"Three Visits to the Master" and Other Poems

Mexican poet Adolfo Castañón.

 

Three Visits to the Master

1

Li Bai, visit in vain to the Taoist master of Mount Daitian

 

The barking of dogs mixes with the sound of water
under the dew the peach flowers, darker
In the depth of the forest a few deer appear
Near the brook, at noon, no bell rings
Wild bamboo cuts through the green haze
A waterfall anchors its flight to cliffs that touch the sky
No one knows the place to which their steps lead
I should like to rest my despond among the branches of the pines

 

Transcription from the Anthologie de la poésie chinoise, Col. La Pleiade, Gallimard, 2015. Published by Rémi Mathieu with the collaboration of Chantal Chen-Andro, Stéphane Feuillas, Florence Hu-Sterk, Rinier Lanselle, Sandrine Marchand, François Martin, and Martine Vallete-Hémery, p. 368

 

2

Another Visit

 

Among the treasured memories
of my youth
is the visit to the Master,
He met me in the middle of a noisy square
          as if to lesson the importance of our meeting -
While he spoke without looking at me
the sky released a thunderbolt
the rain began
The Master watched time pass
he glanced at his watch
and found himself the prisoner
of a disciple
whose brief questions
seemed to make him uncomfortable.
A little after, the waters calmed,
the noises of the square regained their rhythm
while I watched him walk away
I welcomed the lesson:
the sky formed a rainbow.

 

3

Meeting with the Master

 

I asked to meet with the master. He told me the lesson would be given at a certain place by the shore of the sea. He never came. Since then, I return to that place once every year, on the same day at the same time. I know that only in that way can I continue to receive the lesson.

 

Before (1)

I don’t know how to keep track
Something goes wrong
I don’t know, for example,
how many are forty-three…
or how many were two thousand
Before we were so rich
that the dead were counted by thousands…
It is difficult to add up
the # the newspaper assumes are dead each day…
I don’t know how many editions the newspaper prints
I don’t know how many newspapers there are in Mexico
They all seem to say the same thing
I don’t know, nor would I like to, who pays for them
Sometimes I think they are the same newspaper
And every day they change their date
but it’s the same
with the same spelling errors
the same broken syntax
And the same dead men
the same dead women
(We were so happy
when we used them as the title for a novel)
I don’t know, I don’t believe it
Before, we didn’t pay for water
and there were no wars for blue gold
Bread didn’t taste of rags
There were no worms in the garbage

Houses didn’t collapse at the first rain
Streets didn’t flood at the first hailstorm
Rain wasn’t acid
There was no need to make disaster plans
for the country of the family or humanity
Sons and daughters did not have to leave for other countries
There were disasters
but we didn’t wonder
who was benefitting from them
We cared little about the color or shape
of the culprit’s eyes…
I imagine that he or they
can keep track just fine...

 

Before (II)

I need Mexico
the Mexico from before
(but is that redundant?
isn’t Mexico’s curse that it is always from before?)
when I watched the bullfights without feeling faint
and fearlessly ate tacos de cabeza
in improbable, insomniac spots,
where the sunstone fell into puddles
and didn’t get dirty

I need the afternoons
spinning tops by the side of the road
I miss the blessed fly, lover of your writing,
and the mischievous mosquito that didn’t taste of dengue
I cry for the lost dust
and the celebrations set alight by streaming flares
while the honeywater bled dry on the corner
everyone cries for the disappeared,
few remember those who did not disappear
and are still here, giving and taking classes under the crude rain
and the burnt-out sun
amid garbage and desperation
I need before

 

Before (III)

My grandmother told me
that the native women hawked
“Live chichicuilotitos…”
caught fresh from the lake.
My father heard
the prolonged cries of
“Bottles, iron scraps, we’re buying…”
Through our streets, in contrast,
the same coarse announcement resounds
from a shouting voice, recorded
so the deaf drivers don’t have to get hoarse
or the same unintelligible audio selling tamales
(these fabricated voices
can also be bought at the market).
I’m glad, although I don’t buy anything,
to hear the whistle of the vendor who passes
with his mobile steam cooker
like a god in exile
selling sweet potatoes and plantains.
Although I have nothing to throw in,
the bell on the garbage truck
sounds like viaticum and reverence
What will the grandchildren remember?
when all of this is covered in concrete?

 

Translated by Arthur Dixon

 

 

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LALT Vol. 1 No. 2
Number 2

The second issue of Latin American Literature highlights the Caribbean and queer literature from across Latin America, featuring dossiers of revolutionary Chilean writer Pedro Lemebel and Mexican author Yuri Herrera as well as a special section on literary voices from Cuba.

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