It’s always an education to read in unusual locations. The organizers of FILBA appear to be steering me towards a socially engaged role that I am not normally associated with back in the UK. But that’s fine with me. The reading last night took place in a cobbled courtyard next to a rehabilitation centre for women recently released from jail, and behind an abandoned market, a steel-girdered hangar that resembles a nineteenth century railway station. Outside, the place was covered in graffiti and creeping vines, and in the darkness a wind began to stir, causing a few paper cups to scuttle across the cobbles like the rats that you knew were there, but were sitting out the poetry reading in a nearby drain. The perennial smell of the Buenos Aires night – barbecued meat, with an overlay of almonds – wafted by, and an engaged and enthusiastic audience sat alongside the vendors of bags, table-cloths and other artefacts made by the women prisoners.
I am posting a poem that I read last night, as well as at the Club de Traductores on Monday, because it seems to be popular here – probably due to the excellence of the translation – but which I don’t think I have ever performed back home. My Spanish reader on this occasion was the poet and journalist Jorge Aulicino. Strange how on a reading tour there is usually one piece that gets more attention than the others, for no particular reason. It is followed by the Spanish translation by Jorge Fondebrider, since Blanco’s blog has acquired an encouraging following in Argentina and Spain, perhaps because they think I am someone I am not.
When you spoke of dissolving in my arms
I realised it was not a figure of speech
that in a sense (in any sense), you meant it
to be just so, that you would disintegrate in me,
I in you, and both of us in water. Could this be
what is meant by marriage, in which both parties
disappear entirely, leaving only ripples
on the water’s quiet surface? But marriage
was a curious fantasy for us, and who could
possibly officiate? You were promised to another,
a dark figure stalking alleyways at night,
an ever-busy debt-collector, and I knew
my thin credentials would never count for much
with your imaginary father. So I led you
to a pond instead, with lilies and an oriental bridge,
a bench named for a local shopkeeper,
the path which circumscribed the water
shaded by hydrangeas and a vast magnolia.
The place was known to me, but since
the I that remembered things was by now
already dissolving in the you that forgot things,
the memory might well have been a false one.
You walked around the pond, around my island,
diminished with each circuit, each time drawn by
the gravity of the island’s green intelligence,
around and around, while I waited, an idiot
in a drama with no plot, no foreseeable conclusion.
from Being in Water by Richard Gwyn, with drawings by Lluís Peñaranda
Cuando hablaste de disolverte en mis brazos
advertí que no era una figura retórica,
que en un sentido (en todo sentido), lo decías en serio
que así fuera, desintegrarte en mí,
yo en ti, y ambos en agua. ¿Será eso
lo que se llama matrimonio, cuando ambas partes
desaparecen completamente, dejando apenas ondas
sobre la quieta superficie del agua? Pero para nosotros
el matrimonio era una curiosa fantasía, ¿y quién quizás
podría celebrarlo? A otro estabas prometida,
una figura oscura que acechaba de noche en callejones,
un cobrador de deudas siempre ocupado, y yo sabía
que mis escasas credenciales jamás servirían de mucho
con tu padre imaginario. Así que en cambio te conduje
a un estanque, con lirios y un puente oriental,
un banco bautizado con el nombre de un comerciante local,
el camino que circunscribía el agua
sombreado por hortensias y una vasta magnolia.
El lugar me resultaba conocido, pero desde que el yo
que recordaba cosas para entonces ya estaba
disolviéndose en el tú que se olvidaba cosas,
el recuerdo bien podría haber sido falso.
Caminaste alrededor del estanque, alrededor de mi isla,
disminuida con cada vuelta, cada vez atraída
por la gravedad de la inteligencia verde de la isla,
una y otra vez, mientras yo esperaba, un idiota
en un drama sin argumento, sin previsible conclusión.