Ricardo Blanco's Blog

Contagious Fictions: tracing truths in Saramago’s Blindness

Scene from the film Blindness (2008)

During the opening weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic many of us tuned in every evening to hear the latest statistics of the newly infected and the dead. As the figures mounted, this morbid need to know became a habit, fed by a convention of news reporting in which any tragedy, any disaster, is measured by the number of its casualties.

This televised event was interesting for a number of reasons, not least because we now know that the statistics released each day in the solemn pantomime enacted by the Health Secretary, flanked on one side by the ghoulish Chris Witty and on the other by whoever was unfortunate enough to be dragged along for the press pummelling, were inaccurate, as there was not — and is still not— any reliable way of measuring the fatalities: no one has produced an algorithm to accurately record which of the ‘excess deaths’ are related to COVID and which are not (the term ‘excess deaths’ refers to those deaths above the figure normally to be expected for a given period among a population). Figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics indicated that the coronavirus was to blame for more than two-thirds of the excess deaths in England and Wales, based on the number of confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 reported on death certificates. According to an article in the New Scientist on 29 April, that left approximately a third of excess deaths unexplained. Some of these may have been coronavirus cases without obvious symptoms, or cases where doctors weren’t confident enough to mention COVID-19 on the death certificate, and these were left off the statistics for release by the government. A Financial Times analysis suggested that the virus had led to 45,000 deaths in the UK by 21st April, more than twice the official figure at that time, of 17,000. The statistics of death are confusing, and we may — and no doubt will — argue about them for a long time to come.

Now, imagine a world in which that situation is turned on its head, and no one, but no one, dies. Death takes a holiday. The statistics would then report on the absence of death. The round figure zero of those who have died, day after day. Such is the opening scenario of José Saramago’s Death At Intervals, his 2005 novel in which an epidemic of immortality strikes an unnamed country.

Among writers of the past fifty years, Saramago’s claim to fame might be made on the strength of his imaginative repertoire alone, but it is not only as a conjuror of ‘what if’ scenarios that he is remarkable: the writing too is masterful, with long twisting sentences and slyly perturbing dialogue, such as the conversation near the start of the novel, when, in this Catholic land, a cardinal berates the prime minister for a speech he has just made, in which he stated that the country will accept the challenge of the body’s immortality, if that is God’s will. The cardinal is profoundly shocked, since ‘without death, there is no resurrection, and without resurrection, there is no church.’ God, he suggests, would not commit the mortal sin of suicide. With deft irony, Saramago then has the cardinal suffer an acute attack of appendicitis: he is rushed to hospital for an emergency operation, and as he is sucked down the the tunnel of anaesthesia, ‘in the fleeting moment that precedes a total loss of consciousness . . . he thought that if, despite everything, he did die, that would mean, paradoxically, that he had vanquished death.’

In a recent article on reading Camus’ La Peste in the context of the current plague, Jacqueline Rose writes that the statistics of death hold a grip over us because such knowledge delivers the false impression of being on top of a situation that we know to be out of control, exacerbated in certain countries by government incompetence. ‘Counting,’ she writes, ‘is at once a scientific endeavour and a form of magical thinking’, and this may be so, but it does not help, since having the numbers in front of us does nothing to allay our sense of impotence. In Camus’s novel, we are reminded, certain people begin questioning the statistics, wondering if they are all, in fact, attributable to the plague. What, they ask, would be the normal rate of death for a city of this size? Questioning the accuracy of the official statistics in this way was precisely the route chosen by Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro in their attempts to make the pandemic ‘go away’.

However world leaders minimised the threat at the start of the outbreak — including Boris Johnson famously suggesting that the British people ‘take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures’ — the people themselves, faced with a lack of available information about Coronavirus, wanted to find out what might be coming to them. During those early weeks, sales of Camus’ novel rose exponentially, as did lesser works such as Stephen King’s The Stand and Dean Koontz’s The Eyes of Darkness. Netflix recorded massive numbers watching movies such as Outbreak and, especially, Contagion, one of those top-heavy Hollywood flops that labours so frantically to crank up the tension that the viewer is beset by a fatigue as deadly as any virus long before the closing credits have started to roll.

Early on in the pandemic, I was invited by the Argentine writer Jorge Fondebrider to contribute to a joint global venture, involving mostly Latin American writers, but also a handful from Europe and other parts of the world, all of us sending in diary entries over the three months of March-May, 2020. The entries written in other languages were translated into Spanish and all of the pieces will eventually be published, in homage to Defoe, as a Journal of the Plague Year (Diario del año de la peste). The exercise of writing and sending my reports about the situation in Wales to Jorge, as well as the general obsession with plague and contagion that was rife at the time — but which already seems to be receding, no doubt prematurely — caused me to re-visit a couple of other works about contagion, written by authors other than Camus.

                                                      *                      *                      *

Contagion was a recurring theme in José Saramago’s oeuvre. Ten years before Death At Intervals, he published Blindness — which was later made into a well-crafted and underrated Hollywood film, directed by Fernando Meirelles and starring Julianne Moore. Blindness is about an epidemic in which the entire population loses their sight. It is a truly terrifying novel, which also offers a devastating exploration of human depravity and human resilience. 

The first victim of the plague is struck blind while sitting behind the wheel of his car, waiting at traffic lights. The lights turn to green just as the man loses his sight, and begins shouting: ‘I am blind, I am blind.’ Amid the furious blasting of horns, a few pedestrians come to lend assistance. One of these offers to drive him home, and after helping the blind man into his flat, steals his car. The contagion is underway: the car thief becomes infected, as does the ophthalmologist the first man visits with his wife the next day. Overnight, the doctor, and everyone who was in his waiting room when the first man appeared, turns blind. There is no pathology to the blindness; no lesions, no signs of ocular infection. The eyes of the blind appear normal. The only person not affected by blindness is the doctor’s wife, but when this first group of infected cases are rounded up and escorted to an empty mental hospital on the outskirts of the city, to be kept in quarantine, she feigns blindness so as not to be separated from her husband. This act of selflessness proves crucial, both to the well-being of the small group that becomes the focus of Saramago’s story, but also to our understanding of the disease as the symptom of a deeper affliction, a blindness embedded within the wider society. No explanation of the blindness is offered at this stage but, this being a novel by Saramago, we might infer the loss of a coherent moral compass, the absence of all direction not dictated by material greed. The epidemic, which spreads through proximity to an infected person, becomes known as ‘the white evil.’

Sequestered in the cavernous hospital, the small group of blind struggle to make sense of their new environment. No one in the novel is named, only described as they are initially introduced: the first blind man, the thief, the doctor, the girl with the dark glasses, the boy with the squint, the man with the eye patch. In the hospital, the inmates receive food, which is delivered by the soldiers who guard them, but they risk being shot if they venture too near to the gate, since the soldiers are terrified of becoming as blind as their charges. Inevitably, the numbers of infected grow, and the hospital fills up. The new arrivals tell of catastrophe and social breakdown; of aeroplanes and buses crashing, of all government collapsing as the country’s leaders succumb to blindness.

Among the newcomers are a group of men for whom incarceration provides the opportunity for personal gain through the exploitation of others, a familiar practice across human history, and the starting point, we might reflect, of all expansionist and colonial regimes. (In the The Walking Dead, before it jumped the shark, the oppressive micro-empire founded by Negan reflects the same impulse towards explicitly gendered domination and abusive control). The men arm themselves — one has smuggled in a pistol, and the others take apart beds and furniture to provide iron rods — and impose a regime of subjugation, or slavery by any other name. They confiscate the daily food deliveries, for which they demand payment from the other inmates, first through the handing over of jewellery and money, and later through the supply of sexual favours by the women of the other wards. During a night of sexual violence, one of the women in the first ward is killed, and the one sighted person in the hospital, the doctor’s wife, takes a decision that will change the course of all their lives. She also reveals that she can see, a fact that has already been surmised by the sharper members of her little troupe.

Saramago’s trademark narrative style, embedding dialogue within the main body of the paragraph, superimposing multiple voices amid descriptive and reflective passages, takes some getting used to, but is remarkably well suited to the kind of story he chooses to tell. There are numerous occasions in which things taken for granted by those who can see unravel when attempted by blind men and women. The chaos incited by greed (or ‘blind self-interest’), the brutal conflict over food, the squalor of the latrines occasioned by the inability of the blind to clean themselves, all of these are described mercilessly, as Saramago sketches a society gone to hell, the corridors of the hospital crowded with bodies crashing into one another, or else crawling along the floor amid the rising tide of filth, fingers feeling for the walls.      

When a fire breaks out, the surviving blind escape into a world which is now utterly sunk into ruin and desperation. Led by the doctor’s wife, the group wander through the city, in a fashion reminiscent of those World War One film clips, in which the victims of a poison gas attack shuffle forward, each with his hands on the shoulder of the one in front. Finding refuge in an empty shop, the doctor’s wife leaves the others behind and goes in search of food. Most of the stores have been looted, but in the underground storeroom of one supermarket, she stocks up on chorizo sausage, black bread and water. Driven by hunger, she takes a few bites of the sausage. In the frantic passage that follows, she starts back through the supermarket, three shopping bags slung over each arm, and the blind, though they cannot see her, smell the goods she is carrying, ‘and in no time a blind man was shouting Who’s eating sausage around here’. The doctor’s wife is mauled by the grasping arms of the blind, and she ‘broke into flight, colliding, jostling, knocking people over, with a devil-may-care attitude that was wholly reprehensible, for this is not the way to treat blind people who have more than enough reason to be unhappy’, and is pursued breathless and stumbling out into the street, out into the pouring rain, where the scent of sausage now attracts a pack of feral dogs, who, however, soon disband (the streets, after all, provide enough cadavers to keep them going) save one, which licks her face, licks her tears away, and which she befriends after collapsing in rage and terror at the side of the road.

The human pack is subsequently joined by this ‘dog of tears’ in their trek across the city towards the doctor and his wife’s apartment, where they eventually settle, as an extended family of sorts, including the owner, the first man and his wife, the girl with the dark glasses, the old man with the eye patch, the boy with the squint, the litany of characters seemingly comprising all of humanity within the confines of the apartment. And it is their camaraderie and gentleness towards each other that redeems them, setting them apart from the desperate hordes of the blind who forage, fight and fornicate in the streets below.

Throughout the novel, there is an extraordinary awareness of language, and the way in which everyday speech is rooted within the visual. Sometimes this is done in such a way as to remind the reader how the normal order has been turned upside down; how things that have always been done a certain way must now be done differently. How familiar this is to us all now, in lockdown; perhaps most poignantly by the absence of touch or embrace, our inability to hug our loved ones — even, tragically, the impossibility, for many, of visiting their dying relatives in hospital. In Saramago’s novel, we are encouraged to reflect on the inversion of normality through those everyday sayings that take sight for granted: ‘Just imagine,’ says the girl with the dark glasses, stumbling on the staircase to her family apartment, on a return visit with the doctor’s wife, ‘stairs that I used to go up and down with my eyes closed.’ Then, the narration continues, segueing into the voice of an invisible commentator: ‘clichés are like that, they are insensitive to the thousand subtleties of meaning, this one for example, does not know the difference between closing one’s eyes and being blind.’ This sort of meta-commentary is not unusual in Saramago, who sometimes introduces an omniscient observer as an additional perspective to that offered by the doctor’s wife, whose vision, as the only sighted character, is otherwise the main point of view on offer. These subtle shifts of perspective are offered throughout, adding a kind of displacement, as though the reader is both inside the movement of the narrative and outside, looking in.

 A shift in perspective is adopted again, when, shortly after arriving at her apartment, the doctor’s wife and the two other women in the group step out onto the balcony and wash away ‘the unbearable filth of the soul’ under the torrential rain in an act of ablution that, in less skilful hands, might appear too crassly symbolic, but here deftly captures and celebrates the miracle of their survival:

Perhaps in the building opposite, behind those closed windows some blind people, men, women, roused by the noise of the constant beating of the rain, with their head pressed against the cold window-panes covering with their breath on the glass the dullness of the night, remember the time when, like now, they last saw rain falling from the sky. They cannot imagine that there are moreover three naked women out there, as naked as when they came into the world, they seem to be mad, they must be mad, people in their right mind do not start washing on a balcony exposed to the view of the neighbourhood . . . my God how the rain is pouring down on them, how it trickles between their breasts, how it lingers and disappears into the darkness of the pubis, how it finally drenches and flows over the thighs, perhaps we have judged them wrongly, or perhaps we are unable to see this the most beautiful and glorious thing that has happened in the history of the city, a sheet of foam flows from the floor of the balcony, if only I could go with it, falling interminably, clean, purified, naked.

So much of what we say and do in the normal run of life comes under question when confronted by a turnaround in everyday circumstance. The cretinous appeals of Boris and his pals to come together with a ‘wartime spirit’ were brought into sharp perspective in the early days of the pandemic. Once, in mid-March, my wife visited our local Asda, in search of toilet rolls, to be confronted by row upon row of empty shelves. Ditto pasta and tinned tomatoes. At checkout, she commented in friendly fashion to the young man on the till, that it was a shame people took it upon themselves to ransack the place, rather than simply take sufficient for their needs. ‘It’s every man for himself, love,’ came the swift and hostile retort. So much for the spirit of the Blitz.

In subtle ways, Blindness challenges our preconceived notions about community and the individual. The underlying message of the novel, if it is not banal to speak in such terms, is one that suggests the obligations of the individual towards the wider society. Born to landless peasants, who were too poor to send him to grammar school, Saramago entered technical school at the age of twelve and worked for many years as a car mechanic. It was barely surprising, therefore, that he was for most of his adult life active within the Communist Party of Portugal.  He remained unapologetic for the communist regimes of the twentieth century, claiming that, as an historical fact, the church’s history was more deplorable still, and that he was ‘hormonally’ committed to a communist  ideology. How this seeps into Blindness is not difficult to see. The society that breeds the pandemic of sightlessness is steeped in greed and intolerance. In an interview from 2008, Saramago claimed: ‘I don’t see the veneer of civilisation, but society as it is. With hunger, war, exploitation, we’re already in hell. With the collective catastrophe of total blindness, everything surfaces — positive and negative. It’s a portrait of how we are.’ The crux is ‘who has the power and who doesn’t; who controls the food supply and exploits the rest.’ These sentiments recall those he uttered in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1998: ‘This same schizophrenic humanity that has the capacity to send instruments to a planet to study the composition of its rocks can with indifference note the deaths of millions of people from starvation. Going to Mars seems easier than going to visit one’s neighbour.’

The underlying belief in human goodness evident at the close of the book might appear at odds with the overtly pessimistic tone of much of the rest, but this paradox surely reflects the ambivalence present in the lives of ordinary people under duress. A similar ambivalence and accompanying unease provoked questions among many people during the COVID lockdown. How are we going to emerge from all this? Will we learn anything from the process? Will we begin to change our habits, be more respectful of the environment, and of each other? Speculation seems pointless, and the question of ‘how will we emerge from this’ brings to mind an enigmatic minor character in Blindness, a writer who has squatted the home of the first blind man and his wife, and who occupies himself by writing, in ball point pen, an account of all that he cannot yet see. He writes even though he cannot see what he has written, perhaps because ‘a writer manages to acquire in life the patience he needs to write.’ His parting words to the doctor’s wife, after showing her his work, are: ‘Don’t lose yourself, don’t let yourself be lost’, which, we are told, ‘were unexpected, enigmatic words that did not seem to fit the occasion.’

The redemptive power of love is a recurrent theme in Saramago’s work, and Blindness, in spite of everything, ends on a note of hope. The role of the female protagonist in leading the group to safety stands in marked contrast to the moral indigence of some of the male figures, especially during the novel’s bleaker moments, of which there are many. I would stop short of suggesting that she is meant to personify saintly self-sacrifice, but she certainly rises above the petty concerns that preoccupy most of her blind companions. When her husband sleeps with the girl with the dark glasses, she readily forgives them both; in contrast, she responds to the outrages committed against the women in the hospital with swift and deadly vengeance. Certainly, the love and tenderness the individuals in the group feel for each other provide a release from the relentless misery into which they have fallen, but it is a release based on the scraps of humanity the group is able to muster, thanks, in large respect, to the doctor’s wife ability to see. Does this suggest a sort of messianic role for her? Does she exemplify what Christians refers to as Grace? I am not sure, and it would be strange if it were so, at least in the work of an atheist such as Saramago; but her own words perhaps serve best to provide an answer, when, having regained his sight, she responds to her husband, the doctor’s, question: ‘Why did we become blind, I don’t know, perhaps one day we’ll find out, Do you want me to tell you what I think, Yes, do, I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.’

This essay first appeared in Wales Arts Review on 14 August under the title of ‘Contagious Realities’. Part Two, in which I consider Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera will follow.

Journal of the Plague Year (i)

Plague

 

As the coronavirus pandemic began to sweep the world, the Argentine writer Jorge Fondebrider wrote to friends and fellow writers around the world, asking for contributions to a Journal of the Plague Year (in homage to Defoe’s work of that title). Most of the contributors were from Latin America, but others lived in Europe or Asia. Jorge, an old friend, is indefatigable in organising people; all of the pieces were translated into Spanish, and will eventually be published in a single volume. The criteria were simply that the entries be under 500 words, and the resulting work, tracking the pandemic and the ways that different governments responded in diverse countries, makes for fascinating reading.  Over the next three days, I will be posting my own contributions to the collection, made over the months of March, April and May as a record of my own experience of living with the pandemic in Wales.

 

22 March

As soon as the news broke that the plague had arrived in Europe, it was obvious it would come to Brexit Island, but our government was in denial. They gabbled on about the globally repudiated tactic of herd immunity. They refused to join forces with their EU counterparts in focus groups dedicated to resisting the pandemic, and they ignored the World Health Organisation recommendations for immediate lockdown. However, none of the efforts of Prime Minister Johnson or his pals to distance themselves from the place they fondly call ‘the continent’ was ever going to stop this thing from crossing the Channel — and with a vengeance, given the head start our leaders had allowed it. The extent of our Prime Minister’s lack of interest during the weeks before the lockdown is shocking: he didn’t turn up at five consecutive key COBRA meetings to discuss policy on the pandemic, and one senior government adviser told The Sunday Times that Boris ‘didn’t work weekends’ and ‘there was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning.’ For Boris, resistance to the plague was merely a hindrance to the more pressing agenda of Brexit. However, it became apparent to many observers that the government’s laggardly approach was likely to have serious repercussions on the British population, such that the UK might turn out to be the European country most affected by the pandemic, and with the highest number of casualties.

On 20th March Boris announces the closure of the pubs. ‘We’re taking away the ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom to go the pub,’ he said. The right-wing, Brexit-loving newspaper The Sun reports this rather differently: ‘Mr Johnson said it went against what he called ‘the inalienable free-born right of people born in England to go to the pub’. In this version, as Fintan O’Toole points out in an article in The Guardian, ‘the freedom to go to the pub was conferred by genetics and history, not on the “people of the United Kingdom” or “the British people”, but on “people born in England”. It does not apply to Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish people and certainly not to the 9.4 million people living in the UK who were born abroad. It is a particular Anglo-Saxon privilege.’ So, we — or rather, the English — are not going to the pub. I don’t care. I don’t drink any more. But that is not the point: as O’Toole reminds us, this outburst of Johnson’s was about something else: ‘What Johnson was really evoking was a very specific English sense of exceptionalism, a fantasy of personal freedom as a marker of ethnic and national identity.’ He was flagging up the fact that ‘we’ (the English) are special and different, not like those ‘continentals’. So we will, reluctantly, stay at home and not go to the pub, but we won’t impose a full lockdown just yet. We will wait and see, and Boris will continue to shake hands with whoever he likes because he is Boris, who at the age of five told his sister Rachel that his ambition was to be ‘king of the world.’

 

29 March

As the recipient of another man’s liver, I knew I would be one of those persons deemed ‘at risk’. I take immunosuppressants and therefore, in theory, am more susceptible to catching nasty things. I email my consultant and ask his advice. He tells me to follow government guidelines, and that I will shortly receive a letter with instructions about ‘shielding’, a new term to me, but one that will soon become very familiar.

I live in a house close to Cardiff city centre with my wife and daughter no. 1, who is a junior doctor, and living with us while saving to buy her own place. I am a university professor and walk into work most days, up the river and across the park. A pleasant walk. I am reasonably fit and visit the gym frequently. I walk my dog in the park. We get out at weekends. We live an active life.

When the plague comes to our island I decide not to go into work. I tell my Head of School that I will work from home as from 16th March. Daughter no. 2 visits us from London just before the lockdown is announced. Her employers there tell her she can work from home, and since she is here, she stays with us in Cardiff. We are all four at home then, for a few days. On Sunday 22nd March we drive to the mountains near my natal village and go for a long hike. We do not realise it will be our last excursion of this kind for a long time. On Monday 23rd March the university announces that it will close, and that if anyone wants to retrieve anything from their office they should do so now. I drive in and collect my plants, drive home. In the evening Boris announces to the nation in an evening broadcast that the lockdown has begun. He is in Churchillian mode, trying very hard to do serious and sober. The next day daughter no. 1 leaves home and moves in with a medic friend. She works in a local hospital and doesn’t want to infect me or her mother with the plague.

 

6 April

On the 1st April, as foretold by my consultant, I receive a letter from the Welsh Government telling me that as a person with ‘an existing health issue’ I need to take extra steps to avoid catching the plague. If I live with other people (i.e. my wife or daughter no. 2) I should ‘try to keep away from them as much as you can. Try not to be in the same room. If you have to be in the same room try and keep a window open. Keep three steps away . . . Do not sleep in the same bed if you can avoid it . . . Use different bathrooms if you can. If you share a bathroom, clean it after every use. Avoid using the kitchen at the same time as others and eat your meals in separate rooms. Clean all cups, plates and cutlery thoroughly.’

We are still allowed to exercise, and to take the dog for walks. I take my ancient dog, Bruno, for an early stroll by the River Taff, which divides the city in two. The path along the Taff doubles as a cycle track. As we climb onto it from the river bank, where we have been watching the swans, a cyclist, speeding towards us at thirty metres’ distance yells: ‘Get out the bloody way!’ I am so astonished at his rudeness that I am temporarily lost for words. The cyclist has swished past and is heading for the bridge. All I can see of him are his taut, jigging buttocks and his pumping legs. ‘Fuck off, you lycra-clad Nazi’ I yell, finally enunciating a phrase I have been dying to utter for some years now.  Passers-by stop and stare, and follow my gaze upstream towards the cyclist. I am willing him to stop. I want him to return so we can have a proper confrontation. The adrenaline is racing through me. I want to rough him up, show him what’s what. The image of a 63 year old man wrestling with a wiry young sporting type on the sidewalk is not very becoming, I’ll admit, but I am fuming. What has come over me? Plague madness? Fortunately the man doesn’t return in response to my taunt. I shuffle home, pondering what might have been.

Boris comes down with the plague. Hardly surprising, considering the way he’s been ignoring his own advice about social distancing and shaking hands with everyone. Why’s it called social distancing anyway? Why isn’t it called personal distancing?  He falls ill, and then, dramatically, gets taken into hospital, and onto an intensive care unit. The nation holds its breath.

 

Poems for staying at home (Day 40)

 

IMG_1409

 

Quarantine means forty days, so Poems for staying at home is coming to an end, for now. Nearly all of the poems published here since April 20th can be found in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America. The final poem in the series, ‘Walking Backwards’, by the Guatemalan K’iche’ Maya poet Humberto Ak’Abal, is like a koan, self-explanatory in its simplicity, and yet not.

 

Walking Backwards

From time to time I walk backwards:
it’s my way of remembering.

If I were to walk only going forward,
I could tell you
what forgetting is.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Camino al revés

De vez en cuando camino al revés:
es mi modo de recordar.

Si caminara sólo hacia delante, t
e podría contar
cómo es el olvido.

 

Humberto Ak’Abal was born in 1952 in Momostenango, Guatemala, of the K’iche’ Maya people. He started out as a shepherd and weaver before leaving to find work in Guatemala City as a street vendor. He wrote in Maya-k’iche and Spanish, and his work has translated into many languages, including French, English, German, Arabic and Italian. Ak’Abal published twenty books of poetry, as well as three books of short stories, and two books of essays. Ak’Abal died suddenly in January 2019.

Poems for staying at home (Day 39)

coffin of poverty and despair

 

In these dark times many people are unable to bury their dead, or even attend to their dying relatives. Fabio Morábito’s devastating poem captures the irony of grief and loss through the eyes of one mourner, whose histrionic appearance at the funeral turns all the attention on himself.

Here is a video recording I made of the English version, in strange morning light.

 

Sobbing

I always arrive late
at funerals,
when the eyes
of those attending
have dried
and some have already forgotten
the face of the deceased,
how old he was,
the cause of his death.
Then I arrive
with my anachronistic weeping,
in my mourner’s black
with its sincerity intact,
and like a conflagration
I offer out hugs,
clasp the hands of the widow
and of the orphans
between my hands,
the whole cortège witnesses
my pain,
no one dares refute it,
people are embarrassed
and crowd together again
around the dead man,
the widow caves in
and breaks into sobs,
the orphans also
and the sound of weeping grows once more,
reaching everyone,
those who have not yet wept,
those who are there
who observe that it is the weeping of a returning tide
of considerable magnitude,
and they enter into it,
they forget about their dead
or remember them with greater clarity,
and the weeping flows faster,
dragging with it the weeping of other occasions,
its roar warns of a great weeping
which broadens out
and detaches itself from the dead,
for this I arrive late
at the weeping of others,
I come with another weeping
in my throat
which I let loose among the damp bodies
and I see how it clings to every tear
coils around,
crackles in each of them,
and I am the only one who knows
it is my misfortune
they are weeping for,
that they are weeping for my dead
and bestow their weeping on me.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Sollozos

Yo siempre llego tarde
a los entierros,
cuando los ojos
de los concurrentes
se han secado
y algunos ya olvidaron
la cara del difunto,
qué edad tenía,
de qué murió.
Entonces llego yo
con mi llanto anacrónico,
con el negro de mi luto
en todo su candor aún,
reparto abrazos
como incendios,
retengo entre mis manos
las manos de la viuda
y de los huérfanos,
todo el cortejo asiste
a mi dolor,
nadie se atreve a contrariarlo,
la gente se avergüenza
y vuelve a apretujarse
alrededor del muerto,
la viuda no resiste
y rompe a sollozar,
los huérfanos también
y el llanto crece nuevamente,
alcanza a todos,
a los que no habían llorado aún,
a los que andan por ahí,
que advierten que es un llanto de reflujo,
de envergadura,
y entran en él,
se olvidan de sus muertos
o los recuerdan con más claridad,
y el llanto se hace caudaloso,
arrastra llantos de otras épocas,
se advierte su bramido de gran llanto
que se expande
y se desliga de los muertos,
por eso llego tarde
al llanto de los otros,
vengo con otro llanto
en la garganta
que suelto entre los cuerpos húmedos
y veo cómo se prende en cada lágrima,
se enrosca,
crepita en cada uno,
y soy el único que sabe
que es mi desdicha
la que están llorando,
que están llorando por mis muertos
y me regalan sus sollozos.

 

Fabio Morábito was born in Alexandria in 1955 and has lived in Mexico City since the age of fifteen. His award-winning poetry, short stories and essays have established him as one of Mexico’s best-known writers over the past 25 years. He is also a translator from Italian. Much of his work has appeared in translation, to growing international acclaim. Three of his poems appear in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.

 

Poems for staying at home (Day 38)

This great and terrible poem of witness is now ten years old. The poem has become a symbol of resistance to state and narco gang violence and has in turn brought death threats to its author, María Rivera. It offers testament to a pandemic of murders in Mexico, many of them the gratuitous and brutal killings of women. It is a poem that never loses its power.

Here is a video of the poet Clare E. Potter reading ‘The Dead’ in English.

 

For an interview with María Rivera by Dylan Brennan, in which she speaks of the origins of the poem, please click here.

A video of the poet reading ‘Los Muertos’ can be found here:

 

 

 

The Dead

Here they come
the decapitated,
the amputees,
the torn into pieces,
the women with their coccyx split apart,
those with their heads smashed in,
the little ones crying
inside dark walls
of minerals and sand.
Here they come
those who sleep in buildings
that house secret tombs:
they come with their eyes blindfolded,
their hands tied,
shot between their temples.
Here come those who were lost in Tamaupilas,
in-laws, neighbours,
the woman they gang raped before killing her,
the man who tried to stop it and received a bullet,
the woman they also raped, who escaped and told the story
comes walking down Broadway,
consoled by the wail of the ambulances,
the hospital doors,
light shining on the waters of the Hudson.
Here they come
the dead who set out from Usulután,
from La Paz
from La Unión,
from La Libertad,
from Sonsonate,
from San Salvador,
from San Juan Mixtepec,
from Cuscatlán,
from El Progreso,
from El Guante,
crying,
those who were given the goodbye at a karaoke party,
and were found shot in Tecate.
Here comes the one they forced to dig his brother’s grave,
the one they murdered after collecting a four thousand dollar ransom,
those who were kidnapped
with a woman they raped in front of her eight year old son
three times.
Where do they come from,
from what gangrene,
oh lymph,
the bloodthirsty,
the heartless,
the murdering
butchers?
Here they come,
the dead so alone, so mute, so much ours,
set beneath the enormous sky of Anáhuac,
they walk,
they drag themselves,
with their bowl of horror in their hands,
their terrifying tenderness.
They are called
the dead that they found in a ditch in Taxco,
the dead that they found in remote places of Chihuahua,
the dead that they found strewn across plots of crops,
the dead that they found shot in la Marquesa,
the dead that they found hanging from bridges,
the dead that they found without heads on common land,
the dead that they found at the side of the road,
the dead that they found in abandoned cars,
the dead that they found in San Fernando,
those without number they cut into pieces and have still not been found,
the legs, the arms, the heads, the femurs of the dead
dissolved in drums.
They are called
remains, corpses, the deceased,
they are called
the dead whose mothers do not tire of waiting,
the dead whose children do not tire of waiting,
the dead whose wives do not tire of waiting,
they imagine them in subways, among gringos.
They are called
baby clothes woven in the casket of the soul,
the little tee shirt of a three-month-old
the photo of a toothless smile,
they are called mamita,
papito,
they are called
little kicks
in the tummy
and the newborn’s cry,
they are called four children,
Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)
and a widow (a girl) who fell in love at primary school,
they are called wanting to dance at fiestas,
they are called blushing of hot cheeks and sweaty hands,
they are called boys,
they are called wanting
to build a house,
laying bricks,
giving food to my children,
they are called two dollars for cleaning beans,
houses, estates, offices,
they are called
crying of children on earth floors,
the light flying over the birds,
the flight of pigeons in the church,
they are called
kisses at the river’s edge,
they are called
Gelder (17)
Daniel (22)
Filmar (24)
Ismael (15)
Agustín (20)
José (16)
Jacinta (21)
Inés (28)
Francisco (53)
gagged
in the scrubland,
hands tied
in the gardens of ranches,
vanished
in the gardens of ‘safe’ houses,
in some forgotten wilderness,
disintegrating mutely
and in secret,
they are called
secrets of hitmen,
secrets of slaughter,
secrets of policemen,
they are called sobbing,
they are called mist,
they are called body,
they are called skin,
they are called warmth,
they are called kiss,
they are called hug,
they are called laughter,
they are called people,
they are called pleading,
they were called I,
they were called you,
they were called us,
they are called shame,
they are called sobbing.
Here they go
María,
Juana,
Petra,
Carolina,
13,
18,
25,
16,
breasts bitten,
hands tied,
their bodies burned to a crisp,
their bones polished by the sand of the desert.
They are called
the dead women that no one knows no one saw being killed,
they are called
women who go out alone to bars at night,
they are called
working women who leave their homes at dawn,
they are called
sisters,
daughters,
mothers,
aunts,
disappeared,
raped,
burnt,
chucked away,
they are called meat,
they are called meat.
Here,
without flowers,
without tombstones,
without an age,
without a name,
without sobbing,
they sleep in their cemetery:
its name is Temixco,
its name is Santa Ana,
its name is Mazatepec,
its name is Juárez,
its name is Puente de Ixtla,
its name is San Fernando,
its name is Tlaltizapán,
its name is Samalayuca,
its name is el Capulín,
its name is Reynosa,
its name is Nuevo Laredo,
its name is Guadalupe,
its name is Lomas de Poleo,
its name is Mexico.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

 

Los Muertos

Allá vienen
los descabezados,
los mancos,
los descuartizados,
a las que les partieron el coxis,
a los que les aplastaron la cabeza,
los pequeñitos llorando
entre paredes oscuras
de minerales y arena.
Allá vienen
los que duermen en edificios
de tumbas clandestinas:
vienen con los ojos vendados,
atadas las manos,
baleados entre las sienes.
Allí vienen los que se perdieron por Tamaulipas,
cuñados, yernos, vecinos,
la mujer que violaron entre todos antes de matarla,
el hombre que intentó evitarlo y recibió un balazo,
la que también violaron, escapó y lo contó viene
caminando por Broadway
se consuela con el llanto de las ambulancias,
las puertas de los hospitales,
la luz brillando en el agua del Hudson.
Allá vienen
los muertos que salieron de Usulután,
de La Paz,
de La Unión,
de La Libertad,
de Sonsonate,
de San Salvador,
de San Juan Mixtepec,
de Cuscatlán,
de El Progreso,
de El Guante,
llorando,
a los que despidieron en una fiesta con karaoke,
y los encontraron baleados en Tecate.
Allí viene al que obligaron a cavar la fosa para su hermano,
al que asesinaron luego de cobrar cuatro mil dólares,
los que estuvieron secuestrados
con una mujer que violaron frente a su hijo de ocho años
tres veces.
¿De dónde vienen,
de qué gangrena,
oh linfa,
los sanguinarios,
los desalmados,
los carniceros
asesinos?
Allá vienen
los muertos tan solitos, tan mudos, tan nuestros,
engarzados bajo el cielo enorme del Anáhuac,
caminan,
se arrastran,
con su cuenco de horror entre las manos,
su espeluznante ternura.
Se llaman
los muertos que encontraron en una fosa en Taxco,
los muertos que encontraron en parajes alejados de Chihuahua,
los muertos que encontraron esparcidos en parcelas de cultivo,
los muertos que encontraron tirados en la Marquesa,
los muertos que encontraron colgando de los puentes,
los muertos que encontraron sin cabeza en terrenos ejidales,
los muertos que encontraron a la orilla de la carretera,
los muertos que encontraron en coches abandonados,
los muertos que encontraron en San Fernando,
los sin número que destazaron y aún no encuentran,
las piernas, los brazos, las cabezas, los fémures de muertos
disueltos en tambos.
Se llaman
restos, cadáveres, occisos,
se llaman
los muertos a los que madres no se cansan de esperar
los muertos a los que hijos no se cansan de esperar,
los muertos a los que esposas no se cansan de esperar,
imaginan entre subways y gringos.
Se llaman
chambrita tejida en el cajón del alma,
camisetita de tres meses,
la foto de la sonrisa chimuela,
se llaman mamita,
papito,
se llaman
pataditas
en el  vientre
y el primer llanto,
se llaman cuatro hijos,
Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)
y una viuda (muchacha) que se enamoró cuando estudiaba la primaria,
se llaman ganas de bailar en las fiestas,
se llaman rubor de mejillas encendidas y manos sudorosas,
se llaman muchachos,
se llaman ganas
de construir una casa,
echar tabique,
darle de comer a mis hijos,
se llaman dos dólares por limpiar frijoles,
casas, haciendas, oficinas,
se llaman
llantos de niños en pisos de tierra,
la luz volando sobre los pájaros,
el vuelo de las palomas en la iglesia,
se llaman
besos a la orilla del río,
se llaman
Gelder (17)
Daniel (22)
Filmar (24)
Ismael (15)
Agustín (20)
José (16)
Jacinta (21)
Inés (28)
Francisco (53)
entre matorrales,
amordazados,
en jardines de ranchos
maniatados,
en jardines de casas de seguridad
desvanecidos,
en parajes olvidados,
desintegrándose muda,
calladamente,
se llaman
secretos de sicarios,
secretos de matanzas,
secretos de policías,
se llaman llanto,
se llaman neblina,
se llaman cuerpo,
se llaman piel,
se llaman tibieza,
se llaman beso,
se llaman abrazo,
se llaman risa,
se llaman personas,
se llaman súplicas,
se llamaban yo,
se llamaban tú,
se llamaban nosotros,
se llaman vergüenza,
se llaman llanto.
Allá van
María,
Juana,
Petra,
Carolina,
13,
18,
25,
16,
los pechos mordidos,
las manos atadas,
calcinados sus cuerpos,
sus huesos pulidos por la arena del desierto.
Se llaman
las muertas que nadie sabe nadie vio que mataran,
se llaman
las mujeres que salen de noche solas a los bares,
se llaman
mujeres que trabajan salen de sus casas en la madrugada,
se llaman
hermanas,
hijas,
madres,
tías,
desaparecidas,
violadas,
calcinadas,
aventadas,
se llaman carne,
se llaman carne.
Allá
sin flores,
sin losas,
sin edad,
sin nombre,
sin llanto,
duermen en su cementerio:
se llama Temixco,
se llama Santa Ana,
se llama Mazatepec,
se llama Juárez,
se llama Puente de Ixtla,
se llama San Fernando,
se llama Tlaltizapán,
se llama Samalayuca,
se llama el Capulín,
se llama Reynosa,
se llama Nuevo Laredo,
se llama Guadalupe,
se llama Lomas de Poleo,
se llama México.

 

María Rivera was born in Mexico City in June 1971. She is a poet and peace activist. She was awarded the Premio Nacional de Poesía Joven Elías Nandino in 2000 with her first book, Translación de dominio. In 2005 she received the Premio Nacional de Poesía Aguascalientes with the poetry collection Hay batallas (2005). She is an active member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Artes in Mexico. This poem appears in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.

Poems for staying at home (Day 37)

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For some of us, life during lockdown has sometimes seemed like one continuous screen session, interacting virtually with people we barely know. How strange, then, to read Paula Piedra’s poem about coming home to a TV screen filled with familiar faces, after a day spent among strangers.

 

Sure, there’s an American Dream

I like pretending,
I go out without make-up,
hair in my face,
wearing whatever clothes
to walk down some street
and arrive at a building.

There I am remunerated for doing nothing
and talking with people I don’t know
despite recognising their voices.

The conversations are over quickly,
more skimmed over, mechanically,
while time passes.

Eager for something to happen
after the working day,
I return home
and there – finally! –
I find familiar faces
on the television.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Sí hay sueño americano

Me gusta disimular,
voy sin maquillaje,
el pelo en la cara,
con cualquier ropa
para andar por alguna calle
y llegar a un edificio.

Allí soy retribuida por no hacer nada
y hablar con personas que no conozco
a pesar de reconocer sus voces.

Las conversaciones transcurren rápido,
mecánicas, más repasadas
mientras pasa el tiempo.

Con ansias de que suceda algo,
después de la jornada,
regreso a casa.
Encuentro ¡al fin!
caras conocidas en la televisión.

 

 

Paula Piedra was born in San José, Costa Rica in 1976. She studied interior design, and published her first book of poetry, Ejercicios Mentales, in 2003. In addition to her own poetry collections she has been included in a number of anthologies published in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina and Guatemala. She has written articles and columns for magazines in Costa Rica. She currently works as a curator of contemporary art projects.

Poems for staying at home (Day 36)

Ten tequilas

 

We know that feeling, of stepping out into the street in flames, and without ourselves. The peculiarity of drinking tequila or mescal in some darkened den, followed by that lurch into sunlight – or as here – into the night. Everything takes on a dizzying vibrancy, and one’s vision amidst the glare, fuzzy though not actually impaired, turns as much in upon oneself as outward, and both worlds are equally bewildering. Thanks to Mexico’s Julio Trujillo for the insight, and for the poem, which can be found in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.

 

Ten Tequilas

I went out into the street in flames
and without myself,
what was left were shreds of gazes:
the world was my eyes
and my eyes
me,
seeking and at the same time
willing to be found,
striding down there below,
gasp and echo,
a flow without direction that wants
to debouch.
What sea awaits the man who brims over?
But the instant doesn’t ask questions,
it advances and remains standing,
straightens up to full height,
hoists
its colours
that in this blue night
keep flying.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Diez tequilas

A la calle salí en llamas y sin mí,
lo que restaba eran jirones de miradas:
el mundo era mis ojos
y mis ojos
yo,
buscando a la vez
dispuesto a ser hallado,
zancadas allá abajo,
resuello y resonancia,
caudal que va sin rumbo y que desea
desembocar.
¿Qué mar espera al hombre desbordado?,
pero el instante no pregunta,
avanza y se mantiene,
se yergue a toda altura,
iza
sus estandartes
que en esta noche azul
siguen ondeando.

 

Julio Trujillo was born in Mexico City in September 1969. He studied Hispanic language and literature at UNAM. He has been editor of the Revista Universidad de México and Lectura, director of the Revista Mexicana de Cultura and El Nacional, editorial coordinator of El Huevo, and chief editor of Letras Libres. He was awarded an INBA grant in 1993 and a FONCA grant in 1994 and 1996. He has been a member of the SNCA since 2004. He won the Premio de Poesía Punto de Partida in 1991 and the Premio Nacional de Poesía Joven Elías Nandino in 1994 for Una sangre. His latest book, Atajos y rodeos (Ediciones Cal y arena, 2015) is a hybrid collection of essays and reflective pieces.

Poems for staying at home (Day 35)

 

Beach poets

 

Let’s spare a thought for the beach poets, that ‘handful of geniuses’ who hang out on the sands, ‘making poetry with the waves’. Like the Dominican poet Frank Báez, perhaps, whose poetry does more than merely spread the sunshine of his native island. Frank, according to one critic, on the Poetry International archives, inhabits ‘the universe of the young man who wants to live a grand and buoyant life but cannot get his beloved Caribbean island out of his system. Again and again Báez returns to the quay, the pier, the waves . . ‘

 

The Beach Poets

Now I will take the opportunity of telling you the legend
of the beach poets.
A handful of geniuses who live on the beaches
making poetry with the waves:
writing odes, sonnets and elegies on the pages of the sea.
Beach poets do not need to go to university,
nor to work, nor belong
to the national federation of surfers.
It is enough for them to have an ear for the ocean.

The beach poets paddle and mount
their boards with a Spartan discipline,
ready to tame the tumult of wild and deafening waves.
When the weather forecast announces a hurricane
they are the first to arrive at the beaches.
Firemen and civil defence gendarmes with megaphones
beg them to leave.

At thirty, like the Romantic poets, they retire.
Some of them die by drowning.
Others are attacked by sharks and lose
their legs or arms.
Others become lawyers.
But believe it or not, their works endure.
And night and day, if you come close enough to the sea you can hear wave after wave reciting them.

 

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Los Beach Poets

Ahora aprovecho para contarles la leyenda
de los beach poets.
Un puñado de genios que viven en las playas
haciendo poesía con las olas:
escribiendo odas, sonetos y elegías en las páginas del mar.
Los beach poets no necesitan ir a la universidad,
ni trabajar, ni pertenecer
a la federación nacional de surfistas.
Les basta con tener oído para el océano.

Los beach poets reman y se suben
en las tablas con disciplina espartana,
dispuestos a domar la manada de salvajes y estruendosas olas.
Cuando meteorología anuncia un huracán
son los primeros que llegan a las playas.
Los bomberos y la defensa civil con megáfonos
les ruegan que salgan.

A los treinta, al igual que los poetas románticos, se retiran.
Algunos mueren ahogados.

Otros son atacados por tiburones y pierden
sus piernas o sus brazos.
Otros se hacen abogados.
Pero créase o no sus obras perduran.
Y noche y día, si uno se acerca lo suficiente al mar
puede escuchar como este ola tras ola las recita.

 

 

Frank Báez, born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1978, is a poet, editor and writer. He has published four books of poetry, one book of short stories and three books of chronicles. His poetry collection Postales has been published in five countries and was awarded the Salome Ureña National Prize for Poetry in 2009. In 2014 a selection of his poetry was published in English, titled Last Night I Dreamt I was a DJ (Miami: Jai-Alai Books, 2014). His work is included in the anthology El canon abierto: última poesía en español (Madrid: Visor Libros, 2015), brings together many of the most relevant Spanish- language poets born after 1970. Báez also forms part of the multidisciplinary collective El Hombrecito, combining performance in music, literature and visual arts. Two of his poems appear in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America. In 2017 Báez was the only poet included on the Bogotá39 list of the best Latin-American writers under forty.

 

frank_baez_by_lidybel_martinezjpg_768x768

Frank Báez © Lidybel Martinez

Poems for staying at home (Day 34)

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“This is the time of the killers.” Today’s poem is in tribute to George Floyd, and in support of Black Lives Matter.

Palimpsest from Rimbaud

I am writing over words written
On the skin of other words.
I am an echo of other echoes. A trace of other traces.
I write crossing out voices
As if the paper were a transient slate.
I realize that at the bottom of this page
Torn away from his prison diary
The poet attached vertigo
Before proclaiming himself emperor of silence,
And despite this being heresy
I write over his voice.
I cross out his black A, his white E, his red I,
His blue O, his green U
And I stamp my symbols with impunity,
But he insists on setting a trap for me.
Over my precarious words
I don’t know why
An indelible motto persists:
“This is the time of the killers.”
Once again, all together now:
“This is the time of the killers.”

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Palimpsesto desde Rimbaud

Escribo sobre palabras escritas
En la piel de otras palabras.
Soy eco de otros ecos. Trazo de otros trazos.
Escribo tachando voces
Como si el papel fuera una pizarra fugaz.
Advierto que al fondo de esta hoja
Arrancada a su diario de prisionero,
El poeta fijó vértigos
Antes de erigirse emperador del silencio,
Y aunque resulte herejía
Escribo encima de su voz.
Tachono su A negra, su E blanca, su I roja,
Su O azul, su U verde
Y estampo mi grafía, impunemente,
Pero él insiste en tenderme una celada.
No sé por qué persiste,
Sobre mis precarias palabras
Una divisa imborrable:
“He aquí el tiempo de los asesinos”.
A ver, repitan en coro:
“He aquí el tiempo de los asesinos”.

 

 

Born in Medellín in 1946, Juan Manuel Roca is one of the most respected figures in contemporary Colombian poetry and fiction. Also a well-known journalist and social commentator, he has a long association with the world- famous poetry festival in the city of his birth, set up in defiance of many years of war and civil strife in his country. He has received numerous awards; was a finalist for the Rómulo Gallegos Prize for the Novel (2004), winner of the Cuban Casa de América Prize in 2008 for his Antología personal, and of the Spanish prize, Casa de Ameríca de Poesía Americana in 2009, for his collection Biblia de Pobres.

 

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Poems for staying at home (Day 33)

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Bunnies and top hats, David Lynch and the dark reverberations of down the rabbit hole; all of this explored by the inimitable Pedro Serrano in this quarantine poem, first published in The Other Tiger.

 

The Rabbit and the Top Hat

As in Alice’s garden
the rabbit on the damp lawn
jumps, its curvature springy.
Gently it raises its ears in tandem,
sniffing the waves of dainty herbs
and between its little teeth goes the grass
of this gleaming border.
It’s not a motionless ear in the void,
but a rug in the middle of the green,
a knot or fleecy brown pompom
that comes pulsing forward.
Startled, it bunny-hops towards the thickets
and the high spikes of the scrub
green and flat like squat towers and turrets.
Through a few magic doors
it plunges between the agapanthus and iris
as though entering a universe crammed
inside David Lynch’s top hat.
I lose track of it within that magic world,
dense and dark,
though in a sudden gust
it passes again in front of me
as if it were a streamer
with no lament or leash,
swiftly,
and so it vanishes.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

El conejo y la chistera

Como en el jardín de Alicia
el conejo en el césped húmedo
salta y muelle su curvatura.
Suave alza las orejas de dos en dos,
husmeando en las olas de hierbas frágiles
y entre sus dientecillos va el pasto de este
confín luminoso.
No es una oreja quieta en la nada,
sino una alfombra en el centro de lo verde,
un nudo o borla marrón peluda
que avanza palpitando.
En sobresaltos se mece hacia los matorrales
y las altas agujas de la maleza
verdes y chatas como torres y almenas.
A través de unas puertas mágicas
se hunde entre los agapandos y lirios
como si entrara en un universo apretado,
adentro de la chistera de David Lynch.
Ya no lo sigo en ese mundo mágico
. denso y oscuro,
aunque en una ráfaga súbita
pasa de nuevo frente a mí
como si fuera una serpentina
sin arrepentimiento ni mordaza,
repentino,
y así desaparece.

 

Pedro Serrano, born in Montreal in 1957, is a poet and professor at UNAM in México DF. He was until recently Director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre in Canada. His translations include the anthology La generación del cordero (containing many of the most prominent British poets of the 1980s), Shakespeare’s King John and the poetry of Edward Hirsch. He recently published DefenßaS, a book on poetry and other wanderings. La construcción del poeta moderno, based on this doctoral thesis, is an extended essay on T.S. Eliot and Octavio Paz, and was published 1n 2012. He was for many years the editor of the online poetry monthly Periódico de Poesía. A book of his selected poems, Peatlands, translated by Anna Crowe, was published by Arc in 2014.

Poems for staying at home (Day 32)

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Today’s poem: a perfect study in stillness, by the Mexican poet Coral Bracho.

 

Goats

In the whiteness
and its nucleus of light
the goats stand stock-still. Gently the rock
holds them in its palm;
like a brushstroke
a butterfly.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

 

Cabras

En la blancura persisten
las cabras quietas
y su centro de luz. Suavemente la piedra
las sostiene en la palma;
como una pincelada
a una mariposa.

 

Coral Bracho, born in Mexico City in 1951, is a poet and translator whose work has been published in several languages. Her publications include the poetry collections El ser que va a morir (J. Mortiz, 1982), La voluntad del ámbar (Ediciones Era, 1998), Ese espacio, ese jardín (Era, 2003), Si ríe el emperador (Era, 2010) and Marfa, Texas (Era, 2015). She has been a Guggenheim fellow for poetry (N.Y.), and a SNCA fellow (México). She has received the National Poetry award (Aguascalientes, 1981), the Book of the Year award (Xavier Villaurrutia 2004) and the Jaime Sabines-Gatien Lapointe Prize (Quebec, 2011), among other awards. Her Selected Poems have been translated by Forrest Gander, and published by New Directions as Firefly Under the Tongue (2008). ‘Goats’ appears in The Other Tiger: recent Poetry from Latin America.

 

 

 

Poems for staying at home (Day 31)

2 bimblebees

 

As we find ourselves in June, two bumblebees, observed by the Mexican poet Pura López Colomé, hover over ‘rose coloured leaves / from a flower that is not a rose.’

 

And the Anthurium, Undaunted

Two bumblebees
extract the juice,
sweet and bitter,
at the centre
of these rose-coloured leaves
from a flower that is not a rose.
Gorged,
they knock against the windows
again and again,
certain of migrating,
their treasure within,
beyond the air,
unaware of the eclipse
of a free pathway,
unaware
of the magnet
of a mirage.
With honey blood
as their essence,
already part of a distinct
and rapturous
marrow.

 

 

Y el anturio, impávido

Dos abejorros
extraen el jugo,
dulce y amargo,
al centro
de las hojas color de rosa
de una flor que no es rosa.
Ahítos,
golpean los ventanales
vez tras vez,
seguros de emigrar,
con el tesoro adentro,
allende el aire,
ignorantes del eclipse
de un sendero libre,
ignorantes
del imán
de un espejismo.
Con la sangre miel
en las entrañas,
parte ya de una médula
extática.
Y distinta.

 

 

Pura López Colomé was born in Mexico City in 1952 and completed her BA and MBA in Mexican Literature at UNAM. She is the author of 11 books of poems, and a Collected: Poemas reunidos 1985-2012 (México DF: Conaculta, 2013). Her own work has been wide translated, while her translations of Seamus Heaney, with whom she maintained a long friendship, are highly-regarded in the Spanish speaking world. In 2011 she recorded a bilingual anthology of poetry on CD with Alastair Reid: Resonancia/Resonance: Poetry in Two Languages (Fondo de Cultura Económica). She has received many awards for her writing and translation, including the Premio Xavier Villaurrutia, the Premio Nacional de Traducción Literaria and the Premio Nacional Alfonso Reyes. She lives in Cuernavaca.