Ricardo Blanco's Blog

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.

Poems for staying at home (Day 10)

Jorge & Blanco

Jorge Fondebrider & Richard Gwyn, Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, 2013


For today’s reading we join the inimitable Jorge Fondebrider at home in Buenos Aires for a reading of ‘Clearing out the house’, that sad activity most of us will carry out at some point in our lives, following the death of a parent.


You can listen to Jorge reading ‘Desmantelar la casa’ here.

You can listen to Jorge reading ‘Closing up the house’ here.


Closing up the house

Beyond the absence and the tremendous absurdity of what follows
– habits, such as calling every day,
for example, are hard to banish –
I am not sure if there is any such thing
as the true measure of death
until the house is empty, because
what once had a meaning and, of course, a story
can barely be summarized in an inventory:
two paintings, an armchair, the stove,
the bed and the sideboard.
The English china already doesn’t count,
nor the crystal glassware, the silver,
first editions of nothing that now matters.
They are old things,
objects that hover about the rooms with no purpose.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)


Desmantelar la casa

Más allá de la ausencia y del enorme despropósito que sigue
–costumbres que cuesta desterrar,
como llamar todos los días, por ejemplo–
no estoy seguro de que haya algo así
como la verdadera medida de la muerte
hasta que la casa se vacía, porque entonces
lo que tenía un sentido y por supuesto historia
apenas se resume en inventarios:
dos cuadros, un sillón, el samovar,
la cama y el bargueño.
La porcelana inglesa ya no cuenta,
ni el baccarat, la plata,
primeras ediciones de nada que ahora importe.
Son cosas viejas,
objetos que boyan en los cuartos sin razón.


Jorge Fondebrider (1956, Buenos Aires) is an Argentinian poet, critic and translator. Alongside his own collections, and several anthologies and studies of Argentinian poetry, he has published widely on such diverse topics as a history of Lycanthropy, a study of Argentinians in Paris, and books on Patagonia,  Buenos Aires and Dublin. Fondebrider is also a well-known music journalist, and a translator from both French and English, notably of recent Irish writing. A bilingual Selected Poems, The Spaces Between, translated by Richard Gwyn, is available from Cinnamon (2013). His Collected Poems were published in 2016 as La extraña trayectoria de la luz (Buenos Aires: Bajolaluna).

Poems for staying at home (Day 9)




Today’s poem, by the Bolivian Gabriel Chávez Casazola (pictured above), chimes perfectly with the lockdown zeitgeist. I love the gentle understatement, and calm acceptance of what is. The poem’s speaker dreams of travelling to distant places, all the while remaining at home: ‘I resign myself to the knowledge I have not left’. The most he can hope for is to ‘soar above the sheets’.


I was born within the confines

I was born within the confines of an elusive empire
bordered by imaginary and evasive lines.

Since childhood I wanted to know the heart of the region,
to visit the north, which was also the centre.

After many years of dreaming about roads
I resign myself to the knowledge that I have not left.

This morning a man across from me is conversing with the birds.
He tells them how to arrive at the jade palace.

I listen to this, thinking of the north,
of the centre,
of my old desire.

But now I am tired and the days weigh on me.

I have to be content with learning that language of birds
and, alone now, in my room, to soar above the sheets.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)



He nacido en los confines

He nacido en los confines de un imperio inasible
rodeado por líneas imaginarias y huidizas.

Desde niño quise conocer el corazón de la comarca,
acudir a su norte que era también su centro.

Después de muchos años de soñar con caminos
me resigno a saber que no he partido.

Esta mañana un hombre enfrente mío conversa con los pájaros.
Les instruye la forma de llegar al palacio de jade.

Yo lo escucho pensando en el norte,
en el centro,
en mi viejo deseo.

Pero ya estoy cansado y los días me pesan.

He de conformarme con aprender ese idioma de aves
y, ya solo, en mi cuarto, planear sobre las sábanas.



Gabriel Chávez Casazola is a Bolivian poet and journalist. Born in 1972, his publications include Lugar Común, Escalera de Mano, El agua iluminada and La mañana se llenará de jardineros. His work has been translated into Portuguese, Italian, English and Romanian. He has contributed to several international poetry magazines. Two translations of his poems are included in The Other Tiger. For readers of Spanish, more can be found here: https://www.luzcultural.com/gabriel-chavez-casazola/

Poems for staying at home (Day 8)


Today’s poem is by the Guatemalan K’iche’ Maya poet Humberto Ak’Abal, who died unexpectedly last year, at the age of 66. I met Humberto only once, but his intelligence, courtesy and gentleness made a lasting impression. Two of his poems appear in The Other Tiger.


The nights in Chonimutux
are thick and black.

You can pick up a little
between your hands
to seal off
small holes in the walls.

They are like inverted ravines.

If you keep looking at their depths
you will feel yourself falling headfirst

as if the earth were above you
and you were standing on the sky.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)


Las noches en Chonimutux
son espesamente negras.

Puede llevarse
un poco entre las manos
y tapar con ella
hoyitos en las paredes.

Son como barrancos boca abajo.

Si te quedás viendo su hondura
sentís irte de cabeza

como si la tierra estuviera arriba
y uno parado en el cielo.

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 7)




Today’s house is a childhood home in Santiago de Chile, revisited by the poet Verónica Zondek after years in exile, following the Pinochet dictatorship. The poem burrows and weaves its way through the dusty enclaves of the past, trying to make sense of ‘progreso’, which as well as meaning ‘progress’, is an area of Zondek’s native city.

You can listen to Verónica Zondek reading ‘Progreso’ on video below.




I know it without betrayal or evidence.
This is my house and yet it’s not.
Memories boil and bubble from step to step
and towering up to the 15th floor, get lost in the nothingness of sky
grey now and not the blue of No, I remember.
Three stairs with footprints and mud in the entrance
a cranky horseshoe on a nail in the door
and an aura that protects the family’s breath.
Yes, a chequered floor in the kitchen
a spruce chess board and Clorinda for thorough hygiene
bread that is promptly kneaded in memory
an oven that bakes the cake of childhood’s clay.
Yes, I remember the shifting shade of the shutters
and the eternal counting of lines in sleeplessness
and the voices from heaven
and also the others
those that reprimand
those that invade my head in supposed sleep
and make me read by the light of a torch
so that God willing panic doesn’t spread.
Yes, a grumbling staircase absorbs my school shoes
and reveals and flaunts that strident independence.
Yes, once loud and swaggering,
swelling with laughter and tears and the nerves of a beginner,
hooked, like everyone, in the eye of their own time.
So many days wandering in the desert of the home
concentrating on the alien talk of adults
filling the emptiness that occasionally swells
to later stitch together a story, only intelligible,
of course, in one formerly so sane,
and that wardrobe of surprises in the corridor
nothing less than an ancient sea in full surge
buried beneath one and seven keys of Cerberus
silence and secret seldom ajar
pirates’ chest and cave of cursed elf
wishing for illness so as to break the seal
and the shining white walls of adobe
naked and without a skin when the earth shakes
and the books that collapse on your head
and the invasion of master bonesetters
and the dust and the mess and the cornered silence
and the tremendous bother of hustle and bustle.

Vanity of the matter that shelters memory
like a silent treasure box surrendered to the digger.

cold and beautiful like the blue ice of glaciers
that barely able and with the road’s consent
neither knows nor asks
and takes control and buries beneath the thunder of doing
the loveliest thought and chained to the fire
that already once was snatched from us.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)



Lo sé sin traición ni documento.
Esta es mi casa y ya no es.
Hierven y suben los recuerdos de escalón en escalón
y altísimos hasta el piso 15 se pierden en la nada del cielo
gris ahora y no azul del no, ya recuerdo.
Tres peldaños con pisadas y barro en la entrada
una herradura quejumbrosa en un clavo de la puerta
y un aura que defiende el hálito familiar.
Sí, un piso cuadriculado en la cocina
Un pulcro tablero y una Clorinda para el buen aseo
Un pan que presto se amasa en la memoria
Un horno que cuece la torta del barro infantil.
Sí, recuerdo la sombre alternada de los postigos
y el eterno recuento de líneas en desvelo
y las voces celestiales
y también las otras
las que amonestan
las que invaden mi cabeza en reposo pretendido
y obligan la lectura a la luz de una linterna
para que Dios mediante no cunda el pánico.
Sí, una quejumbrosa escalera recibe mis zapatos colegiales
y destapa y ondea esa independencia de pelo en pecho.
Sí, una entonces bravucona y vociferante
una hinchada en llanto y risa nervios de principiante
una colgada como todos en el ojo del tiempo propio.
Tantos y tantos días errantes en el desierto del hogar
concentrada en el decir aparte de los mayores
llenando el vacío que a ratos hincha
para luego hilvanar una historia en demasía propia
inteligible, por supuesto, en un otrora tan cuerdo
y ese armario con sorpresas en el pasillo
no otra cosa que un mar antañoso con su completo oleaje
encerrado bajo una y siete llaves de cancerbero
silencio y secreto pocas veces entreabierto
baúl de piratas y cueva de duende maldito
deseando la dolencia para violarle el sello
y las albas paredes de adobe
desnudas y sin cáscara en medio de las tembladeras
y los libros que derrumban sobre la cabeza
y la invasión de maestros componedore
y el polvo y el desorden y el silencio arrinconado
y la tremenda molestia del ajetreo.

Vanidad de la materia que acoge el recuerdo
cual cofre silente entregado a la retroexcavadora.

frío y bello como el hielo azul de los glaciares
que pudiendo apenas y con la venia de dónde la carretera
tampoco sabe ni pregunta
y toma la sartén por la mango y entierra bajo el trueno del hacer
el bellísimo pensar y encadenado al fuego
que una vez ya nos fue arrebatado.



Verónica Zondek was born in Santiago de Chile in 1953. She has a History of Art degree from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and has published a dozen poetry collections and an anthology of Chilean poetry, Cartas al azar (1989). She is a writer of diverse interests, having compiled a major study of the Chilean poet, Gabriela Mistral, and a children’s book: La mission de Katalia (2002). She is a member of the editorial committee for the independent publishing house LOM Ediciones in Santiago, and has translated many poets from English – most recently, Anne Carson.



Poems for staying at home (Day 6)


Laura Wittner


Today we have one of my favourite lockdown poems, ‘Plastic Moon’ by the Argentine poet Laura Wittner. As a special bonus we have a guest reader, the American poet and translator Curtis Bauer, who performs from the garden of his home in Lubbock, Texas, undeterred by either the abundant birdsong or his own wild hair. Thank you, Curtis! The poem appears in The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America.

Click for the video poem: https://videopress.com/v/rzV1gNFW


Plastic moon

We are in a dark living room
where I want everything except what I have.
Without shoes, on the floor, drinking wine
from crystal glasses, they put on loud music
and I ask myself: why do we
never play this music?
The possibility of pleasure is lifting me off the ground
and the impossibility of pleasure is making me dizzy.
I lean out of the window to take in some air,
but there’s no more here, only the tight alignment
of back patios and fire escapes,
the absence of sound sarcastically shaken
by the magical music, a darkness of the city’s suburbs
barely known. That’s why I need to go out on the street.
I put on my shoes, leave,
under the muddy light that the chequered floor sucks in like a sponge,
and in the meantime I think, I think.
Why do we never play this music?
I stop on the frozen pavement. There are no smells.
I can’t make out the window
from which I have come. A group of men in the shadows
makes me afraid again. Oh, but thanks.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)



Luna de plástico

Estamos en un living oscuro
donde quiero todo menos lo que tengo.
Sin zapatos, en el piso, tomando vino
en vasos de cristal, ponen música fuerte
y me pregunto: ¿por qué nosotros nunca
ponemos esta música?
La posibilidad del placer me está haciendo levitar
y la imposibilidad del placer me marea.
Voy a asomarme a la ventana a tomar aire,
pero no hay más, aquí, que la estrecha confluencia
de patios traseros y escaleras para incendio,
la ausencia de sonido mordazmente agitada
por la música mágica, una oscuridad de afueras de la ciudad
apenas conocida. Así que necesito ir a la calle.
Me pongo los zapatos, salgo,
bajo la luz marrón que el piso a cuadros se chupa como esponja,
y mientras tanto pienso, pienso.
¿Por qué nosotros nunca ponemos esta música?
Me paro en la vereda congelada. No hay olores.
No puedo distinguir la ventana
de donde vengo. Un grupo de hombres en la sombra
me vuelven al temor. Ay, pero, gracias.


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 5)



Our house today is ‘The House in Tigre’, by Daniel Samoilovich. Tigre is a small town on the Paraná river, which, on its passage towards the ocean, is broken up by hundreds of small, wooded islands, many of them inhabited. The whole, vast area is a web of small estuaries, and the graveyard of three centuries’ worth of shipwrecks and abandoned dreams. As late as the 1870s the delta was the haunt of pirates, some of them women, including the famous Marica Rivera, who, with her band of bloodthirsty followers robbed and murdered travellers, although she also acquired the status of a kind of Robin Hood figure, occasionally distributing her booty among the needy. The people who live on these islands have a reputation for a kind of wistful lethargy, a condition known locally as ‘mal del sauce’ or ‘weeping willow sickness.’ I imagine it as the sort of listless melancholy that afflicts a person who spends too many hours gazing at the slow passage of water.


The House in Tigre

We have a house in South America.
Here are the dogs with no owner,
the river, palm trees, summer,
the little tangled bush
of wild roses,
slanting light in autumn.
Here’s where old clothes end up,
silence, non-matching glasses,
the most long-lived members
of different races, made siblings
by chance, by an oversight of death.

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)


La Casa del Tigre

Tenemos una casa en Sudamérica.
Aquí están los perros sin dueño,
el río, las palmeras, el verano,
el arbolito enmarañado
de las rosas silvestres,
las luces diagonales en otoño.
Acá vino a parar la ropa vieja, el silencio,
los vasos desparejos,
los miembros más longevos
de razas diferentes, hermanados
por el azar, por un descuido de la muerte.



Daniel Samoilovich was born in Buenos Aires in 1949. He has published a dozen collections of poetry since his first, Párpado, in 1973. A bilingual collection of his poetry has appeared in English, translated by Andrew Graham Yooll (Nottingham: Shoestring Press, 2007) and his Collected Poems, Rusia es el tema was published by Bajolaluna in 2014. He is a translator from Latin, Italian, English and French. He has translated, amongst others, the Latin poet Horace and Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Between 1986 and 2012 he directed the Buenos Aires cultural newspaper Diario de Poesía. Three of Samoilovich’s poems can be found in The Other Tiger.

Poems for staying at home (Day 4)



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


Ballad of the House

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

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

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

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

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

(Translated by Richard Gwyn)



Balada de la casa

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

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

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

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

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


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