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.

Dogs and generals

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
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.