This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Honduran poetry


Dibujo uno
de Claudia Torres (Mariposa Amarilla / Yellow Butterfly, Ediciones Navegante, Austin, TX, 1996)

La tarde teje su silencio
en los pequeños bordes de las casas.
Esconde aristas abruptas
al son de la noche espesa.

Las vigas abrazan las soleras y sus tejas.
El amarillo de los rayos se encoge
hasta volverlas nada.

El ovillo azul intenso
se convierte en zumbido titilante,
suspira la luz de la mañana.

El ojo anhela;
apenas un reflejo en la profundidad interna
que batalla los sentidos.

El miedo salta victorioso.
Hace suyo el momento.
Tiembla, treme, tiembla.

El susurro es un largo grito sin ruido.

Sketch #1

Evening weaves its silence
along the narrow borders of the houses.
It conceals sharp edges
with the advancing sound of dense night.

The rafters tighten their grip
on crossbeams, roof tiles.
The last yellow rays dwindle,
return to nothing.

Skein of vivid blue becomes
an arousing hum, the light
of morning on its breath.

The eye hungers:
scarcely a single glimmer
in the deep core
at war with the senses.

Fear leaps up,
overwhelms the moment.
Trembling, quaking, trembling.

A whisper is a long scream without a sound.

Claudia Torres is a linguist and a native of Tegicigalpa, Honduras, born in 1951. In the above poem, I like the images of weaving, and the way its synaesthesia evokes a confusion of emotions perhaps best understood by someone who grew up under a dictatorship, where a midnight knock might mean two, almost opposite things.

Another poem by Torres, “Caballero de Noche / Gentleman of the Night,” includes the following explanatory note: “Gentleman of the Night and Love for a Day are the literal translations of flowers that are common in the author’s native country of Honduras.” This time I’ll put my translation first.

Gentleman of the Night

Shy caresses
all over my skin,
scent of cinnamon,
of guava.

In my tangled hair
there dreams
the dry stroke
of a tender hand.

Gentleman of the night,
love for a day,
lemon tree in blossom,
unpollinated orchid.

You went away,
and it was killing me.

Caballero de Noche

Sobre de la piel
caricias hurañas,
olor de canela,

En el pelo
enredado sueño
el sonido seco
de una mano tierna.

Caballero de noche,
amor de un día,
limonero abierto,
orquídea fallida.

Te fuiste,
y yo me moría.

Dogs and generals

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Honduran poetry


Roberto Sosa is Honduras’ most famous living poet. See Los Pobres, up today at Moving Poems, for another of his poems I’ve translated (as well as for an explanation of why I’m so upset by yesterday’s coup in Honduras).

Roberto Sosa

Los Generales compran, interpretan y reparten
la palabra y el silencio.

Son rígidos y firmes
como las negras alturas pavorosas. Sus mansiones
dos terceras partes de sangre y una de soledad,
y desde allí, sin hacer movimientos, gobiernan
los hilos
anudados a sensibilísimos mastines
con dentaduras de oro y humana apariencia, y combinan,
nadie lo ignora, las sales enigmáticas
de la orden superior, mientras se hinchan
sus inaudibles anillos poderosos.
Los Generales son dueños y señores
de códigos, vidas y haciendas, y miembros respetados
de la Santa Iglesia Católica, Apostólica y Romana.

tr. by Dave Bonta

The Generals purchase, interpret and allocate
words and silences.

They are as rigid and unyielding
as fearsome black crags. Their mansions
take up
two parts blood and one part solitude,
whence, without moving a muscle, they pull
the strings
tied to highly trained mastiffs
with gold teeth and a human likeness, and they combine —
as everyone knows — hidden charms
of the highest order, while their powerful
noiseless rings swell up.

The Generals are lords and masters
of the law, of lives and estates, and they’re members
in good standing of the Holy Catholic Church, Roman and Apostolic.

Here’s another Honduran poem expanding on the “mastiffs” theme, from Oscar Acosta’s 1957 volume Poesía Menor.

Oscar Acosta

Miran desde su lengua el silencio del amor.
Se quedan quietos en los rincones, huelen
el cariño en las ropas, en las lámparas, en la voz.
Caminan suaves sobre las alfombras verdes.
Los ojos son vivos y hablan por sí solos.
Cómo ausentarlos entonces al silencio,
cómo echarlos de las calles, cómo sepultarlos
si se levantan de los jardines floridos,
cómo envenenarlos por una disposición sanitaria
si sus amos cordiales están también rabiosos.

tr. by Dave Bonta

See how the silence of love drips from their tongues.
They keep quiet in corners, catching the scent
of affection on clothing, on lamps, in the voice.
They walk softly over green carpets. Their eyes
are so animated they speak all by themselves.
How then to silence them? How to kick them
off the streets? How to bury them when
they keep rising from flowerbeds?
How to poison and safely dispose of them
if their loving masters have also gone rabid?

I’ll be sharing translations of Honduran poetry here all this week.

Mothers and heroes

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Honduran poetry


pueblo contra el ejercito, by kilo (Honduras Indymedia)
pueblo contra el ejercito, by kilo (Honduras Indymedia)

Clementina Suárez (1906-1991) is not only Honduras’ preeminent woman poet, but a central figure in the Mexican literary and artistic scene of the mid-20th century. She was profiled in a wonderful biography by Janet Gold, which includes a generous selection of her poems in translation, and is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of feminism in Honduras. I thought of Clementina on Sunday when I watched videos and photos of indominable women punching soldiers and facing down armored vehicles in the streets.

Clementina Suárez

Yo soy un poeta,
un ejército de poetas.
Y hoy quiero escribir un poema,
un poema silbatos,
un poema fusiles
para pegarlos en las puertas,
en las celdas de las prisiones,
en los muros de las escuelas.
Hoy quiero construir y destruir,
levantar en andamios la esperanza.
Despertar al niño,
arcángel de las espadas,
ser relámpago, trueno,
con estatura de héroe
para talar, arrasar,
las podridas raíces de mi pueblo.

tr. by Dave Bonta

I am a poet,
an army of poets.
And today I want to write a poem —
a whistles poem,
a rifles poem —
to strike them in doorways,
in prison cells,
within the walls of schools.
Today I want to build and destroy,
to give hope a lift onto the scaffold.
I want to rouse the child,
archangel of swords,
to be lightning-flash and thunderclap
with a statue of a hero
to topple, to obliterate
the rotted roots of my people.

Honduras’ most famous and influential poet of all, without a doubt, was Juan Ramón Molina (1875-1908), a friend and contemporary of the Nicaraguan poet Ruben Darío, who joined him in rousing Spanish-language poetry out of its two centuries of slumber. Which is very much how they would’ve described it in the late-Romantic style they pioneered, modernismo. (See “Metempsícosis” at Moving Poems for a much grander Molina poem about reincarnation.)

While the narrator of “Combate” wanted to do away with heroes, the narrator of the following poem pines for a vanished heroic age — the archetypal conservative.

Juan Ramón Molina

¡Viviese yo en los tiempos esforzados
de amores, de conquistas y de guerras,
en que frailes, bandidos y soldados
a través de los mares irritados
iban en busca de remotas tierras.

No en esta triste edad en que desmaya
todo anhelo — encumbrado como un monte —
y en que poniendo mi ambición a raya
herido y solo me quedé en la playa
viendo el límite azul del horizonte!

tr. by Dave Bonta

Ah, that I had lived in times tested
by love, by war and by conquest,
when friars, soldiers and desperadoes
went off across unquiet seas
in search of distant lands,

and not in this pathetic age when longing
has grown faint, inaccessible as a mountain peak,
and holding my ambition in check,
wounded and alone I linger on the shore,
gazing at the horizon’s blue limit!

Roberto Sosa, by contrast, turns his gaze toward those most wounded by military adventurism. This is from his 1995 volume El llanto de las cosas, and was also translated by Jo Anne Englebert as “The Common Grief” in her book of the same name.

Roberto Sosa

hijas del verbo: madres, los esparemos.

Escúchenos, “vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos.”
Recuérdenlo en el nombre del padre, del hijo y del hermano
detenidos y desaparecidos.

Esperamos con la frente en alto
punto por punto unidas como la cicatriz a sus costuras.

Nadie podrá destruir ni desarmar nuestros pesares juntos.

tr. by Dave Bonta

we wait for them, daughters of the word. Mothers.

Hear this: alive they were taken, alive we want them back.
Remember it in the name of the father and the son and the brother
detained and disappeared.

We wait with heads held high,
joined stitch by stitch like a scar to its sutures.

No one shall destroy or disband this union of sorrows.


Incidentally, in case anyone’s wondering why I’m signing my name to each one of these, I’ve noticed that translations are a popular item to copy and paste around the web, and I thought I’d make it easier for people to do so without having to worry about adding the attribution, which for some strange reason often seems to be neglected where translations are concerned.

Mothers and fathers

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Honduran poetry


Roberto Sosa’s “El llanto de las cosas” takes its title from the famous phrase in the Aeneid, lacrimae rerum. (There’s a fascinating discussion about the proper way to translate this into English here.) Llanto is the common word for weeping, so it didn’t seem appropriate to translate this as “The Pathos of Things.” But that’s the general sense.

Roberto Sosa

se pasó la mayor parte de sus existencia
parada en un ladrillo, hecha un nudo,
que entraba y salía
por la puerta blanca de una casita
por la fraternidad de los animales domésticos.
que sus hijos somos
lo que quisimos y no pudimos ser.
que su padre, el carnicero de los ojos goteados
y labios delgados de pies severo, no la golpeó
hasta sacarle sangre, y que su madre, en fin,
le puso con amor, alguna vez, la mano en la cabeza.
Y en su punto supremo, a contragolpe como
                                                    desde un espejo,
rogaba a Dios
para que nuestros enemigos cayeran como
                                                          gallos apestados.

De golpe, una por una, aquellas amadísimas
fueron barridas por hombres sin honor.

Viéndolo bien
todo eso lo entendió esa mujer apartada,
la heredera del viento, a una vela. La que adivinaba
el pensamiento, presentía la frialdad
de las culebras
y hablaba con las rosas, ella, delicado equilibrio
la humana dureza y el llanto de las cosas.

tr. by Dave Bonta

spent the greater part of her life
standing on one brick tile, knotted up inside,
that she was going in and out
through the white door of a cottage
watched over
by the brotherhood of domestic animals.
that her children were
what we wanted to be, not what we could be.
that her father, that butcher with the eyes of a cat
and the thin lips of a vindictive judge, didn’t beat her
until the blood flowed, and that in the end
her mother once laid a loving hand on her head.
When pushed to her utmost, she’d counter-attack as if
                                                        through a looking-glass
and pray to God
that her enemies would be stricken
                                            like sick fowl.

Suddenly, one by one, all of her most cherished
were swept away by detestable men.

As time went on
she understood all this, that woman apart,
of a candle from the wind. She who could read
thoughts, sense the coldbloodedness
of snakes
and converse with roses, she the delicate equilibrium
human hardness and the weeping of things.

Clementina Suarez

A horas apenas de partir
tu casa ya no era mi casa.
Sentada en la puerta
miraba para adentro,
donde la pena empezaba a mancharlo todo
y el miedo me hacía señas desde lo oscuro.
Anduve descalza, para no despertarte
y retrasar tu viaje.
Me vestí de infancia para recorrer
más rápidos todos tus pasos.
Eché para atrás los años
para comerme el pan desde tus manos,
como un animal herido tirité de frío.
¡Ay! me dije; dónde podré ahora
dejar caer mi cabeza pesada de sueños.

Cuando yo era una niña
buscaba siempre tu falda para gemir.
Y ahora la muerte me quiebra
mi mejor alondra, mi patria madre,
mi señora, mi madona.
No tengo aliento para comerme las manzanas,
ni tengo pájaros para que aniden en el pecho,
estoy huérfana y definitivamente sola,
podría desde ahora dormir en las calles
dando gritos de gritos
sin que nada me consolara.
Pero quizá es tu cara la que me mira
desde adentro, y no deja caer
a mi corazón en la noche.


tr. by Dave Bonta

Scarcely hours after you’d gone,
your house was no longer mine.
Sitting in the doorway,
I looked inside —
pain was beginning to stain everything
and fear signalled me from the darkness.
I walked barefoot, so as not to awaken you
and delay your journey.
I dressed like a child so I could retrace
your steps more quickly.
I threw the years aside
so I could eat bread from your hands,
shivering with cold like a wounded animal.
Ah! I cried — where now can I let my head drop
when it’s weighted down with dreams?

When I was a girl,
I’d seek out your skirt to howl in.
But now death has laid waste
to my greatest lark, my mother country,
my mistress, my madonna.
I don’t have the appetite to eat these apples,
nor do I have any birds to nest in my breast,
I’m an orphan, alone as I can be.
I could go sleep in the streets now
and cry all I want
and no one would come to comfort me.
But perhaps it’s your face that watches me
from within, and keeps my heart
from stopping in the night.

Oscar Acosta

Descanse en paz
les dicen a los muertos,
pero yo no deseo
que mi padre descanse
para siempre.

Quiero que viva,
que se levante
y ande.

Que no descanse,
que se ponga camisa
y pantalón,
sombrero ancho,
que fume su tabaco
que tome su tranquilo
que respire,
que lea.

Que no descanse.
Que no pudo sacar
aunque lo quiso
a los fariseos
del templo.

Mi padre fue hombre
honrado y pobre
y por tener
las manos limpias
en este suelo opaco
casi lo fusilan.

Que no descanse,
yo quiero verlo aquí
lleno de sangre
y carne,
diciendo sus palabra.

Que con su lengua
trate mal a la vida,
que camine en la luz,
que golpee
su puño diario.
Que levante las manos
y toque con sus dedos
la mañana.

Descanse en paz
les dicen a los muertos
para que se refugien
en su lápida.

Pero no quiero
que mi padre descanse
en sorda tierra.
Que no descanse.
Que su nombre tiemble.
Guerra a la muerte.

tr. by Dave Bonta

Rest in peace,
they say to the dead,
but I don’t wish
such repose on my father

I want him alive,
on his feet
and walking.

Not to rest,
but to put on shirt
and pants,
a broad-brimmed hat;
to smoke
his everyday tobacco,
to have his quiet
cup of coffee,
to breathe,
to read.

May he not rest,
he who was unable
to drive the Pharisees
from the temple,
as hard as he tried.

My father was a poor
and honest man
and for keeping
his hands clean
in this gloomy land
they almost shot him.

Far from being at rest,
I’d like to see him here,
full of blood
and flesh,
speaking his piece,

giving life
a tongue-lashing,
walking in the light,
getting in
his daily punch.
Raising his hands
to touch the morning
with his fingertips.

Rest in peace,
they say to the dead,
trying to takle refuge
in their tombs.

But I don’t want
my father ever to rest
in the stone-deaf earth.
May he not rest.
May his name reverberate.
War against death.


See today’s Moving Poems for a short documentary on the life of Clementina Suarez.

Streets and landscapes

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Honduran poetry


Tegucigalpa, Honduras by Fellowship of the Rich on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND licence)
Tegucigalpa, Honduras by Fellowship of the Rich on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND licence)

Herber Sorto

He cruzado esta calle
con la ilusión de llegar a otro mundo,
por lo que digo:
aquí no hay nada,
no existe nada.
El paisaje se hace camino en las alturas,
el horizonte regresa a su lejanía,
la fábula es lo que he vivido
y el lado roto de la vida, lo que crece.

tr. by Dave Bonta

I have crossed this street
under the illusion that I was arriving
in the other world, saying:
there is nothing here,
nothing exists.
The land becomes a road through the mountains,
the horizon recedes into the distance;
I’ve been living a fiction all the while
life’s broken side continues to grow.

Alejandro Barahona

la calle sola

Un perro, la piedra
que le persigue

tres caballos
ganan al automóvil
y su caudal de niños

El parque es una flor
en un pueblo ausente

Un policia y su vergaro,
dos abogados
y todo lo demás es bueno

tr. by Dave Bonta

only the street

A dog, the stone
that pursues it

three horses
overtake the car
and its wealth of children

The park is a flower
in a missing town

A cop and his bullwhip,
two lawyers
and everything else is fine


Nelson Merren

Miro el día lavado
en agua sucia.

En el aire mojado
el mar entrega su amenaza
de ruido y minerales.

Cae la lluvia.
La lejanía ensimismada
se pone un rebozo de sombra.

Aún las voces parecen
fantasmas viejos y convalecientes
en el aire colgados.

Pasa un ave. Parece
con su sotan mojada
la última ave del mundo.

Todo parece esfumarse
en el ruido del aire con sordina,
en el vientre del día acorralado.

tr. by Dave Bonta

I look out on the day, washed
in dirty water.

On the moist breeze,
the sea issues its noisy,
mineral threat.

It rains.
The preoccupied distance
dons a shawl of shadows.

Voices still seem as if
they’re suspended in mid-air,
agéd and convalescent apparitions.

A bird goes by.
With its wet cassock, it could be
the last bird on earth.

Everything seems to dissipate
in the air’s muted commotion,
in the belly of a cornered day.


Tulio Galeas

Este es un barrio triste. Los niños
al crecer vistieron de soledad las casas,
las risas devolvieron su manantial al sueño,
y el misterio reparte su pan con manos amplias.

Las madres estaán solas y la cena está fría.
El viento temoroso de romper el silencio
cierra con pesadez sus grandes párpados,
y hasta mi corazón late despacio para no despertarme.
Ruedo por escaleras de niebla gota a gota,
cubro mis dedos tibios con ceniza,
y un río negro y sucio me invade y me corona.

tr. by Dave Bonta

This is a sad neighborhood. Children cloaked
the houses in solitude when they grew up,
laughs reverted to their origin in dreams,
and mystery doles out bread with its broad hands.

The mothers are alone; supper has grown cold.
The wind, afraid to break the silence,
eases its great leaden eyelids shut
and even my heart beats slowly to avoid waking me.
I tumble down stairs of mist drop by drop,
coat my warm fingers with ash,
and a filthy black river invades me and fills me to the brim.

Roberto Sosa

Vivo en un paisaje
donde el tiempo no existe
y el oro es manso.

Aquí siempre se es triste sin saberlo.
Nadie conoce el mar
ni la amistad del ángel.

Sí, yo vivo aquí, o más bien muero.
Aquí donde la sombra purísima del niño
cae en el polvo de la angosta calle
El vuelo detenido y arriba un cielo que huye.

A veces la esperanza
(cada vez más distante)
abre sus largos ramos en el viento,
y coundo te pienso de colores, desteñida ciudad,
siento imposibles ritmos
que giran y giran
en el pequeñ ciculo de mi rosa segura.

Pero tú eres distinta:
el dolor hace signos desde todos los picos,
en cada puente pasa la gente hacia la nada
y el silbo del pino trae un eco de golpes.

duro nombre que fluye
dulce sólo en los labios.

tr. by Dave Bonta

I inhabit a landscape
where time doesn’t exist,
where gold’s been tamed.

Here, one is always sad without realizing it.
Nobody knows the sea
or an angel’s friendship.

Yes, this is where I live — or rather, die.
Here where a child’s purest shadow
falls in the dust of a narrow street.
The flight delayed beneath a fleeing sky.

At intervals, hope —
each time more distant —
opens its long branches to the wind,
and when I think of you in colors, faded city,
I feel impossible rhythms
circling and circling
in a tight orbit around my definite rose.

You are, however, distinct:
suffering signals from every peak,
on every bridge people cross over into nothingness
and the hiss of a pine tree carries an echo of blows.

Tegucigalpa —
hard name that flows
sweet only on the lips.

Rigoberto Paredes

Algo en pie quedará
de este reino de furia: seres, brasas, semillas
guardan fresca memoria de otro tiempo
que hoy se estanca entre ruinas.
Sangre fértil
en algún lugar de Centroamérica.
No tardará en llegar el verde de los días.

tr. by Dave Bonta

Something will remain standing
from this kingdom of rage: beings, embers, seeds
keep fresh the memory of another time
that today stagnates among ruins.
Fertile blood
bursts out
of almost any spot in Central America.
Green days won’t be long in coming.

For another, lighter poem by Rigoberto Paredes, see his “Elegy to Obesity” at Moving Poems.