The Turning House


Mexican writer Octavio Paz.

For Ivar and Astrid

There is a wooden house
on the plain of Oklahoma.
Each night the house turns
into an island of the Baltic Sea, 
a stone that fell from a fabled sky.
Burnished by Astrid’s glances,
ignited by Ivar’s voice,
the stone slowly turns in the shadow:
it is a sunflower and burns.
                                                  A cat,
returned from Saturn,
goes through the wall and disappears
between the pages of a book.
The grass has turned into night,
the night has turned into sand,
the sand has turned into water.
Ivar and Astrid lift up architectures 
—cubes of echoes, weightless forms—
some of them called poems,
others drawings, others conversations 
with friends from Málaga, Mexico
and other planets.
                                 These forms 
wander and have no feet,
glance and have no eyes,
speak and have no mouth.
                                                The sunflower 
turns and does not move,
                                              the island 
ignites and is extinguished,
                                                  the stone
              the night closes,
the sky opens.
wets the lids of the plain.

Translated by Ivar Ivask

First publication in: World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 3, Varia Issue (Summer 1983), p. 386.


Poet and literary scholar Ivar Ivask fled from his native Estonia to Germany in 1944, subsequently living in the United States and Ireland. He worked as a professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Oklahoma, where his writing focused on Spanish-language literature. He served as Editor-in-Chief of World Literature Today—then Books Abroad—from 1967 to 1991, directing the Neustadt International Prize for Literature starting in 1970 and the festival now known as the Puterbaugh Conference on World Literature starting in 1968. 


LALT No. 17
Number 17

In our seventeenth issue, we highlight the work of groundbreaking Colombian writer Albalucía Ángel, alongside Octavio Paz, a towering figure of Mexican letters and the second Latin American winner of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. We also feature Peruvian poet Eduardo Chirinos, a series of photo portraits of writers in the pandemic, a selection of new translations seeking publisher, plus writing in the Murui, Quechua, and Tseltal lenguages in our ongoing Indigenous Literature section.

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Featured Author: Albalucía Ángel

Dossier: Octavio Paz

Dispatches from the Republic of Letters






Pandemic Postcards

Indigenous Literature

Translation Previews and New Releases

On Translation: Seeking Publisher

Dossier: Eduardo Chirinos

Nota Bene