Five Poems

One of Eugenio Montejo's notebooks. Photo: Martha Viaña.

The Trees

The trees speak so little, you know.
They spend their entire life meditating
and moving their branches.
Just look at them closely in autumn
as they seek each other out in public places:
only the oldest attempt some conversation,
the ones that share clouds and birds,
but their voice gets lost in the leaves
and so little filters down to us, nothing really.

It’s difficult to fill the shortest book 
with the thoughts of trees.
Everything in them is vague, fragmented.
Today, for instance, on the way to my house
hearing a black thrush shriek,
the last cry of one who won’t reach another summer,
I realized that in his voice a tree was speaking,
one of so many,
but I don’t know what to do with this sharp deep sound,
I don’t know in what type of script
I could set it down. 

 

Earthdom

To be here a few years on earth
with the clouds that arrive, with the birds
dangling from fragile hours.
On the edge, almost adrift,
closer to Saturn, more distant,
while the sun revolves and drags us with it
and the blood circles once more through the depths of its universe
more sacred than the stars.

To be here on earth, no more distant that a tree,
no more inexplicable;
thin in autumn, laden in summer,
with what we are and are not, with shadow,
memory, longing, until the end
(if there is one) voice to voice,
from house to house,
whoever it may be who carries the earth, if they carry it,
or whoever hopes for it, if they keep watch,
each time dividing our common bread
in two, in three, in four,
without forgetting the share for the ant
who is still travelling from remote stars
to be here on time at our table
even though the crumbs are bitter.

 

Transfigured Time

To Antonio Ramos Rosa

The house where my father will be born
is still unfinished.
It lacks the wall my hands have not yet built.

His footsteps searching for me across the earth
now come towards this street.
Yet I can’t hear them, they still don’t reach me.

Behind that door are echoes
and voices I recognize miles off,
but they are spoken only by portraits.

The face not seen in any mirror,
because it’s late being born
or still doesn’t exist,
could be of any one of us —
it looks like all of us.

My bones are not in that tomb
but those of Zacarias, the great-grandson,
who used a walking stick and pseudonym.
My own remains have long been lost.

This poem was written in another century,
some night by a guttering candle,
by me, by someone else, I don’t recall.
Time consumed the flame
and lingered in my darkened hands
and in these eyes that never read the poem.
When the candle returns with its light
I’ll already be gone.    

 

The Earth Turned to Bring Us Closer

The earth turned to bring us closer,
it spun on itself and within us,
and finally joined us together in this dream
as written in the Symposium.
Nights passed by, snowfalls and solstices;
time passed in minutes and millennia.
An ox cart that was on its way to Nineveh
arrived in Nebraska.
A rooster was singing some distance from the world,
in one of the thousand pre-lives of our fathers.
The earth was spinning with its music
carrying us on board;
it didn’t stop turning a single moment
as if so much love, so much that’s miraculous
was only an adagio written long ago
in the Symposium’s score. 

 

For My Eightieth Birthday

The eightieth year of my life is as far away
as the moment I was born.
In the distance, the clocks are erased,
but tonight I open my home to my friends,
I want them all to come
to celebrate at my side.

Only my biographers can be exact
with shady magnifying glasses.
And although their astuteness may correct me tomorrow,
I fold my age over their horoscope
and anticipate the future sun.
It's best that way: the gods are stingy,
I don't know how much I have left.

Tonight I suddenly grow old,
maybe it has not snowed on my temples,
I am from a country without snow.
Life rolled so long between my bones
that it has has weight,
age made me light,
it settled me with emptiness
without becoming wise,
—my eighty years are not so many.

Only the magnifying glasses of my biographers
will restore the figures of the days
until they fix the quantity of shadow
in their quadrants of ash.

The eightieth year is an imprecise limit
in which I see and don't see myself,
it is so far from this time,
so uncertain,
that although no friend is missing
maybe I'm the one who's absent.
But someone (I could swear I'm looking at him)
will memorialize me, raising some glass
in spite of the silence, the solitude, death.
And at that instant I will be him,
and his belief about life
is my belief;
even if he has not yet been born
and he is separated from my home
by leagues of sea and dust clouds of path,
I know he will not miss my birthday,
I invited him to my party.

Translated by Peter Boyle

"For My Eightieth Birthday" translated by Arthur Dixon

Languages

LALT No. 7
Number 7

The seventh issue of Latin American Literature Today highlights indigenous voices with dossiers dedicated to three Wayuu writers from Colombia and Zapotec poetry and prose. We also pay homage to renowned Venezuelan poet Eugenio Montejo with a special dossier, as well as returning to the strange worlds of Latin American science fiction and opening a new space for Brazilian literature in Portuguese and English.

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