Today Piedad Bonnett sings the praises of the oft-neglected sea cucumber. I once spent so long trying to find her house in Bogotá, in a taxi with Jorge Fondebrider and a clueless driver, that she thought we’d been abducted and was on the point of phoning the kidnap rescue services. This one’s for Clare Potter.
Lesson in Survival
There is nothing beautiful about the sea cucumber.
It is, in truth, an animal without grace,
like its name.
At the bottom of great oceans,
unmoving, soft, amorphous,
condemned to the sand,
set apart from the beauty that the sea displays
above its body.
It is known that
when the sea cucumber gets a whiff of death
in the predator that threatens it,
not only its intestines
but the entire cluster of its gut,
which serves as food for its enemy.
In a clean ritual
the sea cucumber flees from whatever threatens to harm it.
To survive, it stays empty.
Relieved of itself and free of others
it mutates its being.
And little by little
And it returns to being, in salty lethargy,
an entity at peace that lives in its own way.
(Translated by Richard Gwyn)
Lección de supervivencia
Nada hay de bello en el pepino o carajo de mar.
Es, en verdad, un animal sin gracia,
como su nombre.
En el fondo de los grandes océanos,
inmóvil, blando, amorfo,
condenado a la arena,
y ajeno a la belleza que encima de su cuerpo
despliega el mar.
Se sabe que
cuando el pepino de mar huele la muerte
en el depredador que lo amenaza,
no sólo su intestino
sino el racimo entero de sus vísceras,
que sirven de alimento en su enemigo.
Como un limpio ritual
huye el pepino de aquello que amenaza con dañarlo.
Para sobrevivir queda vacío.
Liviano ya de sí y libre de otros
muda de ser.
Y poco a poco
Y vuelve a ser, en letargo de sal,
una entidad en paz que vive a su manera.
Piedad Bonnett was born in Amalfi, Colombia in 1951. She is a poet and novelist, whose awards include the Casa de América Prize (2011) for her collection Explicaciones no pedidas and the Poetas del Mundo Latino Prize (2012). Her memoir, Lo que no tiene nombre (That which has no name), recording the life and suicide of her son, received extraordinary plaudits across Latin America and Spain on its publication in 2013. She lives in Bogotá. This and another of her poems appears in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.
Wonderful. I’ll never look at a sea cucumber in the same way again. I may never look at a land cucumber in the same way again – in case it decides to copy it decides to copy its marine cousin as I am to cut or bite into it.
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