Three Poems

 

Statue of João Cabral de Melo Neto, Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil. Photo: Jorge in Brazil via Flickr. Used under CC BY 2.0.

Editor’s Note: The following poems are available to read in the original Portuguese and in translation to Spanish and English. Scroll down to read in English, and click here to read in Spanish.

 


 

O engenheiro

A luz, o sol, o ar livre
envolvem o sonho do engenheiro.
O engenheiro sonha coisas claras:
superfícies, tênis, um copo de água.

O lápis, o esquadro, o papel;
o desenho, o projeto, o número:
o engenheiro pensa o mundo justo,
mundo que nenhum véu encobre.

(Em certas tardes nós subíamos
ao edifício. A cidade diária,
como um jornal que todos liam,
ganhava um pulmão de cimento e vidro).

A água, o vento, a claridade,
de um lado o rio, no alto as nuvens,
situavam na natureza o edifício
crescendo de suas forças simples.

Publicado originalmente em O Engenheiro (1945)

 

A lição de poesia

1.

Toda a manhã consumida
como um sol imóvel
diante da folha em branco:
princípio do mundo, lua nova.

Já não podias desenhar
sequer uma linha;
um nome, sequer uma flor
desabrochava no verão da mesa:

nem no meio-dia iluminado,
cada dia comprado,
do papel, que pode aceitar,
contudo, qualquer mundo.

 

2.

A noite inteira o poeta
em sua mesa, tentando
salvar da morte os monstros
germinados em seu tinteiro.

Monstros, bichos, fantasmas
de palavras, circulando,
urinando sobre o papel,
sujando-o com seu carvão.

Carvão de lápis, carvão
da idéia fixa, carvão
da emoção extinta, carvão
consumido nos sonhos.

 

3.

A luta branca sobre o papel
que o poeta evita,
luta branca onde corre o sangue
de suas veias de água salgada.

A física do susto percebida
entre os gestos diários;
susto das coisas jamais pousadas
porém imóveis ­ naturezas vivas.

E as vinte palavras recolhidas
nas águas salgadas do poeta
e de que se servirá o poeta
em sua máquina útil.

Vinte palavras sempre as mesmas
de que conhece o funcionamento,
a evaporação, a densidade
menor que a dor ar.

Publicado originalmente em O Engenheiro (1945)

 

Os Vazios do Homem

1.

Os vazios do homem não sentem ao nada
do vazio qualquer: do do casaco vazio,
do da saca vazia (que não ficam de pé
quando vazios, ou o homem com vazios);
os vazios do homem sentem a um cheio
de uma coisa que inchasse já inchada;
ou ao que deve sentir, quando cheia,
uma saca: todavia não, qualquer saca.
Os vazios do homem, esse vazio cheio,
não sentem ao que uma saca de tijolos,
uma saca de rebites; nem têm o pulso
que bate numa de sementes, de ovos.

 

2.

Os vazios do homem, ainda que sintam
a uma plenitude (gora mas presença)
contêm nadas, contêm apenas vazios:
o que a esponja, vazia quando plena;
incham do que a esponja, de ar vazio,
e dela copiam certamente a estrutura:
toda em grutas ou em gotas de vazio,
postas em cachos de bolha, de não-uva.
Esse cheio vazio sente ao que uma saca
mas cheia de esponjas cheias de vazio;
os vazios do homem ou o vazio inchado:
ou o vazio que inchou por estar vazio.

Publicado originalmente em A Educação pela Pedra (1966)

 


 

The Engineer

The light, the sun, the open air
envelope the dream of the engineer.
The engineer dreams bright things:
surfaces, tennis, a glass of water.

The pencil, the carpenter’s square, the paper;
the design, the project, the number:
the engineer thinks the world just,
world which no veil conceals.

(On certain afternoons we’d go up
into the building. The everyday city
like a newspaper that everyone read,
acquired a lung of cement and glass.)

The water, the wind, the brightness,
to one side, the river, on high, the clouds
situated the building in nature
growing from its simple forces.

 

The Poetry Lesson

1.

Every morning consumed
like an immobile sun
in front of the blank page:
origin of the world, new moon.

You couldn’t even draw
a single line;
a name, not one flower
blossomed in the desk’s summer:

nor in the noon bright,
purchased each day,
from the paper, which can accept,
nevertheless, any world.

2.

All night the poet
at his desk, trying
to save from death those monsters
sprouted from his inkwell.

Monsters, beasts, phantoms
of words, circling round,
pissing on the paper,
sullying it with their charcoal.

Charcoal of the pencil, charcoal
of an idée fixe, charcoal
of extinct emotion, charcoal
consumed in dreams.

3.

The white battle on paper
which the poet avoids,
white battle where blood runs
in his saltwater veins.

The physics of a fright perceived
among everyday gestures;
fright from things never reposing
yet immobile—living still lifes.

And the twenty words
harvested in the poet’s saltwater
and which the poet will put to work
in his useful machine.

Twenty words always the same ones
of which he knows the workings,
the evaporation, the density
less than that of air.

 

The Emptinesses of Man

1.

The emptinesses of man don’t feel like the nothing
of just any emptiness: that of the empty coat,
that of the empty sack (which cannot stand upright
when they’re empty, or the man with emptinesses);
the emptinesses of man feel like a fullness
of a thing that fills the already full
or what a sack should feel like
when full: yet not just any sack.
The emptinesses of man, this full emptiness,
don’t feel like a sack full of bricks,
a sack full of rivets; nor do they have the pulse
that beats in sacks of seeds, of eggs.

2.

The emptinesses of man, though they feel
a fullness (miscarriage yet presence)
they contain nothings, contain only emptinesses:
which the sponge, empty when full;
they swell like the sponge, from empty air,
and from it certainly copy the structure:
all dens and drops of emptiness,
arranged in clusters of bubbles, of non-grapes.
This full emptiness feels like a sack
but one full of sponges full of emptiness;
the emptinesses of man or the swollen emptiness:
or the emptiness that swelled up because it was empty.

Translated by Rhett McNeil

 

Rhett McNeil is a translator, critic, and scholar from Texas. He has published translations of books by Machado de Assis, A.G. Porta, António Lobo Antunes, Gonçalo M. Tavares, and João Almino, among others. He is currently in residence at the Tulsa Artist Fellowship, where he is working on a book project and a couple new book-length translations, running the Tulsa Sandlot Society, and starting a new publishing house, Left Field Books, whose first two books will be out late summer/early fall of 2021.

Languages

LALT No. 18
Number 18

In our eighteenth issue, we feature the work of beloved Cuban poet Reina María Rodríguez alongside that of João Cabral de Melo Neto, renowned Brazilian poet and third Latin American winner of the Neustadt Prize. We also highlight Latin American women poets, indigenous literature from Brazil, new works in translation, and a return to the essay through the words of Mariano Picón Salas.

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Featured Author: Reina María Rodríguez

Dossier: João Cabral de Melo Neto

Fiction

Poetry

Essays

Interviews

Brazilian Literature

Indigenous Literature

Translation Previews and New Releases

On Translation

On Translation: Seeking Publisher

On the Essay

Nota Bene