Ricardo Blanco's Blog

Poems for staying at home (Day 22)



What is insignificance? The routines of the quotidinal? Can one, nevertheless, become an artist of the quotidinal? And if making tea, is it not a point of some importance to use the correct tea, in its allocated box, as the dust motes dance in the May sunlight? Today’s lockdown poem is by D.G. Helder, of Argentina.



One moment.
And slowly, shhh . . .
Don’t wake the cat.
Don’t frighten the sparrows
in the orange tree.
The water’s boiling, I close my book,
May has returned to the window.
Does anyone want a cup of tea?
Would any of you like
a cup of tea?
On the second shelf,
to the left, there are two tins,
one red and one white.
That ray of sunlight
that shines through the glass
and the curtains
has travelled 150 million kms
to alight on the wooden floor.
Inside the sunbeam, in the non-gravity,
crazed grey dust specks
Not the white one, the red.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)



Un momento.
Y despacio, shhh…
Que el gato no despierte.
Que los gorriones en el naranjo
no se espanten.
Hierve el agua, cierro el libro,
mayo ha vuelto a la ventana.
¿Alguien quiere una taza de té?
¿Alguno de ustedes desea
una taza de té?
En el segundo estante,
a la izquierda, hay dos latas,
una roja y otra blanca.
150 millones de kms
ha recorrido este rayo de sol
que trasluce el vidrio
y las cortinas
y se fija en la madera del piso.
Dentro del rayo, en la no-gravedad,
el polvillo gris enloquecido
La blanca no, la roja.

From El faro de Guereño, 1990


Daniel García (D.G.) Helder was born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1961. He is a poet and critic, and one of the most authoritative commentators on contemporary and twentieth century Argentine literature. He has been co-editor of the website Poesía.com (1996-2006), director of the Casa de Poesía in Buenos Aires (2001-2008) and was the curator of the XVII Festival Internacional de Poesía de Rosario (2009). In addition to his own publications, his poetry has been included in numerous national and international anthologies.

Poems for staying at home (Day 21)



Imagine that you are in a dark nightclub and a Tiger is seated at the bar, observing you curiously. Something like this happened to Pedro Serrano in Cardiff a few years back. I know; I was there, and so was Bill. This poem was published in The Other Tiger – and is the only poem, as far as I know, to make its first ever appearance in that tome. The night spot has since closed down. The image above is from a painting by the Catalan artist Lluís Peñaranda.


Dark Ages

The tiger leaps
from a cloud of smoke into transience.
Falls on the devastating corral with an idleness
corresponding to the haste of his victims,
not to his elasticity.
He brushes past the bars of his cage
swinging his tail, rattling, tac, tac, tac, tac.
Crackling, he licks the circus sands
and raises ripples of dust,
traces of an approaching wake.
The motive for his observation
journeys in the smooth rhythm of his stomach,
velvety, gluttonous, elastic.
He turns circles before the spectators,
ears cocked, instincts fixed
on the excitement in the air.
He walks by the tables, propitious,
exudes substance and style.
The head sinks between the shoulders,
swells in the rail that encircles him.
The claws are extended
in the animal body that awaits him.
In the mirror of midday
the night’s end was taking shape,
beatific, inscrutable.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)


Dark Ages

El tigre salta
de la humareda a la fugacidad
y cae en el corral aplastante con una pereza
que alude a la prisa de sus victimas,
no a su elasticidad.
Pasa rozando las rejas de su jaula
una vuelta y otra.
Restallante lame las arenas del circo
y levanta espejuelas de polvo,
huellas de una estela aproximándose.
Meneando la cola, golpeteando.
La razón de su observación
viaja en el suave ritmo de su vientre.
Da vueltas a los espectadores,
las orejas prestas, su olfato
en la agitación que se respira.
Pasa propicio por sus mesas,
se enjundia.
Afelpado y glotón,
sume la cabeza entre los hombros.
Crece en el riel que lo circunda
y cae con las uñas puestas
en el cuerpo animal que lo acecha.
Queda un muñeco de goma
descomponiéndose, desarticulado.
Beatífica, hierática,
desde el espejo del mediodía
se apunta la noche.


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 20)

werewolf castle


Today’s poem, from Costa Rica’s Mauricio Molina, concerns a castle, a bishop, and . . . lycanthrogyny? It is dedicated to Lilith, who howls in the night.


The Old Lycanthrope

The old lycanthrope takes a stroll in Bucharest
There is a chess bishop on the tower of the castle
a yellow flower in his lapel
Black the night and black the blood
He plays the three of clubs
and the rain is the stuff of frogs
The princes of the land
decide once again
They are mistaken even about the colour of
their hats.
Will day break in Bucharest?

The hour is not known to be honest
nor serious
and just in case you ask me
what I gain cutting off the leg
of the batrachian
I will point out to you the poor lycanthrope
Who once again is walking in circles around the square

invents words
to kill the winter
paints her lips white
discovering the sweet pleasure of
She uncorks an apple
and trembles with cold
while thinking
that the goal
is not the wolf

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)

El Viejo licántropo

A Lilith, la que aúlla en la noche

El viejo licántropo se pasea en Bucarest
Hay un alfil sobre la torre del castillo
una flor amarilla en su solapa
Negra la noche la sangre negra
Se juega el tres de bastos
y la lluvia es cosa de ranas
Los príncipes de la tierra
deciden otra vez
Se equivocan hasta en el color de
sus sombreros
¿Amanecerá en Bucarest?

La hora no es conocida por sincera
ni por seria
y si acaso me preguntas
qué gano cortándole la pata
al batracio
te señalo al pobre licántropo
que otra vez da vueltas a la plaza

mientras tanto
para matar el invierno
inventa palabras
pinta del blanco sus labios
descubriendo el dulce placer de
la licantroginia
Descorcha una manzana
y tiembla de frío
mientras piensa
que la meta
no es el lobo


Mauricio Molina was born in Costa Rica in 1967. While living in Colorado, USA, he wrote his first book; Abominable libro de la nieve (México DF: Conaculta, 1999) for which he received the 1998 Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Poetry Prize from the Mexican Cultural Centre. Between 2002 and 2007 he lived in Greece, where he wrote Cuadernos de Salónica (San José: Espiral, 2012). He is currently a professor at the University of Costa Rica.

Poems for staying at home (Day 19)


thumb_RG with Wendy and Andres_1024


Wendy Guerra‘s poem, ‘Reverse Journey’, appropriately reflects our current state of travel: it takes place without actually going anywhere. The poem is one of my favourites from The Other Tiger. Guerra, pictured above in matching colours with Andrés Neuman and myself in Guadalajara, nine years ago, first made her name with the autofiction Todos se van translated as Everyone leaves, but still lives in Cuba, as far as I know.


Reverse Journey

I pack and unpack my bag
I do and undo everything with the intention of leaving
I call my friends tell them I’m escaping
and later secretly board the raft
to absorb the sorcery of the sun in peace
A wedding ring lost in the stomach of a fish
And again the luggage for the non-deferrable journey
I keep seeing that unmoving piece of marble
that are the boots of my personal memorial
Look how my tears course down the suitcase
you track them with your index finger
and you will arrive at the centre of my doubts
I fish in the same sea that overflows in the water from my eyes
I see my half-packed suitcase come on board
my tormented compass
and the child’s drawing of a map of Cuba
I trace the thousand forms of an exploratory circumnavigation
Dip a foot in to test the exact temperature of the waters
withdraw a little and then leave
for the interminable and conclusive regatta
Someone pushes me for a laugh and I almost fall and drown
but I sustain an amazing state of equilibrium
I make the journey to the interior
realizing in an epiphany
that I dictate my ideas’ last line.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)


El viaje inverso

Hago y deshago la maleta
hago y rehago todo con intención de partir
Llamo a los amigos les cuento que me escapo
y luego subo disimuladamente a la balsa
a recibir en paz los sortilegios del sol
Un anillo de bodas perdido en el estómago de un pez
Y otra vez las valijas para el viaje impostergable
Veo y veo ese inmóvil trozo de mármol
que son las botas de mi monumento personal
Mira cómo viajan mis lágrimas sobre la valija
los sigues con el dedo índice
y llegarás hasta al centro de mis dudas
Pesco en el mismo mar que desborda el agua de mis ojos
Veo cómo sube mi valija incompleta
mi brújula atormentada
y el dibujo de un niño con el mapa de Cuba
Trazo las mil formas de un bojeo exploratorio
Sacar el pie para probar la temperatura exacta de las aguas
retroceder un poco y partir luego
a la regata interminable y conclusiva
Alguien me empuja en broma y casi caigo ahogada
pero conservo un asombroso estado de equilibrio
Hago el viaje al interior
divisando iluminada que yo dicto
el último renglón de mis ideas.


Wendy Guerra was born in 1970 in Cienfuegos, Cuba. She is part of a generation of Cuban writers and artists who express themselves in a mix of genres and across media. She came to fame with the publication of an autobiographical novel based on her diaries, Todo se van in 2006, which won the Premio Bruguera de Novela and gained critical acclaim across Spain and Latin America, and was published in English as Everyone leaves (2012). A Cage Within is a collection of translations of Guerra’s poetry published by Harbor Mountain Press (2013). In 2016 Guerra published Domingo de Revolución (Revolution Sunday) in Spain, the story of a Cuban author who publishes a book of poems in Europe and is the object of suspicion by both the Cuban government and Cuban dissidents.

Poems for staying at home (Day 18)



Today we have a short and apposite poem from Beatriz Vignoli. I have no idea which hotel is referred to by the four asterisks, but the poem always makes me think of the Hotel Castelar in Buenos Aires, where Lorca lived for six months in 1933-4. The Castelar, for long a landmark on the Avenida de Mayo, closed down definitively last week as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Written on the Bedside Table of a Hotel ****

For shame of being
poor, I spent half my life
hiding away
from my friends, to avoid
the gossip;
now they are
from all these
new, rare
now I
embrace them, but they no longer
radiate heat, their faces are grey
– I mean a dark grey –
and now nothing at all remains
of those happy and brilliant people
we were going to be.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)


Escrito en la mesa de luz de un Hotel ****

Por vergüenza de ser
pobre, me pasé media vida
de mis amigos, no fuese que
ahora ellos están
de todas esas
enfermedades nuevas,
ahora sí
los abrazo, pero ya no irradian
calor, sus caras están grises
– quiero decir, de un gris
oscuro – y ya no queda nada
de todo lo felices y geniales
que íbamos a ser.


Beatriz Vignoli was born in Rosario, Argentina in 1965. She is a novelist, poet, journalist, translator and art critic. Five of her poems appear in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.


Poems for staying at home (Day 17)



A second poem from Laura Wittner of Argentina to accompany the one I posted on Day 6 (which was in fact Day 36 of the UK lockdown), just because it felt appropriate, as we spend time watching images on our TV screens of places where we are not.  And snow, an idea which seems remote and even wonderful.


Another City

When I raise my eyes I see snow,
snow gleaming from the television.
As always, places where one is not
shimmer on the map.
Certainly, I’d miss the flower market
and waking in this eighth-floor flat
which opens out in defiance of the wind.
The truth is there was just one day of snow
and there is a second possible version
of things known to us.
Suitcases have been packed for ever
and ready on the sofa
waiting to be off.
That moment lasts, is sustained,
it’s a way of being:
to be at the point of being abandoned.
The black pit of packed bags
the reverse of disembarking.
The human desire for the incomplete
reflected, it is said,
in a preference for small things,
brevity, fragments.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)


Otra ciudad

Cuando levanto la vista veo nieve,
nieve refulgiendo desde el televisor.
Como siempre, titilan sobre el mapa
los lugares donde una no está.
Seguro extrañaría el mercado de flores
y despertar en este piso octavo
que se abre desafiando al viento.
La verdad es que hubo un solo día de nieve
y que hay una posible segunda versión
para las cosas conocidas.
Las valijas están hechas desde siempre
y además están sobre el sofá
en posición de espera.
Ese momento dura, se sostiene,
es una manera de estar:
estar a punto de ser abandonado.
El pozo negro de las valijas hechas,
reverso del desembarco:
el deseo humano por lo incompleto
que se refleja, dicen,
en la predilección por lo pequeño,
lo breve, el fragmento.


Laura Wittner was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1967. She has published several poetry collections, most recently La Altura (Bajolaluna, 2016).  She is also a translator from English, and has published work by Leonard Cohen, David Markson, Anne Tyler and James Schuyler. She coordinates poetry and translation workshops and runs a poetry blog in Spanish at http://selodicononlofaccio.blogspot.com/ and she can also be found (in English) at https://intranslation.brooklynrail.org/spanish/inside-the-house/.

Poems for staying at home (Day 16)

Impossible Loves cover


Today’s poem follows the announcement by the Prime Minister of the UK to ‘stay alert’ (whatever that means), while the leaders of  Scottish and Welsh governments have told us to continue to ‘stay at home’, which seems clearer, at least. The protagonist in Darío Jaramillo Agudelo’s poem has left home, but no one is sure whether he will return. I love this poem, and apologies to those who have read it in a previous post, but since Carcanet recently published an entire collection of my translations of Jaramillo’s poems, called Impossible Loves, I thought I would give it a plug.

You can listen to Blanco reading ‘Reasons for his absence’ here.


Reasons for his Absence

If anyone asks after him,
tell them that perhaps he’ll never come back, or else
on returning no one will recognise his face;
tell them also that he left no one any reasons,
that he had a secret message, something important to tell them
but he’s forgotten what it was.
Tell them that he is falling, in a different way, and in another part of the world,
tell them he is still not happy
if that makes some of them happy; tell them also that he left
with his heart empty and dry
and tell them that this doesn’t matter, not even for pity or pardon’s sake
and that he himself doesn’t suffer on this account,
and that now he doesn’t believe in anything or anyone, far less in himself,
that from seeing so many things, his sight dwindled,
and now, blind, he needs touch,
tell them that once, on a sunny day, he had the faint glimmer of a faith in God,
tell them that once there were words that made him believe in love
and that later he learned love lasts
as long as it takes to say a word.
Tell them that like a balloon punctured by gunshot,
his soul plunged toward the hell within,
and he isn’t even in despair
and tell them that sometimes he thinks this inexorable calm
is his punishment;
tell them that he doesn’t know what sin he has committed,
and that he considers the blame he drags around the world
just another aspect of the problem
and tell them that on certain insomniac nights and even on others
during which he believes he has dreamt it,
he is afraid that the blame might be the only part of himself that is left
and tell them that on certain luminous mornings
and in the middle of afternoons of merciful lust and also
on rainy nights drunk with wine
he feels a certain puerile joy in his innocence
and tell them that on these blissful occasions he talks to himself.
Tell them that if some day he returns, he will come with two cherries for eyes
and a blackberry bush seeding in his stomach and a snake
coiled around his neck.
And nor will he expect anything from anyone and he will earn his living honourably,
as a fortune-teller, reading the cards and celebrating strange ceremonies
in which he will not believe
and tell them that he made off with some superstitions, three fetishes,
a few misunderstood instances of complicity
and the memory of two or three faces that always come back to him
in the darkness
and nothing.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)


Razones del ausente

Si alguien les pregunta por él,
díganle que quizá no vuelva nunca o que si regresa
acaso ya nadie reconozca su rostro;
díganle también que no dejó razones para nadie,
que tenía un mensaje secreto, algo importante que decirles
pero que lo ha olvidado.
Díganle que ahora está cayendo, de otro modo y en otra parte del mundo,
díganle que todavía no es feliz,
si esto hace feliz a alguno de ellos; díganle también que se fue con el
corazón vacío y seco
y díganle que eso no importa ni siquiera para la lástima o el perdón
y ni él mismo sufre por eso,
que ya no cree en nada ni en nadie y mucho menos en él mismo,
que tantas cosas que vio apagaron su mirada y ahora, ciego,
necesita del tacto,
díganle que alguna vez tuvo un leve rescoldo de fe en Dios, en un día de sol,
díganle que hubo palabras que le hicieron creer en el amor
y luego supo que el amor dura lo que dura una palabra.
Díganle que como un globo de aire perforado a tiros,
su alma fue cayendo hasta el infierno que lo vive y que ni siquiera
está desesperado
y díganle que a veces piensa que esa calma inexorable es su castigo;
díganle que ignora cuál es su pecado
y que la culpa que lo arrastra por el mundo la considera apenas otro
dato del problema
y díganle que en ciertas noches de insomnio y aun en otras en que cree
haberlo soñado,
teme que acaso la culpa sea la única parte de sí mismo que le queda
y díganle que en ciertas mañanas llenas de luz
y en medio de tardes de piadosa lujuria y también borracho de vino
en noches de lluvia
siente cierta alegría pueril por su inocencia
y díganle que en esas ocasiones dichosas habla a solas.
Díganle que si alguna vez regresa, volverá con dos cerezas en sus ojos
y una planta de moras sembrada en su estómago y una serpiente
enroscada en su cuello.
Y tampoco esperará nada de nadie y se ganará la vida honradamente,
de adivino, leyendo las cartas y celebrando extrañas ceremonias en las
que no creerá
y díganle que se llevó consigo algunas supersticiones, tres fetiches,
ciertas complicidades mal entendidas
y el recuerdo de dos o tres rostros que siempre vuelven a él
en la oscuridad
y nada.


A note on ‘Reasons for his absence’

I was attracted to this poem by its epistolary style, and by the device of news being relayed about an absent party. The lack of clarity surrounding the reasons for the man’s absence holds particular poignancy in a country such as Colombia, where ‘disappearances’ were – at the time of the poem’s composition, in the late 1970s – already becoming an everyday occurrence. The baroque language and incantatory style creates a strange juxtaposition with the content, which describes a life of sensual dissolution. The curiosity is stirred by the profound sense of loss or lack with which the absentee seems infused, wherever he is. Whether his exile is literal or metaphoric is never made clear.

My principal concern with the translation of this poem concerned the title. The Spanish noun ‘razón’ can mean a range of things, including ‘reason’ or ‘information’, or even ‘explanation’, depending on context. Similarly ‘ausente’ – here a noun, but commonly an adjective – could be translated in a number of ways: ‘the absent one’ sounded too much like translatorese, ‘the missing person’ subject to over-interpretation in the context of recent Latin American history. In the end I chose ‘his absence’, which deviates from the original in a grammatical sense but conveys the meaning of the phrase accurately. A second concern was the repetition in the Spanish of ‘díganle’ (literally: tell him), which, since it refers back to ‘alguien’ (anyone) in line 1, I chose to translate as the generic ‘tell them’.

I attempted to re-create the long, rolling cadences of the original in my translation, alongside the reiteration of the introductory ‘tell them that . . .’.  I have also tried to reproduce the bereft tone that reflects the absentee’s solitude, and the distance he has chosen to maintain from those he left behind.

When I read this poem out loud at an event – as I do from time to time – it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I can’t say that happens with many poems, but with this one it happens every time.


Darío Jaramillo Agudelo is an internationally acclaimed poet, novelist and essayist. He graduated in law and economics from the Universidad Javeriana of Bogotá, and worked for many years in various roles with state cultural and arts organisations. He has won both the Colombian national prize for poetry (2017) and the García Lorca Prize (2018).


Dario with Borges

A rare photo of the young Darío Jaramillo (on the right) with J.L. Borges, Bogotá circa 1965.

Poems for staying at home (Day 15)

Jorge Teillier

Something set me off with Micaela Chirif’s poem on Day 12, which recalls a phone call from a dead friend, and I have decided to revisit an old favourite by poor, wasted Jorge Teillier – the only poet to appear twice so far in this series. The poem was read at the poet’s funeral on 24 April, 1996.


If you wish to speak with the dead

If you wish to speak with the dead
you have to choose words
that they will easily recognise,
as easily as their hands
recognise their dogs’ fur in the dark.
Clear and calm words
like spring water tamed inside a wineglass
or the chairs set back in place by your mother
after the guests have left.
Words given refuge by the night
as the marshland its will-o’-the-wisp.

If you wish to speak with the dead
you need to learn how to wait:
they are fearful
like the first steps of a child.
But if we are patient
one day they will answer us
with a poplar leaf caught in a broken mirror,
with a flame suddenly revived in the fireplace,
with a dark return of birds
before the gaze of a girl
who waits unmoving on the threshold.


Para hablar con los Muertos

 Para hablar con los muertos
hay que elegir palabras
que ellos reconozcan tan fácilmente
como sus manos
reconocían el pelaje de sus perros en la oscuridad.
Palabras claras y tranquilas
como el agua del torrente domesticada en la copa
o las sillas ordenadas por la madre
después que se han ido los invitados.
Palabras que la noche acoja
como a los fuegos fatuos los pantanos.

Para hablar con los muertos
Hay que saber esperar:
ellos son miedosos
como los primeros pasos de un niño.
Pero si tenemos paciencia
Un día nos responderán
con una hoja de álamo atrapada por un espejo roto,
con una llama de súbito reanimada en la chimenea,
con un regreso oscuro de pájaros
frente a la mirada de una muchacha
que aguarda inmóvil en el umbral.


Jorge Teillier (1935-96) was a Chilean poet, a key figure in the later 20th century literature of a country dominated by great poets such as Mistral, Neruda, Parra, Huidobro, de Rokha and Lihn.  Teillier offers a unique, gentle voice, with a profound sense of the lyrical, often associated with simple, everyday – and usually rural – concerns. His collected poems are published as Nostalgia de la Tierra.



Poems for staying at home (Day 14)


I never had a house


Not everyone owns a house, least of all a house that affords them privacy, or a place where children might play outside, even if the sun itself reminds one of the endless casualties in a terrible war. In today’s house poem the Salvadoran poet Otoniel Guevara conjures a house of dreams from the ruins of memory.


I never had a house

I want a house
where the neighbours cannot hear your cries
your irrepressible
cries of pleasure

where there is always water falling
from the sky
and from the watering can

I want a garden and a patio
where childhood plays out
its most torrential alphabet

where the sun does not remind me
of being twelve and the endless dead bodies

where I don’t have to put red signals
under doors
where a bond of love fits us
and the children

where Death arrives finally
and feels as though
he’s in his own home.

 (Translated by Richard Gwyn)


Nunca tuve una casa

 Quiero una casa
donde no escuchen tus gritos los vecinos
tus gritos de placer

donde siempre caiga el agua
del cielo
y de la regadera

Quiero un hogar con patio
donde juegue la infancia
su más torrente abecedario

donde el sol no me recuerde
los cadáveres incesantes de mis doce años

donde no haya que colocar semáforos
bajo las puertas
donde quepa el amor que nos lazamos
y los hijos

donde La Muerte finalmente llegue
y se sienta
como en su propia casa


Otoniel Guevara was born in  Quetzaltepeque, El Salvador in 1967. He fought  for the FMLN in the Salvadoran civil war, studied journalism at the El Salvador University, and since then has worked as a publicist, cultural journalist, and editor. He has published around 30 titles and his poems have been translated into many languages.  He is executive director of the Fundación Metáfora and director of the publishing house La Chifurnia.

Poems for staying at home (Day 13)




Today’s poem concerns a house, any house – though this one happens to be in Mexico – in which someone is born, but no longer lives. We all have a house to which we return in dreams. We may be living in it now, and not get out much. We may, like the speaker in Alicia García Bergua’s delicate exercise in poetic metaphysics, dream of the house we lived in when we were somebody else.



Zoological Metaphysics

Like the sheep who returns, to give birth
on the farm where she was born,
some nights I dream that I’m still in the house
where the person lived who went out one day
to be who I am now.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)



Metafísica zoológica

Como la oveja que regresó a parir
a la granja donde había nacido,
algunas noches sueño que aún estoy en la casa
donde vivió la persona que salió un día
a ser quien soy ahora.


From Ser y seguir siendo, 2013, and appearing in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.


Alicia García Bergua was born in Mexico City in September, 1954. She is a poet, essayist and translator. Bergua is editor of texts on popular science for the magazine ¿Cómo ves? She has published numerous poetry collections and a book of essays. She is a member of Mexico’s Sistema Nacional de Creadores.


Poems for staying at home (Day 12)


Micaela Chirif


Today’s poem come from the excellent Micaela Chirif, of Peru. Her theme is talking with the dead, an activity with which I identify ever more closely as the years go by. This poem can be found in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.


A Friend

a friend dead for some years now
sometimes calls me on the phone
contrary to what might be expected
the conversation is normal enough:
I give him the gossip from hereabouts
he gives me the gossip there
I watch the day darkening in the window
he lazily cuts his nails
and in this way
sharing stories
we sometimes spend the entire evening

when the time comes to hang up
and it always comes
we both become very sad
and begin to weep
but for the sake
          of delicacy
each of us does this alone


Un amigo

a veces me llama por teléfono
un amigo muerto desde hace años
contrariamente a lo que podría pensarse
la conversación as bastante normal:
yo le cuento los chismes de acá
y él me cuenta los de allá
yo miro el día oscurecerse en la ventana
él se corta las uñas con pereza
y así
compartiendo historias
pasamos a veces la tarde entera

cuando llega el momento de colgar
y siempre llega
nos da entonces muchísima tristeza
y nos ponemos a llorar
pero eso sí
por delicadeza
lo hace cada uno por su cuenta


From Sobre mi almohada una cabez, Pretextos (2012).


Micaela Chirif is a Peruvian poet and children’s author. Born in Lima in 1973, Chirif’s first poetry collection, De vuelta was published by Colmillo Blanco in 2001. Following this came Cualquier cielo (Mundo Ajeno, 2008), and Sobre mi almohada una cabeza (Pre-Textos, 2012). In 2015, Galería Estampa published an illustrated selection of her poetry as part of the Biblioteca Americana. Her work in children’s literature has won her the Münich White Ravens de la Internationale Jugendbibliothek twice, for Buenas noches, Martina (2010), and Desayuno (2014). In 2019 she was awarded the Premio Hispanoamericano de Poesía para niños (Hispano-american children’s poetry prize).



Poems for staying at home (Day 11)



Wrecked building and street art, Valparaíso


I have known this poem since my teens, but returned to it in 2015 after a visit to Neruda’s house in Valparaíso, and decided to try my hand at translating it.

When I first read the poem in its English version, the translator defined Don Asterio as the ‘clocksmith’ of Valparíso. This is not strictly accurate, and Neruda has chosen ‘cronometrista’ in the title (rather than, say, relojero = clockmaker, which he also uses) for a reason. Although the subject of the poem does make and repair clocks and watches, his function within the poem (and within the city) is of a more ontological nature. Don Asterio is, effectively, transformed from ‘artisan’ to ‘wise man’ – or from ‘clockmaker’ to ‘timekeeper’. His gentleness and humility are characteristics of a man ‘stopped in time’, while around him ‘men and women flowed by / up the shabby hills or down to the sea’. My main concern in the translation was to capture the crucial paradox of Neruda’s verse, at once virtuosic and simple: an onslaught of vivid imagery and a skilled, tranquil protagonist.

If you prefer to listen, a recording of the English version only can he found here


To Don Asterio Alarcón, timekeeper of Valparaíso

Valparaíso has the smell
of a crazy port,
the smell of a shadow, of a star,
of moon-scale
and fish-tail.
The heart shudders
on the harrowing stairways
of the bristling hills:
grave poverty and black eyes
dance there in the fog
and the flags of the kingdom
hang from windows:
patched sheets,
old shirts,
long undershorts
and the sea sun salutes the banners
while the white clothes wave
the sailors a poor farewell.

Sea streets, windy streets
of the hard day wrapped in air and waves,
alleys that sing upward
in a spiral like snails:
the commercial afternoon is transparent,
the sun visits the merchandise
in order to sell the warehouse smiles,
showing windows and sets of teeth,
shoes and thermometers, bottles
that hold a green night,
unreachable suits, golden clothes,
awful socks, mild cheeses,
and so I come to the point
of this ode.

There is a shop window
with its glass
and inside,
between timepieces,
the timekeeper don Asterio Alarcón.
The street boils and turns
burns and batters,
but behind the glass
the clockmaker,
the old curator of clocks
stands immobile, with a protruding eye,
an extravagant eye
which guesses the enigma,
the cardiac arrest of the clocks
and scrutinizes with one eye
until the obscure butterfly
of timekeeping
alights on his brow
and the hands of the clock move.

Don Asterio Alarcón is the ancient
hero of minutes
and the boat sails on the wave
measured by his hands
that add
responsibility to the minute hand,
neatness to the beat:
Don Asterio in his aquarium
watched over the marine chronometers,
oiled with patience
the blue heart of the seascape.
For fifty years,
or eighteen thousand days,
the river of children and men and women
flowed by
up the shabby hills or down to the sea,
while the clockmaker,
amidst clocks,
stopped in time,
softened like a pure vessel
against the eternity of the current,
his timbers appeased,
and little by little the wise man
emerged from the artisan
with magnifying glass and oil
cleansed of envy, fear discarded,
fulfilled his job and destiny,
until time itself
in its fearsome passage
made a pact with him, with don Asterio,
and he awaits his hour.

So when I pass by
the frantic street,
the black river of Valparaíso,
I only hear one sound
among the sounds,
among so many clocks one only:
the exhausted, gentle, murmuring
and ancient movement
of a great pure heart:
the distinguished and humble
tick-tock of Don Asterio.

(Translation by Richard Gwyn)


A Don Asterio Alarcón, cronometrista de Valparaíso

Olor a puerto loco
tiene Valparaíso,
olor a sombra, a estrella,
a escama de la luna
y a cola de pescado.
El corazón recibe escalofríos
en las desgarradoras escaleras
de los hirsutos cerros:
allí grave miseria y negros ojos
bailan en la neblina
y cuelgan las banderas
del reino en las ventanas:
las sábanas zurcidas,
las viejas camisetas,
los largos calzoncillos,
y el sol del mar saluda los emblemas
mientras la ropa blanca balancea
un pobre adiós a la marinería.

Calles del mar, del viento,
del día duro envuelto en aire y ola,
callejones que cantan hacia arriba
en espiral como las caracolas:
la tarde comercial es transparente,
el sol visita las mercaderías,
para vender sonríe el almacén
abriendo escaparate y dentadura,
zapatos y termómetros, botellas
que encierran noche verde,
trajes inalcanzables, ropa de oro,
funestos calcetines, suaves quesos,
y entonces llego al tema
de esta oda.

Hay un escaparate
con su vidrio
y adentro,
entre cronómetros,
don Asterio Alarcón, cronometrista.
La calle hierve y sigue,
arde y golpea,
pero detrás del vidrio
el relojero,
el viejo ordenador de los relojes,
está inmovilizado
con un ojo hacia afuera,
un ojo extravagante
que adivina el enigma,
el cardíaco fin de los relojes,
y escruta con un ojo
hasta que la impalpable mariposa
de la cronometría
se detiene en su frente
y se mueven las alas del reloj.
Don Asterio Alarcón es el antiguo
héroe de los minutos
y el barco va en la ola
medido por sus manos
que agregaro
responsabilidad al minutero,
pulcritud al latido:
Don Asterio en su acuario
vigiló los cronómetros del mar,
aceitó con paciencia
el corazón azul de la marina.
Durante cincuenta años,
o dieciocho mil días,
allí pasaba el río
de niños y varones y mujeres
hacia harapientos cerros o hacia el mar,
mientras el relojero,
entre relojes,
detenido en el tiempo,
se suavizó como la nave pura
contra la eternidad de la corriente,
serenó su madera,
y poco a poco el sabio
salió del artesano,
con lupa y con aceite
limpió la envidia, descartó el temor,
cumplió su ocupación y su destino,
hasta que ahora el tiempo,
el transcurrir temible,
hizo pacto con él, con don Asterio,
y él espera su hora de reloj.

Por eso cuando paso
la trepidante calle,
el río negro de Valparaíso,
sólo escucho un sonido entre sonidos,
entre tantos relojes uno solo:
el fatigado, suave, susurrante
y antiguo movimiento
de un gran corazón puro:
el insigne y humilde
tic tac de don Asterio.


From Plenos Poderes, first published by Losada, Buenos Aires.


Pablo Neruda, original name Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, (born July 12, 1904, Parral, Chile—died September 23, 1973, Santiago), Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He was perhaps the most important Latin American poet of the 20th century. (Britannica). A controversial figure in his lifetime, Neruda has been the subject of considerable polemic since his death, both with regard to his political and personal life. A biography of the poet in English, Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life, by Adam Feinstein, was published in 2004.