The Turning House
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.
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.
wander and have no feet,
glance and have no eyes,
speak and have no mouth.
turns and does not move,
ignites and is extinguished,
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.
Octavio Paz (1914–1998) was born and raised in Mixcoac, part of present-day Mexico City. His family supported Emiliano Zapata, and after Zapata’s assassination they were forced into exile in the United States. Paz was only nineteen when he published his first collection of poetry, entitled Luna Silvestre (1933). During his long career, Paz founded the literary journals Barandal (1932) and Taller (1938) and the magazines Plural (1970) and Vuelta (1975). In 1945 he began working as a diplomat for the Mexican government in such places as Paris, Tokyo, Geneva, and Mumbai. His travels influenced much of his work, and he published many of his books while working abroad. Paz’s numerous collections of poetry include Entre la piedra y la flor (1941), Piedra de sol (1957; Eng. Sun Stone, 1991), and Renga (1972). Additionally, Paz wrote many essays, short stories, and plays, including El laberinto de la soledad (1950; Eng. The Labyrinth of Solitude, 1961), Corriente alterna (1967; Eng. Alternating Current, 1973), and La hija de Rappaccini (1956). In addition to the Neustadt Prize in 1982, Paz was awarded the 1981 Miguel de Cervantes Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1990.
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.