A wild tiger’s excesses.
Or an ocelot.

Three poems by Macario Matus translated from Zapotec into Spanish by the author, with English translations and an introduction by Wendy Call.

MatusPhotoJuchitanIn Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, twenty miles north of the Pacific Ocean, the city of Juchitán has produced an enormous constellation of musicians, poets, storytellers, and painters. Juchitán’s traditional language, Isthmus Zapotec, was the first New World language to be written down, more than two thousand years ago. Over the last century, many bright lights of indigenous literature have come from Juchitán. Macario Matus was one of the most prominent; he influenced an entire generation of Zapotec storytellers and poets. One of those poets, Irma Pineda, said of Matus, one year before his death in 2009, “Macario Matus is in my life like water, like daylight. He exists, has always existed. I can’t pinpoint the date that we met; no one introduced us for the first time. And yet, every day I discover him, I recognize him, because every day he invents something new, something surges forth from that imagination—abundant, terrible, tireless, ferocious.”

Born January 2, 1943 in Juchitán, Macario Matus moved to Mexico City as a young adult to study; he continued to migrate between the two cities throughout his life. Matus published his first book at age 26, eventually producing more than twenty volumes of poetry, short stories, journalism, criticism, history, and translations. He founded Juchitán’s Casa de la Cultura, the cultural center where multiple generations of juchiteco musicians, painters, and writers—like Irma Pineda—took their first art classes. 

Matus passed away on August 6, 2009, at the age of 66. Three months after his death, a center for Isthmus Zapotec culture opened in Mexico City—a project of Matus’s for the last six years of his life. “Centro Cultural Yo’o Za’a Macario Matus” offers workshops taught by writers and artists who were students in Juchitán’s Casa de la Cultura under Matus’s leadership.

Unlike Irma Pineda, I never met Macario Matus in person. But like her, his work seems to have been around me, in the air and water, since my first visit to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in 1998. I discovered the bilingual poem “Bidóo Bacáanda / Dios del Sueño” (“God of Dreams”) in the Mexico City newspaper La Jornada, in June 2001. I don’t remember where I first encountered “Bidóo Gubéedxe / Dios de la Lujuria” (“God of Lust”) or “Cáa Bidóo Stíi Dúu / Dioses Nuestros” (“Our Gods”). All three poems appear in Matus’s 1998 collection Binni Záa (Los Zapotecas), but I’m sure that’s not the first place I read those poems. Books are still relatively rare and precious in Juchitán. By the time I borrowed a copy of Binni Záa, long since out of print, from Juchitán’s Casa de la Cultura, those poems were already familiar to me. In Juchitán, individual poems are passed around hand to hand, ear to ear. They flow through life like water, like daylight.  

–Wendy Call

Bidóo Gubéedxe

by Macario Matus

Guennda rigúu béedxe páa cáa guennda ranna xhíi

guláaqui cáa bée láa rigúu béedxe béedxe guíixhi.

Béedxe guíixhi, láani.

Guennda ráaca díiti máani stíi binni síica máni dúuxhu.

Xhiñée quíi gáaca núu síica béedxe guíixhi

páa láa núu gúule núu ndáani dúuxhu mée yáa.

Guennda ranna xhíi rudíi láa síica béedxe zée xpiáani.

Guennda ranna xhíi ngáa láaya béedxe náazi yanni.

Guennda béedxe ngáa ranna xhíi guiráa xhíixhe láaya binni,

guíidi láadi, bixhúuga náa máani, bixhúuga náa binni, guíicha

ruáa binni, guiée lúu béedxe ndáani yóo.

Guennda ranna xhíi née cúu béedxe ngáa ráaca binni máani née

binni guíidxi layúu.

¿Xhíi guiráa guíidxi layúu née cáa xpidóo lá?

guennda ranna xhíi née guennda rigúu béedxe zuzuhuáa cáa

huaxhíini, ridxíi.

God of Lust

by Macario Matus

Love or lust

they called a wild tiger’s excesses.

Or an ocelot.

Men shiver instinctively,

like ferocious animals.

How could we not be like ocelots

if born of their spirited viscera.

Love is mad cats in heat.

Love is eyeteeth threaded into your neck

Lust is loving with all your teeth,

skin, claws, fingernails, whiskers, cat’s eyes.

To love and be lustful is to be animal, or man.

To lust and to kiss is to be woman with sugared bile.

When the earth and its gods meet their end,

love and lust will preside over night, over day.

translated from Zapotec by Wendy Call

Dios de la Lujuria

by Macario Matus

La lujuria o el amor

lo llamaron excesos del tigre silvestre.

Ocelote, pues.

Estremecimientos instintivos

de los hombres como animales fieros.

Cómo no íbamos a ser como ocelotes

si nacimos de sus entrañas briosas.

El amor es entrega de felinos a lo loco.

El amor es colmillos ensartados al cuello.

Lujuria es amar con todos los dientes,

pieles, garras, uñas, bigotes, ojos de gato.

Amar y ser lujurioso es ser animal u hombre.

Lujuriar y besar es ser mujer con hiel azucarada.

Cuando se acabe la tierra y sus dioses,

el amor y la lujuria presidirán la noche, el día.

translated from Zapotec by Macario Matus into Spanish
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Cáa Bidóo Stíi Dúu

by Macario Matus

Ndáani cáa guiée nabáani tíi bidóo stíi dúu,

ndáani tíi yáaga nabáani tíi bidóo stíi dúu,

xháa xcúu nabáani xpidóo dúu,

ndáani níisa dóo née níisa guíigu

nabáani cáa bidóo bizibáani láa dúu.

Níiza guiée xhúuba, béedxe, béeñe

náaca cáa xpidóo dúu, bixhóoze née bíichi cáa dúu.

Guidúubi guíidxi layúu ngáa jñáa dúu.

Our Gods

by Macario Matus

In every stone lives one of our gods,

in every tree dwells one of our gods,

our god lives under the roots,

within the water of river and sea,

dwell the gods who gave us life.

Rain, corn, jaguar, and lizard

are gods, fathers, brothers and sisters. 

All of nature is our mother.

translated from Zapotec by Wendy Call

Dioses Nuestros

by Macario Matus

En cada piedra vive un dios nuestro,

en cada árbol mora un dios nuestro,

bajo las raíces vive nuestro dios,

entre las aguas del mar y del río,

moran los dioses que nos dieron vida.

La lluvia, el maíz, el tigre, el lagarto

son dioses, padres y hermanos.

La naturaleza toda es nuestra madre.

 

translated from Zapotec by Macario Matus into Spanish
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Bidóo Bacáanda

by Macario Matus

 Guúzi Góope síica Moctezuma guníi xcáanda

cáadxi binni quíichi née ruáa ráaxhi

zéeda yéete cáa lúu níisa dóo tíi quíiñe ntáa láa.

Née huandi, lúu cáa baláaga quée, déeche cáa máani quée veda

ndáa cáa binni guníi xcáanda xaíique quée.

Núu ndáani layúu stíi xaíique quée záa quée bíini núu xipiáani

riníi xcáanda cáa.

Rúuya cáa síica ráaca ridxíi níi chíi guizáaca lúu.

Cáa bacáanda quée, guníi zéeda quée, náaca cáa níi huandíi

néexhe náa.

Nguée rúuni quíi nucáa lúu cáa bée, bidíi cáa bée guíiba gúuchi,

layúu, née lúuna rizáaca.

Cáa bacáanda ngáa díidxa huandíi. Tíi gúuca huandíi guennda

ruziguíi stíi cáa binni quíichi.

Yanna láaga xhuxháale lúu núu riníi xcáanda núu huandíi ngáa

huandíi.

God of Dreams

by Macario Matus

Gúuzi Góope, like Moctezuma, dreamed

that some bearded white men

would come from the sea to dethrone him.

And yes, they arrived on huge ships, riding horses,

those men who the king had dreamed.

In the Zapotec kingdom there were wise men who dreamed.

They saw, clear as day, what soon would happen.

The dreams, they foretold, are waking realities.

And so they surrendered, handing over gold, land, and kingdom.

Dreams are real. The white men’s lie was real.

Now that we have awakened, we dream that truth is real. 

translated from Zapotec by Wendy Call

Dios del Sueño

by Macario Matus

Gúuzi Góope, como Moctezuma, soñó

que unos hombres blancos y barbados

bajarían de los mares para destronarlo.

Y sí, sobre unas barcazas, sobre unos caballos,

llegaron aquellos hombres que había soñado el rey.

Había en el reino zapoteca los sabios que soñaban.

Veían como si fuera de día lo que pronto sucedería.

Los sueños, predijeron, son realidades despiertas.

Por eso se entregaron, dieron el oro, su tierra, reino.

Los sueños son verdad. Fue verdad la mentira de los blancos.

Ahora que estamos despiertos, soñamos que la verdad es verdad. 

translated from Zapotec by Macario Matus into Spanish
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Photo of the author courtesy of Irma Pineda.

the hurtling tornado
bears down on poplars

A poem by Pierre Chappuis translated from French by Tim Keane and Myriam Moraz.

Hommage ˆ la PoŽsie, Pierre Chappuis

Photo of Pierre Chappuis, 2010, Geneva, Switzerland, by G. Perret.

Tel un cri

by Pierre Chappuis

Tel un cri (d’où ? de qui ?), le tourbillon de la foudre s’allume. Nuit secouée, jetée à terre, reformée pour être ressaisie (étranger, hôte de passage tâtonnant entre les meubles), sauvagement prise et reprise. Dehors, champs, villages s’illuminent. Saillies, bondissements, nuit déhiscente (quel autre bruit plus lointain, plainte ou aboi ?), lueurs sur le pays déchiqueté, fractions englouties avant d’être aboutées, franchissement de l’abîme, dévalement de la tornade sur les peupliers, les jardins piétinés. Tel l’oiseau fabuleux (dormeur que le songe enveloppe de nouveau), la pluie, dans l’amorce grise du matin, ne viendra qu’une fois le calme rétabli.

Like A Cry

by Pierre Chappuis

 

Like a cry (from where? from who?), whirlwind from the lightning flash. Night is shaken, knocked to the ground, recovers to be steadied again (stranger, passing guest,  groping among the furniture), savagely seized and seized again. Outside, fields, villages, light up. Jutting, leaping, dehiscent night (which noise is further, the barking or the moaning?), glimmers over decimated earth, portions swallowed before coming to a head, clearing the chasm, the hurtling tornado bears down on poplars, trampled gardens. Like the mythical bird (sleeper wrapped in dream once more), the rain, in morning’s gray light, will only come once the calm’s restored.

translated from French by Tim Keane & Myriam Moraz
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And from the sea
the Policeman can be seen

Four poems by Dmitri Prigov translated from Russian by Matvei Yankelevich. 

[Глядь — уж новая лежит]

by Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov

Только вымоешь посуду

Глядь — уж новая лежит

Уж какая тут свобода

Тут до старости б дожить

Правда, можно и не мыть

Да вот тут приходят разные

Говорят: посуда грязная —

Где уж тут свободе быть

[Soon as you're done with doing dishes]

by Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov

Soon as you’re done with doing dishes

Look — new dishes stacking up.

May I ask, what sort of liberty is this,

If one can barely just keep up?

Sure, you could leave the dishes dirty,

But here, from God knows where, they come

Complaining the dishes haven’t been done.

So where, then, is there room for liberty?

translated from Russian by Matvei Yankelevich
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Банальное рассуждение на тему разумности идеалов

by Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov

Погода в Москве к идеалу приблизилась

А раньше была ведь весьма далека

Была непонятлива и жестока

Поэтому часто мы с ней препиралися

 

А тут идеалы мои поменялися

И сразу погода приблизилась к ним

Вот так вот природу безжалостно мучим мы

И мучимся сами ужасно притом

 

A Banal Discourse On the Topic of Reasonable Ideals

by Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov

The Moscow weather has become very near ideal

While earlier it was quite far from it

A bit slow on the uptake, and rather cruel

Which is why we wrangled, finding no agreement

 

And then, all of a sudden, my ideals were different

And straight away the weather rose to meet them

And thus we mercilessly torment nature

While we torment ourselves terribly by the same

translated from Russian by Matvei Yankelevich
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[Когда здесь на посту стоит милицанер]

by Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov

Когда здесь на посту стоит милицанер

Ему до Внуково простор весь открывается

На Запад и Восток глядит Милицанер

И пустота за ними открывается

И центр, где стоит Милицанер —

Взгляд на него отвсюду открывается

Отвсюду виден Милиционер

С Востока виден Милиционер

И с моря виден Милиционер

И с неба виден Милиционер

И с-под земли…

Да он и не скрывается

[When the p'liceman stands here at his post]

by Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov

When the p’liceman stands here at his post

Expanses all the way to Vnukovo unfurl before him

The P’liceman gazes to the West and to the East

And emptiness unfurls behind them

And the center, which the P’liceman holds:

A view of him unfurls from ev’rywhere

From ev’rywhere the Policeman can be seen

From the East is seen the Policeman

And from the sea the Policeman can be seen

And from the sky is seen the Policeman

And from beneath the very earth…

Anyway, he isn’t hiding

translated from Russian by Matvei Yankelevich
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[Я устал уже на первой строчке]

by Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov

Я устал уже на первой строчке

Первого четверостишья.

Вот дотащился до третьей строчки,

А вот до четвертой дотащился.

 

Вот дотащился до первой строчки,

Но уже второго четверостишья.

Вот дотащился до третьей строчки,

А вот и до конца, Господи, дотащился.

[I'm only on the first line]

by Dmitri Aleksandrovich Prigov

I’m only on the first line

Of the first quatrain and I’m exhausted.

Now I’ve made it to the third line,

And now to the fourth, just barely.

 

And now I’ve made it to the first line

But this time of the second quatrain.

And now to the third line, barely,

And to the end, oh God, I’ve made it.

translated from Russian by Matvei Yankelevich
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None of you know what it’s like to live with Matt Sweeney.

Two poems by Melcion Mateu translated from the Catalan by Rowan Ricardo Phillips and a musical composition by Alexis Cuadrado. 

Photo by Patricia Tagliari

Photo by Sue Kwon

The composer and bassist Alexis Cuadrado wrote music for “The Ballad of Matt Sweeney” that was performed and recorded as a part of POETICA, a collection of original compositions by Cuadrado based on my poems and the poems of Melcion Mateu [pictured on the left]. The collaborators were Alexis Cuadrado on bass, Andy Milne on keyboards, Miles Okazaki on guitar, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums; with Melcion and myself [pictured on the right] providing voice. The band performed during a four-night residency at SEEDS::Brooklyn and a two-night, two-set per night stay at The Jazz Gallery in Manhattan. The following is from a studio session (recorded at The Bunker in Brooklyn) for the forthcoming album. Listen and enjoy.

–Rowan Ricardo Phillips 

Balada De Matt Sweeney

by Melcion Mateu

I

Matt Sweeney, el meu company de pis,

és alt i és gras; podria,

si volgués, actuar en un musical.

I és que té un do (de pit) realment insòlit,

gairebé com el seu do

de donant –el seu do d’amant, volia dir.

El seu do i el seu re

i el seu mi. Matt Sweeney

ronca al quarto del costat.

 

L’hauríeu de veure quan es lleva,

amb la calba, amb el cap ple d’antenes retorçades.

Li hauríeu de veure els ulls verds de Heineken,

les ulleres i el nas d’intel·lectual

i la gota del nas, li hauríeu de veure

la boca i les dents i

la llengua i la papada i els pits i el cor

(tatuat damunt del cor), li hauríeu de veure

la panxa i l’esquena i el cul

guaitant-li per damunt dels calçotets.

 

Matt Sweeney només s’assembla a Matt Sweeney,

sobretot als matins

(sis llaunes de cervesa es beu totes les nits

davant la tele, mirant una soap-opera):

té un cert posat d’entertainer triomfador,

amb el cap embotit de marihuana i un somriure feliç de bon vivant;

Matt Sweeney s’enlaira com un globus,

em mira, obre la boca i diu:

«Good morning, dude!», talment com si acabés de tornar de Califòrnia.

«Mornin’», li responc.

 

II

Matt Sweeney, el meu company

de pis, és un poc especial.

Va tenir un amant filipí

que estava boig pels óssos.

L’abraçava i li deia teddy bear

i en Matt li responia I wanna be your teddy bear

movent el cul com n’Elvis.

 

Vosaltres no sabeu el que és viure al costat de Matt Sweeney.

(És un ofici tan difícil!)

Sweeney! Sweeney! Sweeney! Sweeney!

«Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd»,

alguns dies em canta.

Jo per ara us explico la vida de Matt Sweeney

i un poc de la meva. Permeteu-me per tant que desafini.

 

III

Realment és un porc:

deixa la pica del lavabo plena de pèls,

la tapa del vàter esquitxada

i sovint es descuida d’estirar la cadena.

No renta els plats fins que no són plens de verdet.

Deixa els calçotets bruts al damunt del sofà,

una sabata a sota,

restes de porro a terra.

Acumula diaris i revistes.

Va perdre un dia el seu raspall de dents

i em va demanar de fer servir el meu. Ni en broma!

 

Cada nit el sentia masturbant-se al seu quarto

i en acabat roncava fins l’endemà.

Per sota de la porta s’escapaven les xinxes.

Li vaig demanar sisplau

que abaixés el volum de tant en tant.

I em va dir, ben afaitat i fent-se el nus de la corbata:

«I got my hair I got my head I got my brains I got my ears

I got my nose I got my mouth I got my teeth

I-got-my-tongue…!»

I encara sense treure’s

els auriculars va afegir:

«Benvingut, fill meu,

a l’imperi de Matt Sweeney,

observa al teu voltant i sàpigues que algun dia, estimat»

–i aquí es va dur una mà al pit i l’altra a l’entrecuix–,

«tot això que veus, tot això que t’envolta (i el que no veus i ni tan sols

imagines) serà teu,

serà teu tot l’imperi –el meu imperi–,

l’imperi de Matt Sweeney!»

The Ballad of Matt Sweeney

by Melcion Mateu

I

My roommate, Matt Sweeney,

is tall and fat; if he wanted

he could be in a musical.

It’s that his High C is really extraordinary,

almost like his gift

Of giving––his gift as a lover, I meant.

His do and his re

And his mi. Matt Sweeney

snores in the room next door.

 

You should see him when he wakes up,

his bald-spot, his head full of twisted antennae.

You should see his Heineken-green eyes,

his glasses and his intellectual

nose and his runny nose, you should see

his mouth and his teeth and

his tongue and his chest and his heart

(tattooed over his heart), you should see

his belly and his back and his ass

jutting out from just above his underwear.

 

Only Matt Sweeney looks like Matt Sweeney,

especially in the mornings

(he drinks a six pack of beer in front of the TV

every night, watching a soap opera):

he has the assured air of a triumphant entertainer,

with his head stuffed with marihuana and a happy bon vivant smile;

Matt Sweeney rises like a balloon,

looks at himself, opens his mouth and says,

“Good morning, dude!,” as though he’s just gotten back from California.

“Mornin’,” I say back.

 

II

My roommate Matt Sweeney

is a little weird.

He had a Filipino lover

who was crazy for bears.

He’d hug him and call him teddy bear

and Matt would respond with I wanna be your teddy bear

shaking his ass like Elvis.

 

None of you know what it’s like to live with Matt Sweeney.

(What a pain in the ass it can be!).

Sweeney, Sweeney! Sweeney! Sweeney! Sweeney!

“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd,”

he sings sometimes to me.

For the moment, I’m telling you about the life of Matt Sweeney

and a little bit about me. So don’t mind if I sing out of key.

 

III

He’s a real pig:

he leaves the sink full of hairs,

the lid of the toilet splattered,

he often forgets to flush;

he’s doesn’t wash the dishes until they’re covered in grime,

he leaves his dirty underwear on the sofa,

a shoe under it,

spliff ash on the floor;

he lets his newspapers and magazines pile up.

One day he lost his toothbrush

and asked to use mine and I said there was just no way.

 

Every night I’d hear him jerking off in his room

and when he finished he’d snore until the next day.

Bedbugs fled from under his door.

Once, I asked him nicely

if he could lower the volume once in a while

and, clean shaven and fixing the knot of his tie, he told me:

“I got my hair I got my head I got my brains I got my ears

I got my nose I got my mouth I got my teeth

I-got-my-tongue…!”

And then without taking off

his headphones he added:

“Welcome, my child,

to the kingdom of Matt Sweeney,

observe all around you and know that some day, my beloved”

––and here he placed one hand on his chest and the other on his crotch––,

“all that you see, all that surrounds you (and all that you neither see nor

imagine) will be yours,

all of this kingdom will be yours––my kingdom––

the kingdom of Matt Sweeney!”

translated from Catalan by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
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Gap

by Melcion Mateu

Puc fondre el gel amb la Mirada,

puc esborrar una multitud amb un sol parpelleig.

Si m’ho proposés,

podria fer créxer la palmera més alta

al mig d’aquesta plaça.

Puc agafar un grapat d’aigua, palpar-lo i prémer-lo

fins que en surti una pedra.

Els guàdies m’aturen quan vaig pel carrer

i em demanen per mi:

sempre els indico la direcció oposada.

Al matí, en despertar-me,

és normal que el llençol m’arribi al sostre.

Puc veure alguns planets que han deixat d’existir,

i també les estrelles que no han sortit encara.

El meu horòoscop sempre s’acompleix,

el meu destí és el destí dels éssers immortals.

Puc decidir entre la vida i la mort,

entre el somni i allò que no gosem pensar.

Puc fer-te patir

o fer que et sentis l’ésser més feliç de la Terra.

 

El meu nom és antic,

sóc el rei de la llum.

Quan plou o quan fa fred, em torno una crisàlide.

Al meu costat les papallones sempre tremolen,

no puc fer res per evitar-ho:

el que els alters poetes escriuen,

el que els alters poetes diuen en els seus versos és només una part

––una part molt petita––del que dir i puc fer.

 

Gap

by Melcion Mateu

With just a glance I can melt ice.

I can wipe out multitudes with a single blink.

If I were to suggest it

I could make the tallest of palms rise

right here in the middle of this plaza.

I can grab a fistful of water, palm its surfaces and squeeze

until a stone ekes out.

The cops stop me when I’m out on the street

and ask me if I’ve seen me . . .

I always send them in the opposite direction.

In the morning it’s normal for me to wake up and discover

my tented bed sheet touching the ceiling.

I can see some of the planets that have ceased to exist

as well as the stars that still have yet to be.

My horoscope always comes true.

My destiny is the destiny of immortals.

I get to choose between life and death,

between the dream and the thing that we don’t like to think.

I can make you suffer

or make you feel you’re the happiest being on Earth.

 

My name is ancient:

I am the king of all light.

I become chrysalis when it rains or when it’s cold.

There are always butterflies trembling at my flanks.

I can’t do anything to avoid it:

what other poets write,

what other poets say in their lines,

it’s all only a part –– a very small part –– of what I can say and what I can do.

translated from Catalan by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
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Photos of Melcion Marteu and Rowan Ricardo Phillips by Patricia Tagliari and Sue Kwon, respectively.

with no more authority or force
than pale, stripped branches

Two poems by the 16th century French poet Pierre de Ronsard, translated by Diane Furtney.

A La Royne Catherine de Medicis  

by Pierre de Ronsard

. . . L’autre jour que j’etois au temple à Sainct Denis,

Regardant tant de Rois en leurs cachottes mis,

Que n’agueres faisaient trembler toute la France,

Qui tous enflex d’orgueil, de pompe et d’esperance

Menoient un camp armé, tuoient et commandoient,

Et de leur peuple avoient les biens qu’ils demandoient,

Et les voyant couchez, n’ayans plus que l’escorce,

Comme buches de bois sans puissance ny force,

            Je disois à par moy:  Ce n’est rien que des Rois:

D’un nombre que voicy, à peine ou deux ou trois

Vivent apres leur mort, pour n’avoir este chiches

Vers les bons escrivains et les avoir fait riches. . .

To Queen Catherine de Medici  

by Pierre de Ronsard

. . . The other day, when I’d stepped inside

the church of Saint Denis and saw them, side by side

 

in their shallow niches, so many great

rulers lying in state

 

in stone, each inside a jail of death,

though everyone in France took a startled breath,

 

sometime, at the sight of his flying

colors—each leading out his armed camp, trying

 

for glory, and always receiving more

goods and help from his people than he’d asked for—

 

seeing them lying there, my lady,

on their backs, finally

 

unescorted, unhorsed,

with no more authority or force

 

than pale, stripped branches,

just rows and rows of impotence,

 

I said to myself, “There’s nothing

in here but Kings,

 

and quite a few of them.  No more than three

or two live on in anyone’s memory,

 

and only because it did not occur

—not to these monarchs—not to be meager

 

toward their writers, but rather make much

of them—even make them rich.”

translated from French by Diane Furtney
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Sonnet

by Pierre de Ronsard

 

Les villes et les bourgs me sont si odieux

Que je meurs, si je voy quelque tracette humaine:

Seulet dedans les bois pensif je me promeine,

Et rein ne m’est plaisant que les sauvages lieux.

 

Il n’y a dans ces bois sangliers si furieux,

Ni roc si endurci, ny ruisseau, ni fontaine,

Ny arbre tant soit sourd, que ne sache ma peine,

Et qui ne soit marri de mon mal ennuyeux.

 

Un penser, que renaist d’un autre, m’accompaigne

Avec un pleur amer qui tout le sein me baigne,

Travaillé de soupirs qui compaignons me sont:

 

Si bien, que si quelcun me trouvoit au bocage,

Voyant mon poil rebours, et l’horreur de mon front,

Ne me diroit, pas homme, ains un monstre sauvage.

A Thought

by Pierre de Ronsard

The villages and cities

are so odious to me,

 

I feel myself dying

if I see even a sign

 

of a human being.  I stay

in the deep woods, away,

 

and nothing pleases me except extreme,

savage places.  And yet, no scream

 

of a boar is furious enough,

no boulder dense enough,

 

no stream or waterfall or tree

deaf enough to stop the grief in me

 

and this evil weariness.  A thought

brings up another thought,

 

and with them tears that wet

my chest, pushed out by sighs that

 

stay my only companions.

If any person

 

crossed my tracks and noticed,

through the twigs, this

 

tangled hair

and the horror

 

on my face, he’d say, “That’s not a man,

it’s a monster!  Monsters have come again!”

 

 

translated from French by Diane Furtney
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the color of time on a ruined wall

 Five poems by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Yvette Siegert.

Pizarnik           Siegert photo

Mendiga voz

by Alejandra Pizarnik

Y aún me atrevo a amar

el sonido de la luz en una hora muerta,

el color del tiempo en un muro abandonado.

 

En mi mirada lo he perdido todo.

Es tan lejos pedir. Tan cerca saber que no hay.

A Beggar Voice

by Alejandra Pizarnik

And still I dare to love

the sound of the light in the hours of deadness

the color of time on a ruined wall.

 

In my eyes I’ve lost everything.

Asking is so far away. And so close, this knowledge of want.

translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert
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Los ojos abiertos

by Alejandra Pizarnik

Alguien mide sollozando

la extensión del alba.

Alguien apuñala la almohada

en busca de su imposible

lugar de reposo.

Eyes Wide Open    

by Alejandra Pizarnik

Someone sobs and measures

the lengths before dawn.

Someone punches her pillow

in search of an impossible

place of rest.

translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert
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Cuarto solo

by Alejandra Pizarnik

Si te atreves a sorprender

la verdad de esta vieja pared;

y sus fisuras, desgarraduras,

formando rostros, esfinges,

manos, clepsidras,

seguramente vendrá

una presencia para tu sed,

probablemente partirá

esta ausencia que te bebe.

Single Room    

by Alejandra Pizarnik

If you dare to frighten

the truth out of this old wall—

and its fissures, its gashes

that form shapes and sphinxes

and hands and clepsydras—

surely a presence

for your thirst will emerge,

and no doubt this absence

that drinks you dry will leave you.

translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert
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El corazón de lo que existe 

by Alejandra Pizarnik

no me entregues,

                tristísima medianoche,

al impuro mediodía blanco

The Heart of What Does Exist  

by Alejandra Pizarnik

do not hand me over,

            oh saddest of midnights,

to the impure whiteness of noon.

translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert
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Sombra de los días a venir

by Alejandra Pizarnik

A Ivonne A. Bordelois

 

Mañana

me vestirán con cenizas al alba,

me llenarán la boca de flores.

Aprenderé a dormir

en la memoria de un muro,

en la respiración

de un animal que sueña.

 

 

 

 

Shadow from Days to Come

by Alejandra Pizarnik

For Ivonne A. Bordelois*

 

Tomorrow

they’ll dress me in ash for the sunrise,

they’ll fill my mouth with flowers.

I’ll learn to sleep

inside the memory of a wall,

on the breath

of a dreaming animal.

 

 

 

 

 

* Bordelois is an Argentine linguist (PhD, MIT), writer, and scholar, and one of Pizarnik’s closest friends and literary interlocutors. 

translated from Spanish by Yvette Siegert
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Out of the halls of books
Appear the butchers.

A new translation of Bertolt Brecht’s “1940,” by J.D. Knight.

1940

by Bertolt Brecht

I

Das Frühjahr kommt. Due linden Winde

Befreien die Schären vom Wintereis.

Die Völker des Nordens erwarten zitternd

Die Schlachtflotten des Anstreichers.

 

II

Aus den Bücherhallen

Treten die Schlächter.

 

Die Kinder an sich drückend

Stehen die Mütter und durchforschen entgeistert

Den Himmel nach den Erfindungen der Gelehrten.

 

III

Die Konstrukteure hocken

Gekrümmt in den Zeichensälen:

Eine falsche Ziffer, und die Städte des Feindes

Bleiben unzerstört.

 

IV

Nebel verhüllt

Die Straße

Die Pappeln

Die Gehöfte und

Die Artillerie.

 

V

Ich befinde mich auf dem Inselchen Lidingö.

Aber neulich nachts

Träumte ich schwer und träumte, ich war in einer Stadt

Und entdeckte, die Beschriftungen der Straßen

Waren deutsch. In Schweiß gebadet

Erwachte ich, und mit Erleichterung

Sah ich die nachtschwarze Föhre vor dem Fenster und wußte:

Ich war in der Fremde.             

 

 

1940

by Bertolt Brecht

I

Spring is coming. The mild winds

Free the ridges from the winter’s ice.

Shivering, the people of the north await

The naval fleets of the house-painter.

 

II

Out of the halls of books

Appear the butchers.

 

Pressing her children close

The mother scans the sky, dumbfounded,

For the inventions of the scholars.

 

III

The engineers sit

Hunched over in the design rooms:

One wrong figure, and the enemy’s cities

Remain intact.

 

IV

Fog envelops

The street

The poplars

The farms and

The artillery.

 

V

I’m living on the island of Lidingö.

But the other night,

I had troubled dreams and I dreamed I was in a city

And discovered the street signs

Were in German. I woke up

Bathed in sweat, and with relief

I saw the pine, black as night, outside my window and knew:

I was in a foreign land.

 

 

translated from German by J.D. Knight
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Nicanor Parra:
Brand-new After 100 years

by: Iris Cushing

 

nicanor parraPhysicist, mathematician, artist, folk dancer, and (anti)poet Nicanor Parra turns 100 years old today. That he’s living to celebrate his own centennial could be a detail from one of his magnificently wry, aphoristic, self-mythologizing antipoems, which he has long characterized as a type of literary material analogous to antimatter. In her translator’s introduction to Antipoems: How to Look Better and Feel Great (New Directions, 2004) Liz Werner writes that “…antipoetry mirrors poetry, not as its adversary but as its perfect complement…it is as opposite, complete, and interdependent as the shape left behind in the fabric where the garment has been cut out.”

Parra has been cutting vivid shapes from the fabric of Latin American poetry and poetics since 1937, when his first book, Cancionero sin Nombre, appeared (Pablo Neruda’s book responding to the Spanish Civil War, España en el Corazón, appeared a year later). He went on to study physics and cosmology at Brown and Oxford, and teach those subjects at universities in Chile. Parra’s deceptively plain, deadpan voice has long confronted the various status quos of pop culture, literary canons, academia and politics. Having lived and written through the 17-year U.S.-backed Pinochet dictatorship, Parra has penned postcard-sized lyrics and drawings responding to situations as diverse in time and space as the U.S.’s embargo on Cuba and the war in Iraq. Throughout all his work runs a compassionate entreaty to consider poetry as a means for rethinking the world. “A poet is not true to his word/If he doesn’t change the names of things,” he writes in “Changes of Name” (trans. W.S. Merwin, in Poems and Antipoems, New Directions, 1967).

To celebrate Parra’s birthday, Chilean press Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales is releasing a long-lost long poem by Parra, titled Temporal. Written in 1987, the poem was lost by Parra in the chaos of the end of the Pinochet regime. However, Parra’s secretary, Adán Mendez, recently discovered cassette tapes of Parra in conversation with critic Rene de la Costa in which he reads the entire piece aloud. Mendez transcribed the poem from audio. The unlikely survival of a great poem in the body of a now-obsolete technology seems perfectly appropriate to Parra’s style.

Saludos a todos– “hi to everyone”–is the ninth and final “note” of Parra’s “Notes on the Lessons of Antipoetry,” translated by Liz Werner. Issued from the position of a theoretical physicist, rigorous social thinker, and poet, this greeting reads as something that could be inscribed on the Higgs boson particle: a beautifully purposeless joke at the center of the world’s great mystery. At 100, Parra is still laughing.

Her hands planted the rootless sprig

Four poems by Afghan poet Nadia Anjuman, translated from Dari by Diana Arterian and Marina Omar.

Nadia Anjuman’s poetry startles. When considered in conjunction with the knowledge of her young age, it provokes something deeper, less easily pinned down. Her poems are in turns playful, hopeful, devout, despondent. She leans on imagery of the garden and the stars, as well as the body. Despite the difficulty of her life and the content of the poems, one of her most remarkable and consistent habits is her hopefulness. Many of Anjuman’s pieces show her coaxing herself into optimism and rationality.

As a teenager in Herat, Nadia Anjuman attended the Golden Needle School. Under the guise of practicing needlepoint (a pastime approved by the Taliban government), a group of women gathered to meet and discuss literature with local professors. In 2001, with Afghanistan’s liberation from the Taliban, Anjuman began attending Herat University and soon published a book of poetry entitled Gul-e-dodi (Dark Flower). In Gul-e-dodi, Anjuman portrayed the difficult realities of her life and thus her generation of Afghani women, those with few rights who had been raised during the reign of a violent and oppressive governmental power. Her readership was not limited to Afghanistan—Gul-e-dodi found readers in Iran, Pakistan, and beyond. As a result of her writing, Anjuman was awarded scholarships and fellowships. She continued to write poetry despite the objections of her husband and his family, and she was set to publish a second volume of poetry in 2006 entitled Yek Sàbad Délhoreh (An Abundance of Worry).

Anjuman was killed in November of 2005 at the age of twenty-five. While the particulars of her death remain unclear, it appears that it was the result of a physical struggle between Anjuman and her husband. In 2007, Anjuman’s complete works (entitled Divâne Sorudehâye Nadia Anjoman: The Book of Poems of Nadia Anjuman) were published by the Iranian Burnt Books Foundation. Gul-e-dodi has been reprinted three times and sold over three thousand copies. As I continue to work on translating Anjuman’s poems—sending them out for publication, applying for grants, talking to people about her—I hope to avoid trapping her in the common tropes of the young genius, the dead woman writer, and/or the oppressed Afghani woman. The details of her life do not eclipse the brilliance of her verse.

—Diana Arterian

پربار

by Nadia Anjuman

aa_4

Rich

by Nadia Anjuman

One day my thoughts, instead of a chill

will bring fireworks

One day my eyes will be wide open

such that

in seeing the shrunken leaves of the ocean, they continue flowing

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers

 

One day a lullaby

will bring sleep to the weary eyes of homeless children

One day I will sing praise

to the spirit of fire

with soothing songs of rain

On that day

I will write a rich and exalting poem

with the sweetness of a tree’s fruit and the beauty of the moon

 

Sarataan 1380 / Summer 2001

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar
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تا بیکران خالی

by Nadia Anjuman

aa_3

Eternal Pit

by Nadia Anjuman

Once she was filled with the familiar

Her hands planted the rootless sprig

with intuition—

so it would grow

 

Once, in the bright spring of her mind

ran many great thoughts

 

Once, at times

her hand tamed the trees

 

Once even her guts were obedient

perhaps they feared her power

 

But today

her hands are wasted and idle

her eyes burnt sockets

her bright thoughts are buried in a swamp

fading

 

She distrusts even her feet

They defy her

taking her where she doesn’t want to go

 

She sits in a corner of quiet

lost in a sea of darkness

emptied of the thought of time

That

eternal pit

 

Sawr 1380Spring 2001

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar
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شکست

by Nadia Anjuman

aa_2

Failure

by Nadia Anjuman

How sincere, how pure

You, with such faith in your blossoming

ready in your chamber of patience 

Spring did not come

and you with your airy dreams

only smiled

and looked with your heart toward the future

But sadly

spring never stirred within

and luck didn’t smile on you

and when you found love

the harsh trial of that storm

plucked your bud of hope and

      and you snapped before opening

 

Asad 1380 / Summer 2001

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar
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ناز دخترانه

by Nadia Anjuman

aa_1a

Girlish Heart

by Nadia Anjuman

 

Each morning my heart is restless –

it longs for night’s solitude

becomes weary and joyless

peeved by the day

And yet in the afternoon

it sings for sunrise

When night falls

the branch of my heart’s fantasy grows

innocent of itself

Facing the sky

it flies upward, infinitely

(If my hand reached the moon

If the night bought my relief from a star

If the sun did not rise…

I would cover the city of night with lights

to gaze forever, star-drunk…)

Oh, my dreaming heart

you drown my days

in fantasy

How long will this old woman of a heart

move like a girl?

 

Swar 1379 / Spring 2000

 

translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar
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a failed defense against our common fate

 

Retrato_de_Sor_Juana_Inés_de_la_Cruz_(Miguel_Cabrera)Three poems by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, translated and with a note by Edith Grossman. 

My usual practice in translating poetry is to focus on rhythm and meter and give much shorter shrift to rhyme, not because it lacks importance (rhyme is actually an integral part of a poem’s rhythmic structure) but because for me it is extremely difficult to re-create in English the abundant rhymes, both assonant and consonant, that proliferate in Spanish and seem to be there for the taking. Not so in English. A poetic genius like Yeats makes rhyming seem a simple, natural matter, no more difficult than drawing breath, but for lesser mortals, moving from an easily rhymed language to one in which finding rhymes can best be described as arduous is an excruciating process. Even more discouraging is the sad fact that, more often than not, a translation that stresses the re-creation of rhyme begins to resemble not the source poem but doggerel plagiarized from a cheap greeting card. Then too, lines can become drastically convoluted in a translator‘s desperate effort to create rhymes and convey the sense of the original. Consequently, experience has led me to concentrate on the rhythm of the poem and take as my own the wisdom found in the Duke Ellington tune: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”  

—Edith Grossman

Sonetot 145

Procura desmentir los elogios que a un retrato de la poetisa
inscribió la verdad, que llama pasión

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Éste que ves, engaño colorido,
que del arte ostentando los primores,
con falsos silogismos de colores
es cauteloso engaño del sentido;

 

éste, en quien la lisonja ha pretendido
excusar de los años los horrores,
y venciendo del tiempo los rigores
triunfar de la vejez y del olvido,

 

es un vano artificio del cuidado,
es una flor al viento delicada,
es un resguardo inútil para el hado:

 

es una necia diligencia errada
es un afán caduco y, bien mirado,
es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada.

Sonnet 145

In which she attempts to refute the praises of a portrait of the poet,
signed by truth, which she calls passion

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

This thing you see, a bright-colored deceit,

displaying all the many charms of art,

with false syllogisms of tint and hue

is a cunning deception of the eye;

 

this thing in which sheer flattery has tried

to evade the stark horrors of the years

and, vanquishing the cruelties of time,

to triumph over age and oblivion,

 

is vanity, contrivance, artifice,

a delicate blossom stranded in the wind,

a failed defense against our common fate;

 

a fruitless enterprise, a great mistake,

a decrepit frenzy, and rightly viewed,

a corpse, some dust, a shadow, mere nothingness.

translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman
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Soneto 147

En que da moral censura a una rosa, y en ella a sus semejantes

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Rosa divina que en gentil cultura

eres, con tu fragante sutileza,

magisterio purpúreo en la belleza,

enseñanza nevada a la hermosura.

 

Amago de la humana arquitectura,

ejemplo de la vana gentileza,

en cuyo ser unió naturaleza

la cuna alegre y triste sepultura.

 

¡Cuán altiva en tu pompa, presumida,

soberbia, el riesgo de morir desdeñas,

y luego desmayada y encogida

 

de tu caduco ser das mustias señas,

conque con docta muerte y necia vida,

viviendo engañas y muriendo enseñas!

 

Sonnet 147

In which she morally censures a rose, and thereby all that resemble it

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

O rose divine, in gentle cultivation

you are, with all your fragrant subtlety,

tuition, purple-hued, to loveliness,

snow-white instruction to the beautiful;

 

intimation of a human structure,

example of gentility in vain,

to whose one being nature has united

the joyful cradle and the mournful grave;

 

how haughty in your pomp, presumptuous one,

how proud when you disdain the threat of death,

then, in a swoon and shriveling, you give

 

a withered vision of a failing self;

and so, with your wise death and foolish life,

In living you deceive, dying you teach!

translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman
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Soneto 164

En que satisface un recelo con la retórica del llanto

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

 

Esta tarde, mi bien, cuando te hablaba,

como en tu rostro y tus acciones vía

que con palabras no te persuadía,

que el corazón me vieses deseaba;

 

y Amor, que mis intentos ayudaba,

venció lo que imposible parecía:

pues entre el llanto, que el dolor vertía,

el corazón deshecho destilaba.

 

Baste ya de rigores, mi bien, baste:

no te atormenten más celos tiranos,

ni el vil recelo tu quietud contraste

 

con sombras necias, con indicios vanos,

pues ya en líquido humor viste y tocaste

mi corazón deshecho entre tus manos.

 

Sonnet 164

In which she responds to jealous suspicion with the rhetoric of weeping

by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

This afternoon, my love, when I spoke to you,

I could see in your face, in what you did,

that you were not persuaded by mere words,

and I wished you could see into my heart;

 

and Love, assisting me in my attempt,

overcame the seeming impossible,

for among the tears that my sorrow shed

was my breaking heart, liquid and distilled.

 

Enough of anger now, my love, enough;

do not let tyrant jealousy torment you,

nor base suspicion roil your serenity

 

with foolish specters and deceptive clues;

in liquid humor you have seen and touched

my broken heart and held it in your hands.

translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman
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