Four Poems

Argentine writer Olga Orozco. Photo: Sara Facio.

For Emilio in his Heaven

Here are your keepsakes:
this mild blight of violets
falling uselessly on forgotten days and hours;
your name,
the persistent name your hand left behind on stones;
the familiar tree, its sound always green against the windowpane;
my childhood, so close, 
in the very garden where the grass still grows,
where your head so often would suddenly 
rest beside me in the thickets of darkness.

Everything’s still the same.
When, like now, standing at the far wall we call each other again:
everything’s still the same.
Here, pale adolescent, lies your territory:
damp grassland for your clandestine feet,
the sour taste of thistles, familiar frost at daybreak,
old old stories,
the earth where we were born, an identical mist hovering over  our tears.

- Do you remember snow falling? So long ago now.
How your hair’s grown since then!
And yet you still wear its ephemeral flowers on your skin
and your forehead bends under the very same sky
so bright and dazzling.

Why, like a god to his world, do you have to come back bringing
a landscape I loved?
Do you still remember snow falling?

How alone your dwelling place would be today, 
its iron bars and flowers behind useless walls!

Left behind, its youth resembles your body,
now it will miss your too obstinate silences,
your skin, as desolate as a country only visited by ash-grey petals
that have watched, for so long now, the inexhaustible patience of ants
going back and forth through their lonely ruins.

Wait, wait, my darling:
that’s not the cold face of the terrifying snow, not the face
of last night’s dream.
Listen once more, my darling, just once more:
the sand’s unmistakeable scratching on the fence,
grandmother’s cry,
the same loneliness, its absolute truth,
and this long future: staring at our hands till they grow old.

 

Interrogation of the bird through its song

In some eyes you see the indigo dregs left by twilights as they 
                fade – 
a wing that remains, a shadow of absence.
Such eyes are made to distinguish even the very last trace of 
               melancholy,
to see in the rain an inventory of lost blessings
just as an inner winter is needed
“to behold the frost and the junipers shagged with ice”
Wallace Stevens said, freezing the ears and the eye’s pupil,
turned maybe into the snowman who contemplates the nothing 
              with the nothing
and who hears only the wind
with no gospel that mightn’t be the unique sound of the wind
(though maybe it will speak of the greatest possible bareness, 
               not clarity).
But I know that everything dark is only explored using the night 
               I have,
that the rock half opens before the rock
in the same way as the heart is weighed with its abyss.
Is there any other way of peering right down to the deepest subsoil,
to the depths of another wound, of another hell?
There’s no other lamp for examining what’s close, what’s strange,
             what’s distant.
It’s shown by the elusive meaning of the rat’s squeal between its 
             glass walls,
as it slips on the ladder of some unconceivable light;
the star proclaims it with its distant code that’s tied to a certain 
             trembling,
maybe to someone’s death, someone already gone;
it’s confirmed by the I that walks with you and is memory wherever
             you forget,
and by that vast glittering other
that emerges for a meeting under the water of transformations,
and sometimes isn’t person or colour, or perfume or any trace of 
              this world.
Both are spun from the exact substance of silence.
They resemble God in his version as reversible guest:
the soul that inhabits you is also the gaze of the sky that includes you.

 

“Pavane for a dead Princess”

                                                      for Alejandra Pizarnik

Little sentry guard,
you fall once again through the fissure of night
armed with nothing but your open eyes and terror
against the insoluble invaders of the blank page.
They were legion.
Legion made flesh was their name
and they multiplied the more you unpicked the fabric till the very 
             last thread,
cowering in your corner against the voracious spiderwebs
             of nothingness.
Closing your eyes means becoming the dwelling place of the 
             whole universe.
Open them and you draw the boundary line and you stay out there at
            the mercy of the sky.
To walk on that line is to lose your place.
Bouts of insomnia like long tunnels for testing every reality’s
            inconsistency;
nights and more nights perforated by a single bullet that nails you into
            the dark,
the same attempt to recognise yourself on waking inside the memory
            of death:
that perverse temptation,
that adorable angel with a pig’s snout.
Who spoke of spells to counteract the wound of one’s own birth?
Who mentioned bribes for the emissaries of one’s own future?
Only there was a garden: in the depths of everything there is a garden
where the blue flower from Novalis’ dream opens.
Cruel flower, vampire flower,
more treacherous than the trap hidden in the plush of the wall,
a flower you can never reach without leaving your head or 
             whatever blood you still have on the threshold.
But, not caring, you kept leaning over to pick it, with no foothold,
just inward abysses.
You planned to swap it for the starving creature who was taking 
             over your house.
You built little ravenous castles in her honour;
you wore feathers that had broken free from the bonfire of 
            every possible paradise;
you trained small dangerous animals to gnaw away the bridges 
            of salvation;
you lost yourself just like the beggar woman with her delusion 
            of wolves;
you tried out languages like acids, like tentacles,
like ropes in the hands of a strangler.
Ah what poetry does, cutting your veins with dawn’s sharp edge,
and those bloodless lips sucking down venoms as speech turns empty.
And suddenly there’s no more.
The flasks have shattered.
Lights and pencils cracked in splinters.
The paper was torn apart with a tear down which you glide into 
               one more labyrinth.
All the doors are for getting out.
And everything is at the back of mirrors.
Little traveller,
alone with your collection box of visions
and the same unbearable sense of abandonment under your feet:
clearly with your voices you’re calling out like a drowned woman 
              for passage across;
clearly your enormous shadow that goes on flying above you in 
              the search for another still holds you back,
or you meet an insect whose membranes hide all chaos and 
              you tremble,
or you’re frightened by the sea that, so you think, fits into this
             single tear.
But now that the silence has wrapped you twice over in its wings 
             like a mantle
I tell you again:
in the depths of everything there is a garden.
Your garden is there.
Talitha cumi. 

 

Cantos to Berenice (V)
               
           You reigned in Bubastis
your feet in earth, like the Nile,
a constellation for a headdress above your heavenly double.
You were the Sun’s daughter and fought against night’s 
              malevolent ones –
mire, treason or mole, rodents gnawing at the house wall, at the 
              bed of lovemaking – 
from the bejewelled dynasties of stone
to ash-laden kitchen spices, multiplying yourself,
from the temple’s halo to the steam off cooking pots.
Solitary sphinx or domestic sybil,
you were the goddess Lar and in every fold, every brushy patch
of your inexplicable anatomy, you housed a god, like some 
              insomniac flea.
Through the ears of Isis or Osiris you discovered
that your names were Bastet and Bast and that other name only        
             you know
(or maybe a cat doesn’t need three names?)
but when the Furies nibbled away at your heart like a honeycomb 
             of plagues
you puffed yourself up till you claimed kinship with the lion,
then you were called Sekhet, the revenger.
But the gods, the gods too die to be immortal
and, once again, any day they like, burn dust and garbage.
Your little bell rolled round, its music silenced by the wind.
Your little pouch lies scattered among countless mouths of sand.
And now your shield is a blurred idol for lizards and centipedes.
The centuries have bound and wrapped you in your wasted 
               necropolis – 
that city swathed in bandages that walks through children’s 
               nightmares – 
and because each body by itself is one small part
of the immense sarcophagus of a god
you were hardly even you and, at the same time, a legion 
                sitting in suspense,
seated there, you with that air 
of being always at ready, sitting on guard 
at the threshold.

 

Cantos to Berenice (XVII)

Though all our traces may be wiped clean just like candles at dawn
and you maybe can’t remember backwards, like the White Queen,
leave me your smile in the air.
Perhaps by now you’re as immense as all my dead,
with your skin night after night hiding the overflowing night of farewell:
one eye on Achernar, the other on Sirius,
your ears stuck to the deafening wall of other planets,
your vast body drowned in their boiling ablution,
in their Jordan of stars.
Maybe my head would be impossible, my voice not even a void,
my words less than tattered rags of some ridiculous language.
But leave me your smile in the air:
a gentle vibration to coat in quicksilver a sliver of the glass of 
           absence,
that brief vigil tattooed in live flame in a corner,
a tender sign to perforate one by one the leaves of that harsh 
           calendar of snow.
Leave me your smile
as some form of perpetual guardian,
Berenice.

Translated by Peter Boyle

Languages

Number 8

The eighth issue of Latin American Literature pays homage to Nicaraguan writer and politician Sergio Ramírez, winner of the 2017 Cervantes Prize and an important voice in a country currently gripped by crisis. We also feature poetry from Octavio Armand, as well as special sections dedicated to four indigenous writers of Mexico and Guatemala, bilingual sci-fi from Worldcon 76, and the poetry of Marosa di Giorgio, Olga Orozco, and Elena Garro. 

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