Mothers and fathers

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
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.

Mothers and heroes

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
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.