Poems for staying at home (Day 4)

rómulo

 

Today’s poem on the ‘house’ theme comes from Rómulo Bustos Aguirre, whose inventive and gently humorous poetry is among my favourite of any being written today. I think of Rómulo as an exponent of ‘slow’ poetry, his characters moving with hallucinogenic grace against the backdrop of his native Caribbean, drinking the ‘red plum wine that stretches memories’, observed by guardian creatures who ‘send passers-by to sleep just by looking at them’.  Four of his poems appear in English translation in The Other Tiger, and will shortly appear in PN Review.

 

Ballad of the House

You will find a house with a strange name
that you will attempt in vain to decipher
and walls the colour of good dreams
but you will not see that colour
nor will you drink the red plum wine
that stretches memories

On the gate
sits a child with a half-open book
Ask him the way to the big trees
whose fruits are guarded by an animal
that sends passers-by to sleep just by looking at them

And he will answer while conversing
with a green-winged angel
(as if it were another child playing at being an angel
with wide banana leaves stuck to his back)
barely moving his lips in a gentle spell
“The cockerel’s song isn’t blue but a sleepy pink
like the first light of day”

And you will not understand. Nevertheless
you will find an immense hallway
where hangs the portrait of a lord,
shimmering slightly, his heart in his hand
and at the back, right at the back
the soul of the house seated in a rocking chair, singing
but you will not heed her

Because in that instant
a distant sound shall crease the horizon
and the child will have finished the last page

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

 

Balada de la casa

Hallarás una casa con un nombre extraño
que intentarás descifrar en vano
y muros del color de los buenos sueños
pero tú no verás ese color
tampoco beberás el vino rojo de los ciruelos
     que ensancha los recuerdos

En la verja
un niño con un libro entreabierto
Pregúntale por el camino de los grandes árboles
cuyos frutos guarda un animal
que adormece a los andantes con sólo mirarlos

Y él contestará mientras conversa
con un ángel de alas verdes
(como si fuera otro niño que juega al ángel
y se hubiera colocado anchas hojas de plátano a la espalda)
moviendo apenas los labios en un leve conjuro
“El canto del gallo no es azul sino de un rosa dormido
como el primer claro del día”

Y tú no entenderás. Y sin embargo
hallarás un zaguán que yo recorrí inmenso
donde cuelga el retrato de un señor que resplandece
levemente, con el corazón en la mano
y al fondo, muy al fondo
el alma de la casa sentada en una mecedora, cantando
pero tú no la escucharás

Pues, en ese instante
un sonido lejano ajará el horizonte
y el niño habrá pasado la última de las páginas

 

Rómulo Bustos Aguirre was born in 1954 in Santa Catalina de Alejandría, Colombia. His poetry is inspired by the landscape and characters of his native Caribbean. A professor of literature at the University of Cartagena, he won the Blas de Otero Prize from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in 2010 and was awarded Colombia’s National Poetry Prize in 2019.

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