Five Poems

 

 

To Make a Cake Without Milk

The method will depend on the type of oven,
as with everything: low heat is recommended,
slow, for around forty to forty-five minutes,
but each kitchen, like each tin, is particular
and it’s useless to set exact measures for all.
I suggest a decent teacupful of maize oil
(don’t mix), one and a half (near two) of sugar, bowl
and whisk, whisk: tilt the container, stiffen the arm
or set the machine to maximum. Oh, also
two eggs, and whisked well until the mixture thickens.
Then add two cupfuls of boiling water.
The mixture will froth up. Let it sit for a while.
Meanwhile, mix separately three cupfuls of flour
(this should already be well sieved) with a spoonful
of Royal, one of bicarbonate (could be less,
more, you’ll see). Mix it all and whisk. Very gently:
you have to make the batter lose consistency.
The rest you will know: grease the tin, dust it with flour,
and oven. Titi Trujillo adds a small glass
of port. Titina Lancioni, coffee liqueur
or vanilla. Others put in apple slices,
raisins, chocolate, cherry. It depends on your taste,
on your inventiveness, or what you’ve got to hand.

 

 

The Minor Poet on the Birth of his Son

Having found—after days of searching—his pencil
hidden in the cabin of the toy fire engine,
and having witnessed the independent judgement
of his heir, who tears to bits the better pages
while sparing the indifferent, the minor poet
decides to discuss a key matter with his wife:
organization of time and space for his work
in the house after the arrival of their son.
This conversation touches on many topics:
the purchase of groceries and cleaning products,
the payment of bills, taking turns minding the child,
ensuring fun, feeding and hygiene for the boy,
the absence of that fun, feeding, care and hygiene
for the two adults, the need to make a record
of the child’s first steps, the frequency of use of
—to employ a term of the vulgar—the dummy,
friendly ways of keeping the grandparents at bay.
When a mutual silence indicates the ending,
the minor poet understands that his concerns
have been displaced by other considerations.
That night, like an inspiration-filled romantic
taking advantage of silence among mortals
to let flourish the winged spirit of his verses,
for hours and hours he sings a lullaby.

 

 

Escalator

Every time it approaches the far end
the rigid steps discard the appearance
of their form and instead become a belt

always making the same operation
via a mechanism that asserts
circulation counts, not destination:

it is reversible, with up or down
interchanged using a simple device
that, however, may fail if overused.

It is worth, I will say, not reflecting
on the likelihood of an accident
but thinking from this apparent movement

to what links the development of substances
and that of companies, reworking the return
into constant displacement across the planet

of an alloy once used to leave airborne traces
of a 60mm shell’s explosives
from the far side of the world now seeming at rest

at the start or finish of this automatic stairway
marking the slip from a war footing to another kind:
a fusion written THYSSENKRUPP into the cast steel base.

 

 

ЛК-110Я

Beyond alarm for the future’s future
the rising temperatures in the Arctic
that day by day thin out ice packs and floes
don’t necessarily equal bad news:

the hydrocarbon reserves as yet untouched
and vast each day become more accessible
and the block rigid to the horizon
weakens and favours the rise of disputes

litigation over territories,
scandals, like a metal Russian flag set
on the bottom of the marine depths
meaningless in law but good for showing

a national history of strategies
to charge across cold, metaphor and real,
manifest now in an icebreaker’s force
which with its alloy-strengthened double hull

of chrome nickel molybdenum vanadium
surges with its two nuclear reactors
that drive three electric-powered engines
that in turn at speed rotate the propellers

to keep the nominalist promise of its name
over the mostly frozen white surface
of the Northern Sea Route and trace a wake
the roar of broken ice clearing a way

so oil and gas tankers freed from nature’s
apparent inevitable rhythm
can transport from new extraction platforms
located in the hostile Kara Sea

largely ignoring the international
activist group worried by sudden leaks
that might wreck polar bear habitat energy
to the most advanced Asian nations’ ports.

 

 

Wanllasqa

Ccompis Leona Amachi Rosada Clavel
Maru milku Puka simi Puka pampiña
Canchán Pillpintuy Maru piña Yungay.
There are more than three thousand names to say
more than three thousand flavours for the tongue.
Under the awnings the concrete market
spread out in the square down in the valley
exhibits a range of forms and colours
whose most abstract significance boils down
to an option white and omnipresent
with goals of industrial multiplication.
A sign hangs over each assembled heap
above each one of the opened-out sacks
carried in lorries from the high hillsides
where they protect from the mould and the blight
fragile memory against the univocal.
It’s best to choose them one by one by hand;
look it in the eyes, squeeze it and ensure
it’s smooth, it’s firm and it’s not watery.
The mariva turns gold: good for filling.
The huayro is absorbent: works well
in juicy stews and dishes with salsa.
The peruanita’s tasty with salt;
better if you put it with some butter.
The tarmeña cooks well in the oven.
The huamantanga peels easily.
The sirina offers vitamin C.
With the guinda gaspar you’ll live more years.

 

Translated by Ben Bollig and Mark Leech

“To Make a Cake Without Milk” and “The Minor Poet on the Birth of his Son” from Poesía civil

Escalator,” “ЛК-110Я,” and “Wanllasqa” from Para un diccionario crítico de la lengua

 

Ben Bollig is Professor of Spanish American Literature at the University of Oxford. He has translated Sergio Raimondi and Martín Gambarotta for the Poetry International Festival, Rotterdam. His most recent book is Moving Verses: Poetry on Screen in Contemporary Argentine Cinema (LUP, 2021). His translations of Ezequiel Zaidenwerg in collaboration with Mark Leech appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation and Latin American Literature Today

Mark Leech is a poet and translator. His translations of Mirta Rosenberg, in collaboration with Ben Bollig, have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation and Latin American Literature Today. His poem sequences, Chang’an Poems and Borderlands, are published by Original Plus Press.

Languages

Megan McDowell in LALT No. 21
Number 21

In our twenty-first issue, we shine a spotlight on translation with a cover feature dedicated to Megan McDowell, the translator of many of Latin America’s best-known contemporary writers. Other features include a dossier of literary voices from Bolivia and a full set of fiction, poetry, essays, and interviews, plus exclusive translation previews and writing by Indigenous poets of the Wayuu, Shuar, and Quechua peoples.

Cover photo: Sebastián Escalona

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Featured Translator: Megan McDowell

Dossier: Bolivian Literature

Brazilian Literature

Fiction

Poetry

Essays

Interviews

From World Literature Today

Indigenous Literature

Translation Previews and New Releases

Nota Bene