Why say the names of gods, stars,
spray from an invisible ocean
or pollen from the farthest gardens?
If life hurts us, if every day comes
tearing at our innards, if every night falls
If someone else’s pain hurts us—a man
we don’t know, but who is
here at all hours, is victim
and enemy and love and everything
that’s missing if we want to be whole.
Never say that darkness is your lot;
don’t swallow joy in one gulp.
Look around you: there’s the other, always there’s the other.
He breathes whatever suffocates you,
your hunger is what he eats.
He dies with the purer portion of your death.
translation of “El Otro“:
¿Por qué decir nombres de dioses, astros,
espumas de un océano invisible,
polen de los jardines más remotos?
Si nos duele la vida, si cada día llega
desgarrando la entraña, si cada noche cae
Si nos duele el dolor en alguien, en un hombre
al que no conocemos, pero está
presente a todas horas y es la víctima
y el enemigo y el amor y todo
lo que nos falta para ser enteros.
Nunca digas que es tuya la tiniebla,
no te bebas de un sorbo la alegría.
Mira a tu alrededor: hay otro, siempre hay otro.
Lo que él respira es lo que a ti te asfixia,
lo que come es tu hambre.
Muere con la mitad más pura de tu muerte.
This poem by the Mexican poet and fiction writer Rosario Castellanos (whom you can hear reading it at PalabraVirtual.com) seemed a fitting way to inaugurate a new, weekly series here at Via Negativa, “Poetry from the Other Americas.” I’ve always been irritated by the provincial focus of the poetry establishment in the United States, where most prizes are for U.S. residents only and where poetry in translation gets scant notice from reviewers, critics, and readers of poetry—to say nothing of the arrogance of continuing to refer to the U.S. as “America.” There is much more to American poetry than what’s written in the United States… but even the great Puerto Rican poets such as Luis Palés Matos and Julia de Burgos don’t get included in the standard anthologies of “American” verse, to say nothing of Chicano poets who may write in both English and Spanish. Are we to suppose that the editors of these anthologies are “English-only” bigots? And we’re missing out on so much great poetry!
So I’m launching this series to help expand readers’ horizons—and my own. I don’t know this literature nearly as well as I should, and my translation muscles need a work-out, too, so this is very much a learn-by-doing kind of exercise. I welcome criticism from friends with a better command of Spanish (mine is quite shaky). I don’t know Portuguese, French, or any of the indigenous languages of the Americas, but perhaps I’ll be able to convince a few other translators to contribute to the series, or simply share bilingual videopoems if I can find them. Do get in touch if you’d like to help out. I’m grateful to Jean Morris and Christine Swint for their help with this one on Facebook.
For more on Rosario Castellanos, her struggles as a woman writer and the darkness of her poetry, I recommend this essay by Lucina Kathmann in Cordite Poetry Review: “The Woman Who Knows Latin.”
OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES
- The Other (El Otro) by Rosario Castellanos
- Green Enchantment (Verde Embeleso) by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
- The discovery of things I’ve never seen: five poems by Oswald de Andrade
- A soft storm in the skull: three poems by Rubén Darío
- Eternity for an inheritance: eight poems by Amado Nervo
- Five translators, one poem: dreaming about caimans with José Santos Chocano
- Contrary Moon: three poems by Cecília Meireles
- Génesis doméstico / My Private Genesis by Teresa Calderón
- How to recognize the road: three more poems by Cecília Meireles
- Birds of smoke: two poems by José María Eguren
- Historia de mi muerte / Story of My Death by Leopoldo Lugones
- La blanca soledad / Pale Solitude by Leopoldo Lugones
- House without walls: two poems by Vinicius de Moraes
- Ajedrez / Chess by Jorge Luis Borges
- Where shall we go? (¿Can nelpa tonyazque?) by Nezahualcoyotl
- Four haiku and a severed head by Simone Routier
- Gotas de lluvia / raindrops: four more haiku and a tanka
- Sweet exiled words: two poems by José Luis Appleyard
- Pain without explanation: five poems by César Vallejo
- Si rigide le desert de l’Autre / So Rigid is the Desert of the Other by France Théoret
- Mapping a different star: five poems by Gabriela Mistral
- oh (ô) by Raôul Duguay
- Repetición de mi mismo / Repeating Myself by Ricardo Mazó
- Peuple inhabité / Population void by Yves Préfontaine
- Retrouvailles / Reunions by Anne Brunelle
- A genius for brevity: Alejandra Pizarnik
- Lo que soy / What I Am by Juana de Ibarbourou
- Emily Dickinson by Michel Garneau
- Intersections: reading, translation, writing
- Nameless as the rain: two poems by Jacques Brault
- Erasure translation of a poem by Jacques Brault
- Rafael Courtoisie’s Song of the Mirror (La canción del espejo): a videopoem by Eduardo Yagüe
- A glimpse from the gutter: three poems by Alejandra Pizarnik
- High Treason by José Emilio Pacheco
- Juarroz on waking up
- Under the Sky Born After the Rain, by Jorge Teillier
- To a Child in a Tree, by Jorge Teillier
- El hombre imaginario / The Imaginary Man by Nicanor Parra