese hombre ni ser vivo siquiera, también lo sufriría. Si no fuese católico, ateo ni mahometano, también lo sufriría. Hoy sufro desde más abajo. Hoy sufro solamente.

Me duelo ahora sin explicaciones. Mi dolor es tan hondo, que no tuvo ya causa ni carece de causa. ¿Qué sería su causa? ¿Dónde está aquello tan importante, que dejase de ser su causa? Nada es su causa; nada ha podido dejar de ser su causa. ¿A qué ha nacido este dolor, por sí mismo? Mi dolor es del viento del norte y del viento del sur, como esos huevos neutros que algunas aves raras ponen del viento. Si hubiese muerto mi novia, mi dolor sería igual. Si me hubieron cortado el cuello de raíz, my dolor sería igual. Si la vida fuese, en fin, de otro modo, mi dolor sería igual. Hoy sufro desde más arriba. Hoy sufro solamente.

Miro el dolor del hambriento y veo que su hambre anda tan lejos de mi sufrimiento, que de quedarme ayuno hasta morir, saldría siempre de mi tumba una brizna de yerba al menos. Lo mismo el enamorado. ¡Qué sangre la suya más engendrada, para la mía sin fuente ni consumo!

Yo creía hasta ahora que todas las cosas del universo eran, inevitablemente, padres o hijos. Pero he aquí que mi dolor de hoy no es padre ni es hijo. Le falta espalda para anochecer, tanto como le sobra pecho para amanecer y si lo pusiesen en la estancia oscura, no daría luz y si lo pusiesen en una estancia luminosa, no echaría sombra. Hoy sufro suceda lo que suceda. Hoy sufro solamente.


“The tennis player in the moment”

The tennis player in the moment
at which he masterfully serves the ball
is possessed by a wholly animal innocence;
the philosopher in the moment when he apprehends a new truth
is a perfect beast.
Anatole France maintained
that a religious feeling is the by-product
of a special organ in the human body,
till now unknown, and thus
it could also be said
that in the very moment at which such an organ
were fully employed,
so free of malice would a believer be
that one could almost consider him a vegetable.
Oh soul! Oh thought! Oh Marx! Oh Feuerbach!

En el momento en que el tenista lanza magistralmente
su bala, le posee una inocencia totalmente animal;
en el momento
en que el filósofo sorprende una nueva verdad
es una bestia completa.
Anatole France afirmaba
que el sentimiento religioso
es la función de un órgano especial del cuerpo humano
hasta ahora ignorado y se podría
decir también, entonces
que, en el momento exacto en que un tal órgano
funciona plenamente,
tan puro de malicia está el creyente,
que se diría casi un vegetal.
¡Oh alma! ¡Oh pensamiento! ¡Oh Marx! ¡Oh Feüerbach!


“The rage that breaks a man into children”

The rage that breaks a man into children,
that breaks a child into identical birds
and then a bird into small eggs—
the rage of the poor
has an oil against two vinegars.

The rage that makes a tree break into leaf,
a leaf into unequal buds
and a bud into telescopic folds—
the rage of the poor
has two rivers against many seas.

The rage that breaks the good into doubts,
doubt into three similar arcs
and then an arc into unexpected graves—
the rage of the poor
has a steel against two daggers.

The rage that breaks a soul into bodies,
a body into dissimilar organs
and an organ into octavo thoughts—
the rage of the poor
has a central fire against two pits.

La cólera que quiebra al hombre en niños,
que quiebra al niño en pájaros iguales,
y al pájaro, después, en huevecillos;
la cólera del pobre
tiene un aceite contra dos vinagres.

La cólera que al árbol quiebra en hojas,
a la hoja en botones desiguales
y al botón, en ranuras telescópicas;
la cólera del pobre
tiene dos ríos contra muchos mares.

La cólera que quiebra al bien en dudas,
a la duda, en tres arcos semejantes
y al arco, luego, en tumbas imprevistas;
la cólera del pobre
tiene un acero contra dos puñales.

La cólera que quiebra al alma en cuerpos,
al cuerpo en órganos desemejantes
y al órgano, en octavos pensamientos;
la cólera del pobre
tiene un fuego central contra dos cráteres.


“And if after so many words”

And if after so many words,
the word doesn’t survive!
If after the wings of birds,
the standing bird doesn’t survive!
It would be better, honestly,
to consume everything and be done with it!

To have been born in order to live off our death!
To lift ourselves up by our own disasters
from the sky to the earth,
watching for the right moment to blot out
our darkness with our shadow!
It would be better, frankly,
to consume everything and to hell with it!

And if after so much history, we succumb
not to eternity
but to these simple things,
like sitting at home or settling in to think!
And if we then discovered
all of a sudden that we’re living—to judge
by the height of the stars—off a comb
and the stains on a handkerchief!
It would be better, honestly,
to consume everything, of course!

They’ll say that we have
in one eye a lot of grief
and in the other eye, too, a lot of grief
and in both, wherever they look, a lot of grief…
So… It’s clear! So… Not a word!

¡Y si después de tántas palabras,
no sobrevive la palabra!
¡Si después de las alas de los pájaros,
no sobrevive el pájaro parado!
¡Más valdría, en verdad,
que se lo coman todo y acabemos!

¡Haber nacido para vivir de nuestra muerte!
¡Levantarse del cielo hacia la tierra
por sus propios desastres
y espiar el momento de apagar con su sombra su tiniebla!
¡Más valdría, francamente,
que se lo coman todo y qué más da…!

¡Y si después de tanta historia, sucumbimos,
no ya de eternidad,
sino de esas cosas sencillas, como estar
en la casa o ponerse a cavilar!
¡Y si luego encontramos,
de buenas a primeras, que vivimos,
a juzgar por la altura de los astros,
por el peine y las manchas del pañuelo!
¡Más valdría, en verdad,
que se lo coman todo, desde luego!

Se dirá que tenemos
en uno de los ojos mucha pena
y también en el otro, mucha pena
y en los dos, cuando miran, mucha pena…
Entonces… ¡Claro!… Entonces… ¡ni palabra!

This entry is part 18 of 33 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

José Luis AppleyardThe deep emotional connection I have with Paraguay began when I was about six years old and landed, with my family and all our Parisian furniture including a grand piano, in a wild place which was to be our home while my father supervised his dream of building a road linking this small landlocked country to Brazil and beyond. (I’ve written about some of this in an ongoing online autobiography, which starts here.) The Paraguay I knew then, and much later as an adult, is shaped by my personal recollections and bears little resemblance to the harsh realities which its people have endured throughout their history. My affection for the Paraguayans, their joyous, sad, beautiful country, their Guarani-infused Spanish, their music and their voices continues unabated to this day. But it’s thanks to Via Negativa’s Other Americas project that I’ve just started to discover some of their poets, strangely and unfairly omitted from the major anthologies of Latin American poetry. José Luis Appleyard (1927–1998) was part of the so-called 50s generation of Paraguayan poets, along with such other luminaries as José María Gómez Sanjurjo, Ricardo Mazó and Ramiro Domínguez.


Some words die
and no dictionary can revive them;
simple words, clear words, words which formed
on our lips the language of childhood.
In vain we search, trying to give them back life
a life the years have taken away.
Sweet exiled words
forsaken sounds
once the milestones
of our personal vocabulary.
No use looking for them, they’ve already crumbled
under the dictionary’s brutal weight.

Las palabras

A veces hay palabras que se mueren
y no las resucita el diccionario;
palabras simples, claras, que acrecieron
el verbo de la infancia en nuestros labios.
En balde las buscamos para darles
una vida que ha muerto con los años.
Dulces palabras nuestras exiliadas
solo sonido ya desamparado,
que por un tiempo fueron los mojones
de nuestro personal vocabulario.
Es inútil buscarlas, ya se han muerto
bajo el peso brutal del diccionario.

How Little I Understand Things

How little I understand things
The years have not succeeded in anchoring experience
in my memory
I’m always astonished that a pair of eyes exist
which see me in close-up, so very close.
I’m astonished at the dark power of their gaze
recalling the innocence of childhood
while simultaneously conjuring up the blackest night
born of secrets.
Like an old alchemist
I want to transmute the dreams in those eyes
I want to create with those eyes
looking at me so intently
a kind of oblivion taking me to their core.
And when their language becomes wordless
when it becomes the soft expression of something which is mine,
then I see what I don’t understand about things,
their reflections are shimmering in the air,
looking at me, timelessly,
speaking of me, of themselves, of everything.

Qué poco entiendo las cosas

Qué poco entiendo las cosas.
Los años no han logrado fijar en mi memoria
la experiencia
y siempre me sorprendo que existen unos ojos
que me miran de pronto tan cerca de mí mismo.
Me sorprende el oscuro poder de su mirada
que guarda ingenuidades de infancias manifiestas
y tiene, sin embargo, una profunda noche
nacida de secretas experiencias.
Como un viejo alquimista
yo quiero interpretarla trasmutando sus sueños,
quiero hacer con sus ojos
que me miran de cerca
una forma de olvido que me lleve a su centro.
Y así, cuando sus manos son lenguaje sin cifras,
cuando son la suave expresión de algo mío,
comprendo que no entiendo de las cosas,
y quedan en el aire sus reflejos,
mirándome, sin tiempo,
y hablándome de mí, de sí, de todo.