Creo que no creo: Intertextuality and Translation in Cuidados intensivos by Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza
“Creo que no creo. Tan solo escribo sin copia del original.”
—Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza
This essay’s epigraph comes from the final section of the poetry collection Cuidados intensivos (2014) by Venezuelan poet Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza1, and serves as an observation on the work of its author as well as a hypothesis on all literary production. Perhaps not by chance, the aphorism is based on intertextuality, creating a link with the poem “Creo en la vida” by Eugenio Montejo. Montejo writes, “creo que no creo,” conjugating the verb “creer” twice to defend a unique conception of atheism confronted by the wonders of human existence. Gutiérrez writes exactly the same sentence, but his words mean something completely different: he juxtaposes the verb “creer” in the first case with the verb “crear” in the second, indicating through the words of another poet that he does not believe in originality as an element of the artistic process (Gutiérrez 123, Montejo 64). This assertion reveals an important notion that applies to Cuidados intensivos itself, and perhaps to literature in general.
In After Babel, the fundamental text of contemporary translation studies, George Steiner affirms that “there will be in every complete speech-act a more or less prominent element of translation” (207). Cuidados intensivos serves to prove this affirmation. From January to October of 2015, I had the opportunity to examine Gutiérrez Plaza’s book in detail as I translated its poems from Spanish to English.2 The observations and thoughts recorded here are one product of those months’ efforts. The experience of translating Cuidados intensivos allowed me to perceive the aspects of the “original” book, as it were, that can be identified as the “elements of translation” mentioned by Steiner.
Specifically, the “translated” nature of Cuidados intensivos can be perceived through the intertextuality that marks the book. Many words, phrases, ideas, and poetic constructions are transferred in from other texts. By highlighting the intertextualities that feed into this collection’s poems, one can read it not only as an original book—the product of a single author, generated through his own creativity—but as a translation in itself that rests upon other levels of artistic and cultural production. Few studies have been dedicated to the link between intertextuality and translation, but in theoretical terms there is an important relationship between the two concepts. Translation implies an interaction between texts, and intertextuality implies the reinterpretation of the ideas of one text within another, which forms an important part of the task of the translator. Through an analysis of certain poems from Cuidados intensivos in the context of the complete works of Gutiérrez Plaza, along with existing theory on intertextuality and translation, I propose to explain how intertextuality gives rise to an “original” work by a single author that is also a translation, even if not translated from one language to another.
The works of Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza, and Cuidados intensivos in particular, serve to demonstrate the nature of the original text as translation. The usefulness of Gutiérrez Plaza’s poetry for this purpose comes not only from the quantity of intertextualities and external references that fill his texts, but also from the programmatic role of his work. All of Gutiérrez Plaza’s poetic production thus far has had something to do with the need to “construir un concepción de la poesía” (Gutiérrez, Pasado en limpio, Isava 5). As a writer and an academic, Gutiérrez Plaza has demonstrated an almost obsessive interest in the use of poems as tools in the project of explaining—to others and to himself—what poetry is, asking this question of any reader who chooses to confront it.
The very title of Cuidados intensivos implies its purpose and its reader’s task. It evokes medical vocabulary—a reference to the hospitalisation of the poet’s mother before her death. During the process of preparing the collection, these two words—“intensive care” in English—were unaware of their nature as an “intuición premonitoria” (Gutiérrez 145). In a literary context, the title points to the need, especially pressing in the contemporary world, for the reader of poetry to focus on the “cuidado” of the poem as the final redoubt of the word (146). The collection has few limits in thematic terms, and its poems address notions of nationality, eroticism, politics, and death with equal depth. Nonetheless, the current that links all of these parts is a preoccupation with the identity and the survival of the poem itself. Even more than other works by Gutiérrez Plaza, Cuidados intensivos represents a deliberate attempt to diagnose the contemporary condition of poetry and to consider how readers can care for it more effectively.
Long before he composed Cuidados intensivos, Gutiérrez Plaza fulfilled, perhaps unconsciously, the simultaneous roles of poet and translator, although he never translated between distinct languages. He has always recognised the presence of other levels of literary production underneath his own, provided by other authors and translated by himself to form new levels of meaning. Gutiérrez Plaza has admitted that intertextuality plays an indispensable role in his work, and this intertextuality is what creates the inherently translated nature of his texts. One of the epigraphs of his first poetry collection, Al margen de las hojas (1991), which also appears as a section of the longer collection Pasado en limpio (2006), is a quote by Jorge Luis Borges: “El concepto del texto definitivo no corresponde sino a la religión o al cansancio” (Gutiérrez, Pasado en limpio 9). Even in his first published book, Gutiérrez Plaza expresses his lack of belief in artistic originality in favour of recognising influence, reference, and intertextuality as essential elements of writing. He recognises the translated text—that is, the text composed of materials previous to and separate from the author’s own creation—as the true manifestation of the literary process, in place of the fictitious “texto definitivo.”
Interpretations of intertextuality and translation are informed by an extensive theoretical legacy. Intertextuality in itself, as a recognised element of literary study, emerges from the work of Russian philosopher of language Mikhail Bakhtin. Bakhtin’s analysis of Dostoevsky paved the way for the recognition of the possibility of “la auténtica polifonía de voces” within a single literary work: the possible presence of characters and happenings alien to the pure creation of the author (15). Bakhtin concentrates his study of polyphony on examples of prose, but the precepts he establishes for the multiple identity of the literary work and for its production as an act of communication between voices and creators apply perfectly to the case of poetry.
Other theoretical foundations of an intertextual analysis of Cuidados intensivos come from the schools of structuralism and deconstruction. The French structuralist analyst Michael Riffaterre identifies intertextuality—which he perceives as the limitation of possible interpretations of a text through connections with others—as an essential element of all literature (108-113). As he expresses in his Sémiotique de la poésie (a translation to French of the English original, Semiotics of Poetry), “percevoir le texte comme le transformé d’un intertexte, c’est le percevoir comme le summun des jeux de langage, c’est-a-dire comme un text littéraire” (61). The tools of deconstruction developed by Jacques Derrida are also useful in the task of analysing Cuidados intensivos; Derrida’s distillation of the word to a phonic symbol appropriated by meaning allows for the examination of the significative interchange between texts, just as it nourishes the process of translation (81). Finally, one must recognise the profound influence of Umberto Eco on the study of intertextuality. His recognition of the “open” nature of any work of art reaffirms the need for an intertextual reading of Cuidados intensivos and validates the interpretation of the book as a translation (4).
Various translators and theorists of translation also provide useful perspectives for an analysis of Cuidados intensivos, especially when their works are read in conjunction with theories of intertextuality. George Steiner’s central affirmation—that “all acts of communication are translations”—is closely linked to the concept of intertextuality, as it recognises the re-interpretative essence not only of poetry or literature but of any human attempt at communication (Potter 17). More than a decade before Steiner proposed this hypothesis, Roman Jakobson argued that “the meaning of any linguistic sign is its translation into some further, alternative sign,” establishing an early basis for a universal theory of communication as translation (232). To analyse a work of contemporary poetry, one must extend this suggestion to the more concrete context of the practical role of the translator and the nature of the translator’s work.
In his famous essay on the task of the translator, Walter Benjamin states, “[j]ust as the manifestations of life are intimately connected with the phenomenon of life without being of much importance to it, a translation issues from the original—not so much from its life as from its afterlife” (254). This assertion establishes the link—which is intertextual in the clearest sense—between one text and another at the moment of translation. Translators occupy an intermediate space between two texts and write their own reading or re-reading of the “original” to create the translation. Essentially, the act of incorporating read or re-read elements of a cultural text into another is as much an act of translation as an act of writing itself, and this act can be perceived most clearly through intertextuality.
Contemporary translators work under a certain degree of pressure to create something new—a pressure much less tangible for translators of older texts who dedicate themselves to the direct recreation of the words they translate in their own language (Bassnett 124). Translators of contemporary literature tend to use “original” texts as sources of inspiration instead of canonical codes that precisely direct the task of translation. Translators work with the connections between texts; they serve an inevitably intertextual purpose. The poems of Cuidados intensivos demonstrate how Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza serves this same purpose as a poet, and the process of translating them to English adds another level of intertextual growth to the structure within which they already exist.
The most basic level of intertextuality evident in Cuidados intensivos—and, by extension, the level of translation least distinct from simple reference to other texts—is present in the texts whose intertextualities are established by means of paratexts. Gérard Genette, the inventor of this term, defines paratexts as the elements added to the essential text that “ensure the text’s presence in the world, its ‘reception’ and consumption” (1). This definition includes titles, epigraphs, and dedications. By means of these tools, the poet, the translator, and the editor of a text can specify the nature of its interaction with other texts, in the sense of intertextuality as well as in that of translation.
For example, the titular poem of Cuidados intensivos includes a dedication to the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who is also the author of one of the book’s epigraphs. The poem pays tribute to Szymborska not only through the paratext of the dedication; the poem itself is “construido” as a re-reading and recreation of a poem by Szymborska called “Alabanza a mi hermana.” Szymborska’s poem begins with an expression of anxiety over the fact that none of her relatives writes poems; Gutiérrez Plaza’s begins with an expression of anxiety over the fact that none of his relatives reads them (Gutiérrez 96, Szymborska).
The presence of Szymborska’s words in Gutiérrez Plaza’s poem (and in my translation) is made possible thanks to the process of linguistic translation from Polish to Spanish and from Spanish to English, but beyond linguistic translation, the intertextuality between Szymborska and Gutiérrez Plaza implies another level of translation. Szymborska expresses an emotion in her poem, and Gutiérrez Plaza re-reads this emotion in his own context, transferring it to his own experience. This artistic act, common in Cuidados intensivos, is the same project undertaken by the translator at the moment of translation.
Another case of this variety of intertextuality is noticeable in one of the poems devoted to social criticism included in Cuidados intensivos: “En una estación del metro no visto por Pound (En Caracas, no en París).” The epigraph of this text is the poem “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound, which appears in its entirety in English: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.” (61). Gutiérrez Plaza’s poem is not simply an observation of the crowd that fills the metro; it focuses specifically on an “hombre de escaso muñón” who advances toward a metro car, lamenting his illnesses and begging other passengers for money (61).
Through intertextuality with Pound’s short, ambiguous poem, Gutiérrez Plaza translates it to a distinct geographical context and to a more concrete language. Pound’s “original” poem describes the same situation described by Gutiérrez Plaza, but the Venezuelan poet decides to add specificity—a common option for the translator—such that it fits better within his personal experience. This paratextual intertextuality with Pound represents another example of Gutiérrez Plaza’s simultaneous roles as poet and translator. My translation of the poem to English, which also includes Pound’s poem, is a curious example of a backwards step in linguistic terms. It attempts to reflect Pound’s inspiration as well as the distinction injected by Gutiérrez Plaza as the poem’s original translator.
Beyond the examples of Szymborska and Pound, which are made obvious through paratexts, other poems from Cuidados intensivos include dimensions of intertextuality that require a deeper analysis. I will address four such poems in more detail.
“Al modo de Oliverio Girondo (si hubiese sido mexicano)”
This brief, humorous poem is the most difficult to read—and, perhaps inevitably, the most difficult to translate—in Cuidados intensivos, and yet it offers one of the clearest examples of the process of translation carried out by Gutiérrez Plaza through intertextuality. The poem is constructed based on a direct reference to the Argentine avant-garde poet Oliverio Girondo, and more specifically to his poem “12,” which is composed almost entirely of reflexive verbs placed in sequence to describe a romantic, erotic relationship. Gutiérrez Plaza adopts this innovative construction in his own poem, clearly reflecting (almost as much as in the paratext of the poem’s title) the deliberate influence of Girondo.
Gutiérrez Plaza also forms his poem primarily out of reflexive verbs, but he does not employ verbs related to the standard vocabulary of love and sex. The Mexican theme mentioned in the title is reflected by the fact that Gutiérrez Plaza completely avoids conventional verbs in favour of invented verbs based on nouns belonging to the vocabulary of Mexican cuisine. These verb-nouns, which lack any fixed meaning, provide the poem’s sense of absurd humor, especially as the poem maintains the erotic interchanges developed by Girondo. While the poetic characters of the Argentine poet “se miran, se presienten, se desean,” Gutiérrez Plaza’s “se tortillean, se enchilan, se emposolean,” etc. (Girondo, Gutiérrez 83).
Obviously, this poem represents a great challenge for the translator, as it requires one to work with words that lack definitions even in their own language. The most notable trait of “Al modo de Oliverio Girondo” is its incomprehensibility, and this incomprehensibility forms the main message of the poem. Gutiérrez Plaza wrote it during a months-long stay in Mexico City as an expression of the difficulty that a foreigner experiences when faced with the linguistic incomprehensibility of another country—even a country whose people speak the foreigner’s language. For Gutiérrez Plaza, the vocabulary of Mexican cuisine took on the form of an indecipherable code, as mysterious as the erotic code suggested by the colors, smells, tastes, and textures of Mexico’s gastronomy.
This intertextuality, not only with Girondo but also with the distinctive language of Mexican cuisine, is so profound as to sacrifice any actual meaning. It manifests the affirmation of Roland Barthes that “the writerly text is ourselves writing”—the true creator of the poem’s meaning is neither Girondo nor Gutiérrez Plaza, but rather the reader (5). If translation implies an effort to capture the significance of one text and transfer it to another, Gutiérrez Plaza has done a bad translation on purpose, deforming the meaning of Girondo’s poem and of Mexican culinary vocabulary to create a new text that is inherently impossible to understand. Of course, a Mexican reader or anyone with adequate experience of the huaraches, guacamole, and molletes that Gutiérrez Plaza evokes would be able to read the poem with greater understanding of the linguistic units that form it, but such a reader would nonetheless be unable to establish precise semantic relationships between the words and their apparent meanings.
In this sense, the poem represents not only a complicated translation by the author but also a complicated translation by all of its readers, who are unable to know if they have interpreted its words “correctly.” The reader’s obligation to create an incomplete or incorrect mental translation is made clear in my English translation (Appendix). The lack of meaningful words and the specificity of the cultural references force the translator to translate the poem almost without changing its words in linguistic terms; the translation to English is as difficult as the original translation of incomprehensible words to Spanish, which was undertaken by the poet himself.
The poem itself is a translation of intertextual words and contexts across geographical and linguistic boundaries, and its translation to English represents another step in its creative existence. In the case of “Al modo de Oliverio Girondo,” the original poet deserves as much credit as a translator as does the translator himself.
“Amanecer en el Paseo de la Reforma”
Another poem on a Mexican theme from Cuidados intensivos, “Amanecer en el Paseo de la Reforma” demonstrates an act of translation through a very different level of intertextuality. It is perhaps the poem that best represents the mixture of wonder and cynicism that characterises Gutiérrez Plaza’s perspective as a traveller discovering Mexican reality. The poem is constructed by means of a juxtaposition of two planes: the bustling modernity of Mexico City and the historical, indigenous, mythical legacy of the city of Tenochtitlán. This central juxtaposition is nourished by the poem’s intertextualities, which themselves imply a process of translation even in the “original” poem.
The definitive characteristic of the poem is the translation of the past into terms of the present, or vice versa. Like the narrator of Cortázar’s “La noche boca arriba,” the voice of Gutiérrez Plaza’s poem perceives the modern Mexican reality it observes while the sun rises over Paseo de la Reforma through its links to an almost mythological past, defined by the presence of gods, “guerreros águilas,” “pochtecas,” and other elements of the indigenous heritage that lies literally beneath the present-day city (Cortázar, Gutiérrez 53). These elements exist alongside “los Starbucks” and the “Instituto de Salubridad e Higiene” of contemporary Mexico (53).
The presence of these two historical levels—two cultural texts in and of themselves—implies an act of temporal translation by Gutiérrez Plaza, who translates entities of the past to a modern context and, at the same time, translates omnipresent entities of the modern world, like Starbucks, to the antiquated language of a lost past. By establishing relations between cultural texts and vocabularies, Gutiérrez Plaza translates historical periods to new contexts, just as a translator transfers words from one language to another.
Another example of translation as a component of the “original” text in “Amanecer en el Paseo de la Reforma” results from the inclusion of lines from a translated text as integral parts of the poem. The metaphorical “guerreros águilas” of Gutiérrez Plaza’s Mexico City proclaim: “Aquí nadie teme la muerte en la guerra / esta es nuestra gloria / este tu mandato / ¡Oh, dador de la vida!” (54). These words come from a Nahuatl text included by Miguel León Portilla in his book De Teotihuacán a los aztecas: antología de fuentes e interpretaciones históricas. This text, entitled “Otro cantar, afirmación de la gloria y del poderío de los aztecas” by Portilla, is a patriotic song of praise for the city of “México-Tenochtitlán” and its martial power (Portilla 162).
Within “Amanecer en el Paseo de la Reforma,” this text serves as a source of direct communication between the modernity observed by the narrator and the historicity of the atemporal city he imagines. Again, Gutiérrez Plaza adopts the role of the translator as he re-imagines a potential meaning of preexisting words, reinterpreting verses that have already been translated from Nahuatl to Spanish to give them yet another meaning in their new language. The translation of these lines to English implies yet another linguistic transition, and another need to create a temporal context for words that exist outside their era.
In “Amanecer en el Paseo de la Reforma,” Gutiérrez Plaza acts as a translator as he creates a new meaning for an existing text, appropriating it for his own purposes and offering other translators the opportunity to extend the process of translation in equally linguistic and literary terms. The original poet incorporates and translates other texts within his own work.
“Renuncien a defender las buenas costumbres”
A third poem that demonstrates the simultaneous identities of poet and translator adopted by Gutiérrez Plaza is “Renuncien a defender las buenas costumbres,” a work that addresses themes of social decadence through the perspective of a criminal who accepts such decay as an almost cosmic inevitability. As is indicated in a note at the end of the book, the poem is based on an interview with Marcos Camacho, also known as “Marcola,” which originally appeared in the Brazilian newspaper O Globo (Gutiérrez 130). Marcola was the leader of the Primeiro Comando da Capital, or PCC, a criminal organization based in São Paulo that originated in prisons as a defence coalition for convicts. In his interview with O Globo, Marcola identifies his role not only as the leader of the PCC but also as “um sinal de novos tempos”—he perceives himself not only as a criminal, but also as a manifestation of justice for Brazilian subalterns and of the decadence of his country’s corrupt contemporary society (O Globo).
The use of Marcola’s words is a key example of Gutiérrez Plaza’s role as a translator. The first step in the process of incorporating the text is its translation from Portuguese to Spanish; in this sense, the entire poem already represents an example of inter-linguistic translation even before reaching its more literary phase. After the linguistic step, the translation of Marcola’s text transforms into another type of translation. The inclusion of the criminal’s words represents an intertextuality between his discourse and the book of poems itself; having displaced the interview from its original journalistic context, Gutiérrez Plaza gives it a new level of meaning by including it in a context defined by its literary identity. Including line breaks and variations in rhythm, Gutiérrez Plaza translates Marcola’s words to a distinctively poetic language; in short, he translates journalism to poetry.
Gutiérrez Plaza ends the extended intertextuality of Marcola’s words with an “original” intertextuality created by the criminal himself. In his interview, Marcola references Dante’s Divine Comedy, pronouncing in Italian and then in Portuguese, “‘Lasciate ogna speranza voi cheentrate!’ Percam todas as esperanças. Estamos todos no inferno” (O Globo). Gutiérrez Plaza’s poem converts his words to Spanish and divides them according to a poetic structure: “Como dijo el divino Dante: / ‘Pierdan las esperanzas, estamos en el infierno’” (130). My own translation takes a step further, adapting the words to English and to the poem’s new structure: “As the divine Dante said: ‘Abandon all hope, we are in hell’” (Appendix). These multiple levels of continuous intertextual translation demonstrate the identity of any poet, or any person who employs poetry as a form of communication, as a translator in their own right.
The works of Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza, and Cuidados intensivos in particular, create a chance to change interpretations of the role of the poet. As Gutiérrez Plaza’s translator, I have learned that the original poet—through reinterpreting texts, changing contexts, and developing new cultural products based on previous products—fulfills many of the same functions as the translator. The deliberately intertextual works in Cuidados intensivos can be read as translations even when they are read in the original Spanish: the interaction between texts directed by Gutiérrez Plaza gives rise not only to a book of intertextual poems, but also to a collection of original translations.
In theoretical terms, Cuidados intensivos and Gutiérrez Plaza’s work in general offer an important opportunity to recognize the inherent link between intertextuality and translation. Although these themes have their own prominent theorists and their own analytical jargons, they also share essential traits. An analysis of intertextuality requires recognition of the process of transferring meaning that is implied by translation. At the same time, an analysis of translation requires recognition of the interaction between distinct texts as an element of the translated text and the original text, implying intertextuality. Intertextuality and translation combine in Cuidados intensivos, forming a text that intertwines two ways to conceive of language, from conceptual, analytical, and academic perspectives, in an artistic sense.
Cuidados intensivos supports George Steiner’s affirmation that every act of communication includes an inevitable element of translation. The poems written by Gutiérrez Plaza as original acts of communication with his reader also represent levels in a more extensive process of translated communication, traversing languages, contexts, and interpretations. When he admits, “[t]an solo escribo sin copia del original,” Gutiérrez Plaza does not renounce the role of the creative poet; rather, he adopts the additional and necessary role of the translator.
Arthur Malcolm Dixon
1 Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza (Caracas, 1962) is a poet, essayist and university professor. He has published the books of poetry Al margen de las hojas (Caracas: Monte Ávila, 1991), De espaldas al río (Caracas: El pez soluble, 1999), Principios de Contabilidad (Mexico City: Conaculta, 2000), Pasado en Limpio (Caracas: Equinoccio, bid&co, 2006), Cuidados intensivos (Caracas: Lugar Común, 2014), Cartas de renuncia (La Poeteca, 2020), El cangrejo ermitaño (Visor/FCU, 2020), and Intensive Care (Alliteration, 2020), as well as several books of essays, literary research, and anthologies. He is Associate Editor of Latin American Literature Today.
2 My translation was published in bilingual edition as Intensive Care by Alliteratïon in 2020, and was reviewed by American poet Steve Bellin-Oka in World Literature Today.
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Appendix: Poems and Translations from Cuidados intensivos / Intensive Care
En una estación del metro no vista por Pound (En Caracas no en París)
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
El hombre de escaso muñón
descendió a los infiernos,
serpenteó entre sombras inválidas
arrastrando sus muletas como un gimnasta.
De un brinco entre tantos
alcanzó la boca de un vagón.
Hablaba de sida y albúmina humana
a las soterradas multitudes.
Sus manos extendidas como reliquias
imploraban a un bosque de húmedos rostros,
pétalos purulentos sobre negras ramas.
In a Metro Station Not Seen by Pound (in Caracas, not Paris)
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
The man with a meager stump
descended into hell,
he slithered between invalid shadows
dragging his crutches like a gymnast.
In one hop out of many
he reached the mouth of a subway car.
He spoke of AIDS and human albumin
to the buried multitudes.
His hands, extended like relics,
begged in a forest of wet faces,
purulent petals on black boughs.
Al modo de Oliverio Girondo (si hubiese sido mexicano)
Veinte millones de almas, hechas cuerpos,
se antojan, se huarachean, se alambran,
se aflautan, chilaquilean, se arracheran,
se tortillean, se enchilan, se emposolean,
se enmolan, se mixotean, se gusanean,
se enguacamolan, se enmolletean,
se enquesadillan, se fajitean,
se escamolean, se nopalean,
se agringan y al fin campechanean.
In the style of Oliverio Girondo (if he had been Mexican)
Twenty million souls, made bodies,
fancy each other, huarache each other, alambre each other
flauta each other, chilaquil, arrachera each other,
tortilla each other, enchilada each other, pozole each other,
mole each other, mixote each other, gusano each other,
guacamole each other, mollete each other,
quesadilla each other, fajita each other,
escamol each other, nopal each other,
gringa each other and finally campechana.
Amanecer en el Paseo de la Reforma
Antes de que salga el sol
la vida está inquieta,
soñamos despertar pero no lo hacemos.
No es tiempo de cultivo.
Tláloc, ansioso de ofrendas, permanece.
Y a lo lejos oímos tambores
como si anunciaran la guerra florida.
Son las 6:30 en el Paseo de la Reforma:
los pochtecas salen con sus vasos humeantes
de los Starbucks de las vidriosas torres financieras;
los indigentes siguen durmiendo a los costados
de las vidriosas torres financieras;
hay tamales y transeúntes en las esquinas;
oficiales con chamarras fosforescentes
contradicen los semáforos;
hombres de negro, encapuchados,
con relucientes metralletas, resguardan la calma;
gente en indumentaria contra el colesterol
trota con chihuahuas atados a sus pasos;
obreros con rostros campesinos
emergen en masa de los subterráneos
mientras otros, mejor ataviados, ruedan
en dirección contraria en bicicletas de alquiler;
huelguistas de hambre salen de sus carpas, mugrientos,
frente al Instituto de Salubridad e Higiene.
Entretanto, los guerreros águilas ostentan
sus coloridos y emplumados escudos
y cantan en coro:
“Aquí nadie teme la muerte en la guerra
esta es nuestra gloria
este tu mandato
¡Oh, dador de la vida!”
Así, “orgullosa de sí misma”, en duermevela:
“se levanta la ciudad de México-Tenochtitlán”.
Dawn on Paseo de la Reforma
Before the sun comes up
life is restless,
we dream of waking but we don’t.
It’s not planting time.
Tlaloc, anxious for offerings, remains.
And in the distance we hear drums
as if declaring flower war.
It’s 6:30 on Paseo de la Reforma;
the pochtecas emerge with steaming cups
from the Starbucks of the glass financial towers;
the indigent carry on sleeping beside
the glass financial towers;
there are tamales and pedestrians on the corners;
police wearing fluorescent coats
contradict the traffic lights;
men in black, masked,
with shiny automatic guns, keep the peace;
runners rebelling against cholesterol
trot by with chihuahuas tied to their steps;
workers with campesino faces
emerge en masse from the underground
while others, better dressed, roll
the opposite direction on rented bikes;
hunger strikers come out of their tents, filthy,
in front of the Institute of Health and Hygiene.
Meanwhile, the eagle warriors show off
their colorful, plumed shields
and sing in chorus:
“No one here fears death in war
this is our glory
this your command
Oh, giver of life!”
And so, “proud of itself,” shaking off sleep:
“the city of México-Tenochtitlán arises.”
Renuncien a defender las buenas costumbres
Ustedes son los que tienen miedo de morir.
Somos hombres bombas.
Estamos en el centro de lo insoluble.
Ustedes, entre el bien y el mal,
se detienen en la única frontera.
Su muerte es un drama cristiano
en una cama, un cáncer, un ataque al corazón.
La nuestra, la comida diaria, la fosa común.
Somos una empresa moderna, rica.
Ustedes, el estado quebrado, una zafra de incompetentes.
Tenemos métodos ágiles de gestión.
Ustedes son lentos, burocráticos.
Luchamos en terreno propio.
Ustedes, en tierra extraña
muriendo de miedo, cada hora.
Estamos bien armados, al ataque.
A ustedes los persigue la manía del humanismo.
Somos crueles, no conversamos con la piedad.
Ustedes nos han transformado en “super stars” del crimen.
Los tenemos de payasos.
Nos llaman “los barones del polvo”,
y por miedo o por amor nos ayudan en el barrio.
A ustedes los odian.
Nuestras armas y mercancías vienen de afuera,
Ustedes, nuestros clientes.
¿Solución? No hay solución, hermano.
Somos el inicio de algo tardío.
Somos hormigas devoradoras,
escondidas en los rincones.
Renuncien a defender las buenas costumbres.
Estamos todos en el centro de lo insoluble.
Como dijo el divino Dante:
“Pierdan las esperanzas, estamos en el infierno”.
Refuse to Defend Good Manners
You’re the ones who are afraid of dying.
We are human bombs.
We’re at the center of the insoluble.
You, between good and bad,
wait around at the only border.
Your death is a Christian drama
in a bed, a cancer, a heart attack.
Ours is the daily meal, the mass grave.
We are a modern, wealthy business.
You all, the failed state, a crop of incompetents.
We have agile management methods.
You are slow, bureaucratic.
We fight on home ground.
You, on foreign soil
dying of fear by the minute.
We are well armed to attack.
You’re hounded by the mania of humanism.
We are cruel, we don’t converse with pity.
You have transformed us into “superstars” of crime.
We see you as clowns,
They call us “the powder barons”
and out of fear or love they help us in the barrio.
They hate you.
Our wares and weapons come from the outside,
we are “global.”
You are our clients.
Solution? There is no solution, brother.
We’re the start of something that came late.
We are ravenous ants,
hiding in the corners.
Refuse to defend good manners.
We are all at the center of the insoluble.
As the divine Dante said:
“Abandon hope, we are in hell.”
Poems translated by Arthur Malcolm Dixon and published in Intensive Care (Alliteratïon, 2020).
This essay was originally published in POESIA, Ed. 46 (October 2021).
Arthur Malcolm Dixon is co-founder, lead translator, and Managing Editor of Latin American Literature Today. He has translated the novels Immigration: The Contest by Carlos Gámez Pérez and There Are Not So Many Stars by Isaí Moreno (Katakana Editores), as well as the verse collection Intensive Care by Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza (Alliteratïon). He also works as a community interpreter in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a Tulsa Artist Fellow.
With our twentieth issue, we celebrate the close of five years of publication. The cover feature reflects on LALT’s achievements thus far and on our goals for the years to come. Other dossiers highlight Bolivian poet Jaime Saenz on the centennial of his birth, 2006 Neustadt Prize winner Claribel Alegría, Spanish-language creative writing programs, and poetry and prose in translation from Quechua.