Ricardo Blanco's Blog

The Thousand Yawns of Ricardo Blanco

It doesn’t give me any kind of pleasure to give a book a poor review, but having spent an awfully long time reading something, and trying to engage with it as a work of art, I do feel a bit pissed off if the thing is getting tons of media attention when more modest, but far more skilfully written works are passed over by the monolithic media machine of our publishing culture.

I started reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet on my summer holidays, was interrupted, picked it up and got rather bored, was convinced by Cees Nooteboom (who I see is credited in the acknowledgements) to give it another try; and finally yesterday, after a six-hour stint of compulsory bed rest in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, I managed to get to the end.

Really, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Mitchell doesn’t write many duff sentences, at least compared with the trashier writers of the day, but then neither are there many great passages of the kind that I enjoyed in Cloud Atlas. However, like the earlier novel, The Thousand Autumns is filled with too many set pieces, and they always, but always sound like set pieces. That’s the price you pay for padding out a longer novel, I guess.

The title is mildly irritating, following as it does the clichéd formula of concept plus OF plus name (preferably an odd-sounding name). But more tiresome is the tedium of the truncated sentence formula alternating with the capacity of all the characters (but particularly de Zoet himself) to think out loud in italics.

 

It is dear Anna whom I love, Jacob recites, and I whom Anna loves.

Beneath his glaze of sweat he sweats. His bed linen is sodden.

Miss Aibagawa is as untouchable, he thinks, as a woman in a picture . . .

Jacob imagines he can hear a harpsichord.

. . . spied through a keyhole in a cottage happened upon once in a lifetime . . .

The notes are spidery and starlit and spun from glass.

Jacob can hear a harpsichord: it is the doctor, playing in his long attic.

 

(The doctor, incidentally is one Marinus, who has all the sensibilities of a late 20th century liberal haphazardly dumped into the late eighteenth).

This is not bad writing: it just isn’t much good, and I certainly don’t see why all the leading newspapers’ reviewers swooned over it (and they all did). “I doubt there is another living English writer who is capable of such traversals of worlds and consciousness,” trilled The Guardian. But, reader, I was bored.  I yawned a thousand yawns. I kept thinking I was being uncharitable towards Mr Mitchell and should give it a few more pages, but as I drew towards page five hundred and fifty, I felt that I’d been had, and that this was just a bestseller bandwagon book.

I should follow my gut instinct in future and refrain from buying books in airports simply because they have a bunch of rave reviews, but I probably won’t, as from time to time curiosity wins out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cretins

I am listening to a Chopin nocturne here in my attic, as the rain falls on the city. It is evening and it is autumn. Tomorrow I am going into hospital where someone will poke around in my liver with a sharp instrument. This combination of factors could make for quite a melancholy mood, but instead I am reasonably jolly because I have just confirmed a longstanding suspicion: according to my Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, the word ‘cretin’ is derived from the French Alpine dialect crétin meaning a ‘kind of dwarfed and deformed idiot  . . . from Latin christianus CHRISTIAN.’ It goes on to inform me that ‘In many Romance languages the equivalents of Christian have the general meaning of human being, but as a euphemism carry the sense of poor fellow. A parallel sense of development is found in French benêt simpleton, from Old French benoit blessed . . .’

Well, well.

I was also interested to discover there is a French video game called Les Lapins Crétins (the cretinous rabbits), surely one of the more outstanding Gallic contributions to world culture.

The Argentinian poet Jorge Fondebrider, playing with the familiar writerly notion that worldly success is almost entirely a matter of luck, has a poem on the subject, which I reproduce below, as a spin-off from my reflections on cretinism, followed by another of Jorge’s pensées on literary matters.

 


Outburst

 

While translating a biography of Gershwin

and reading again of his successes,

the many testimonies of his contemporaries,

I realise that I too know illustrious people

and a few who are genuinely talented,

who bear the load of the world’s debts and bitterness.

But later I go back to work.

What I really want to say is that talent is not enough,

is never sufficient

that you have to be born in the right place, at the right time,

you have to be lucky and be noticed.

And whoever claims otherwise is a cretin.

 

 

Poets

 

Like Plato, chuck them out,

send them packing with a kick in the arse.

Worse still are novelists who don’t read poetry.

Illiterates.

 

 

Translations from the Spanish by Richard Gwyn, first published in Poetry Wales, Vol 47 No 1, Summer 2011.

 

 

 

Blanco’s Sunday Round-Up

 I am leafing through a notebook and I find a terrifying quotation from John Cheever, and though I have no idea when I copied it down, it would seem to come from Cheever’s journals:

When the beginnings of self-destruction enter the heart it seems no bigger than a grain of sand. It is a headache, a slight case of indigestion, an infected finger; but you miss the 8:20 and arrive late at the meeting on credit extensions. The old friend that you meet for lunch suddenly exhausts your patience and in an effort to be pleasant you drink three cocktails, but by now the day has lost its form, its sense and meaning. To try and restore some purpose and beauty to it you drink too much at cocktails you talk too much you make a pass at somebody’s wife and you end with doing something foolish and obscene and wish in the morning that you were dead. But when you try to trace back the way you came into the abyss all you find is a grain of sand.

Although reflecting a certain kind of mid century American machismo – ‘you make a pass at somebody’s wife’ – where the working day would characteristically end in cocktails, there is a truly awful angle to the idea that the tiniest thing, the smallest discomfort or inconvenience might send a person reeling into oblivion. How many times has that happened, and how many times have we told ourselves it cannot, must not happen again?

And that image of the grain of sand is so entrenched in our consciousness, because we are used to regarding the grain of sand as the minimal unit of matter (which, along with the speck of dust, it was before the advent of atomic physics) and we reduce every small beginning to just such a tiny item. ‘To see a world in a grain of sand’ according to William Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’, is a familiar allegory to every armchair mystic.

And what Cheever is saying is not confined to the experiences of a recidivist drunk: it applies to anyone who has ever felt that quiet sliding out of control, the slow-motion disaster that the smallest, slightest disharmony begins to offset, and the offhand remark (or the not-so-offhand remark) the spillage, foot placed firmly in it, the unforeseen riposte, the fist raised, the threat made, the words that appal, the moment at which you take a step that cannot be retrieved, definitively.

Though, on the upside, that can be quite refreshing. Walking out on a job, while giving one’s boss an earful, might be the most gratifying thing that ever happens to some people.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the economy and the leaders of Europe all mouthing off about how we must do this and can’t do that, and the demos in Madrid and Nueva York (with Naomi Wolf in her evening gown, for whom I can’t feel too much sympathy, although I agree with her in principle) and the poor Greeks at the end of yet another bollocking from the Germans, and meanwhile the bankers, the bastards who got us in this mess, all have their snouts back in the trough again as if nothing had happened.

Harrumph.

Which brings us logically to the rugby world cup final.

I never thought for a moment that the French would get ‘blown away’ in today’s match as Wales’ outstanding scrum-half Mike Phillips predicted in the heat of the moment after his team’s unlucky defeat in the semis. And on the day les bleus came good, playing more positive rugby than they have all tournament. I must confess, after indulging in a week of blatant francophobia, I was egging them on to score in that final onslaught before New Zealand regained possession of the ball. Maybe it was just a perennial desire to support the underdog. But it would have been a bitter irony for France to have walked away with the world cup, after losing to Tonga in the group stage.

So that’s done. It was all a bit of an anti-climax here in Cardiff, as everyone was rooting for a New Zealand-Wales final (and I had money on it). But despite losing to South Africa, France and Australia, the Welsh players have nothing to be ashamed of; in fact they done us proud.

Blanco is very much looking forward to the Wales-France match at the Millennium stadium next March, and will certainly be there, although he will not be dressed as a daffodil.

 

 

Lucifer in Starlight

Nico on album cover of 'Chelsea Girls', certainly not to be confused with 'Made in Chelsea'

I was flicking through web pages, looking for nothing in particular, which in ordinary life tends to invoke a receptive and often interesting state of receptivity. Moreover I was tired, and therefore probably susceptible to sentiments that I might normally guard against (but probably do not).

Anyhow, I stumble across a poem by David St. John, not a poet I remember having read before, and fell straight for it: a musical poetry of desire, of neglect, of forgetting – in which nothing sounds quite right: the man at the party is actually saying he prefers Athens to Rome; the woman whose vest “belled below each breast”(?); the disconnect between what he is saying of Rome and what is dancing urgently beneath the text, tugging at memory. What is going on here, as the narrator jumps from place to place, zone to emotional zone? And who is he? Yet I read on, lulled by the easy rhythms as the lines spilled across the page through various absurdities (“it was here I’d chosen / To live when I grew tired of my ancient life / As the Underground Man”) – Velvet Underground?

And then the extraordinary fluidity of the lines that follow the arrival in his apartment at 3.00 a.m. of Nico, with her sunken eyes, Marlene Dietrich vowels, not only in her Velvets persona but more specifically as the lowing chanteuse of the Chelsea Girls album, junk-queen heroine of my adolescence, her somber drone exciting me with visions of decadent and lonely immolations in seedy hotel rooms, dark nights of impossible desire, and the soul-barren broken wanderlust which would soon become mordant reality, and who:

Pulled herself close to me, her mouth almost

            Touching my mouth, as she sighed, “Look … ,”

And deep within the pupil of her left eye,

            Almost like the mirage of a ship’s distant, hanging

Lantern rocking the waves,

I could see, at the most remote end of the receding.

            Circular hallway of her eye, there, at its doorway,

At the small aperture of the black telescope of the pupil,

                        A tiny, dangling crucifix –

Silver, lit by the ragged shards of starlight, reflecting

            In her as quietly as pain, as simply as pain …

 

So, I will copy the poem in full, after all, although I have to keep it in italics, otherwise WordPress will re-align the text. The citation is from the eponymous poem by Meredith (1828-1909) which can be found here, the opening lines of which are: ON a starr’d night Prince Lucifer uprose. / Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend / Above the rolling ball in cloud part screen’d,  / Where sinners hugg’d their spectre of repose.

 

 

Lucifer in Starlight

 

Tired of his dark dominion … 


—George Meredith

 

It was something I’d overheard

One evening at a party; a man I liked enormously

                     Saying to a mutual friend, a woman

Wearing a vest embroidered with scarlet and violet tulips   

          That belled below each breast, “Well, I’ve always   

Preferred Athens; Greece seems to me a country

                     Of the day—Rome, I’m afraid, strikes me   

As being a city of the night … ”

          Of course, I knew instantly just what he meant—   

                     Not simply because I love

Standing on the terrace of my apartment on a clear evening   

          As the constellations pulse low in the Roman sky,   

The whole mind of night that I know so well

                     Shimmering in its elaborate webs of infinite,

Almost divine irony. No, and it wasn’t only that Rome

          Was my city of the night, that it was here I’d chosen   

                     To live when I grew tired of my ancient life

As the Underground Man. And it wasn’t that Rome’s darkness   

                     Was of the kind that consoles so many

          Vacancies of the soul; my Rome, with its endless history   

Of falls … No, it was that this dark was the deep, sensual dark

                     Of the dreamer; this dark was like the violet fur   

Spread to reveal the illuminated nipples of

                     The She-Wolf—all the sequins above in sequence,   

The white buds lost in those fields of ever-deepening gentians,

          A dark like the polished back of a mirror,

                     The pool of the night scalloped and hanging   

Above me, the inverted reflection of a last,

                                                                Odd Narcissus …

                                           One night my friend Nico came by   

Close to three a.m.—As we drank a little wine, I could see

                     The black of her pupils blown wide,   

The spread ripples of the opiate night … And Nico

          Pulled herself close to me, her mouth almost

                     Touching my mouth, as she sighed, “Look … ,”

And deep within the pupil of her left eye,

          Almost like the mirage of a ship’s distant, hanging

                     Lantern rocking with the waves,

I could see, at the most remote end of the receding,

          Circular hallway of her eye, there, at its doorway,   

At the small aperture of the black telescope of the pupil,

                               A tiny, dangling crucifix—   

Silver, lit by the ragged shards of starlight, reflecting

          In her as quietly as pain, as simply as pain …

Some years later, I saw Nico on stage in New York, singing

          Inside loosed sheets of shattered light, a fluid   

Kaleidoscope washing over her—the way any naked,

                     Emerging Venus steps up along the scalloped lip

          Of her shell, innocent and raw as fate, slowly   

Obscured by a florescence that reveals her simple, deadly

                               Love of sexual sincerity …

          I didn’t bother to say hello. I decided to remember   

The way in Rome, out driving at night, she’d laugh as she let

          Her head fall back against the cracked, red leather

                               Of my old Lancia’s seats, the soft black wind   

Fanning her pale, chalky hair out along its currents,

          Ivory waves of starlight breaking above us in the leaves;   

The sad, lucent malevolence of the heavens, falling …

                     Both of us racing silently as light. Nowhere,   

Then forever …

                                           Into the mind of the Roman night.

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking aloud about Borges

A comment on yesterday’s blog gets things churning as I walk the dog this morning along the sunlit banks of the glorious Taf (how lucky we are to have something resembling countryside within walking distance of the centre here in Cardiff: may the gods protect us from ‘developers’ and their lapdog councillors hell bent on destroying the city’s twin lungs).

Charles comments that Frank Bidart’s poem ‘Borges and I’ argues with the Borges piece I posted yesterday: (‘He had never had a self that wished to continue in its own being, survival meant ceasing to be what its being was’) and in which there’s at least one mirror (‘Secretly he [in this case Frank] was glad it was dirty and cracked’). So I look it up, as I am a diligent fellow.

Bidart’s prose poem, if that is what I am going to call it, as it appears in his poetry collection Desire and is written in prose, is a curious offering. Speaking of himself in the third person, and in the past tense, Frank first questions the veracity of Borges’ stance on his private and public selves:

The voice of this “I” asserts a disparity between its essential self and its worldly second self, the self who seeks embodiment through making things, through work, who in making takes on something false, inessential, inauthentic.

The voice of this “I” tells us that Spinoza understood that everything wishes to continue in its own being, a stone wishes to be a stone eternally, that all “I” wishes is to remain unchanged, itself.

But, argues Frank, who is really fooled by this? Most certainly Borges wasn’t, whatever he wishes us to believe:

When Borges’ “I” confesses that Borges falsifies and exaggerates it seems to do so to cast aside falsity and exaggeration, to attain an entire candor unobtainable by Borges.

This “I” therefore allows us to enter an inaccessible magic space, a hitherto inarticulate space of intimacy and honesty earlier denied us, where voice, for the first time, has replaced silence.

– Sweet fiction, in which bravado and despair beckon from a cold panache, in which the protected essential self suffers flashes of its existence to be immortalized by a writing self that is incapable of performing its actions without mixing our essence with what is false.

The illusion of an integral, perceptive ‘self’ which stands in isolate and unsullied contrast to the public face of the writer (in his case ‘Borges’) is therefore a conceit; even, very neatly, a literary conceit, one in fact I use on my students – as another of the commentators on yesterday’s post, ‘Vivian Darkbloom’ reminds me – to illustrate . . . something (what exactly?) about the other, the double, the doppelganger, the ‘secret sharer’.

Borges wrote two short stories about meetings with himself, one set in Cambridge, Massachusets in the 1970s, and a late one, set in 1983, both of them highly self-conscious and rather arch creations, the first better than the second. But they deal with a rather different notion, that of meeting an older or younger version of oneself.

I am concerned about the contemporaneous double, the secret sharer, as he is familiar to me. I came into close contact with him during the illness I describe in The Vagabond’s Breakfast. This is the one you get used to talking to in the delirium of illness, or the one that is conjured for you by the opiate deities. He is the absent other of the encephalopathic brain, and my first realisation that he was infringing on my sanity took place at a book launch in February 2007, when my mobile phone went off while I was speaking to the assembled public and my thoughts were if I answer, it will be myself at the other end, wandering the streets, asking where the event is taking place.

The second time that I was made aware of this concretisation of the other self was after a prolonged bout of insomnia, when I miraculously managed a full eight hours’ sleep one night, and woke with “a sense of panic, as though by sleeping for so long I had missed something essential; what precisely, I could not have said, but the closest I can get to an explanation for my panic, or guilt, would be this: that I had slept while the other me, the insomniac me, had suffered the night in terrible solitude, and that I (who had been asleep) should have been keeping him (i.e. myself) company.”

I believe, as I say in the book, that this is called the disintegration of the self. And I know that it was caused by a state of disorder brought about by illness and the effect of ammonia on the brain and so on, but I am equally certain that the potential for this kind of double-act (or hell, multiple division of the self) is only a step away from the apparent safety of the stable self, with its illusions of a fixed identity. As psychologists like RD Laing were saying decades ago.

Borges’ piece, with its leanings (some might say pretensions) towards a Tao whereby stones are stones and tigers tigers, alerts the reader to the doubleness of life for the famous writer Borges and his private, unassuming ‘I’ (who likes hourglasses and Stevenson’s prose for what they are rather than the affections they become in the words of ‘Borges’). But is this just too twee and self-congratulatory for its own good?

It certainly doesn’t cut the mustard if you have recently emerged from the gaseous belly of the many-headed beast, or crawled, wailing, through the dark, sticky entrails of the labyrinth, although, to be fair, this cannot be a reasonable judgement to level against a piece of creative writing: charging it for what it is not.

But am I, are we, in danger, in fact, of sanctifying Borges just a bit? After all, it has been argued, quite convincingly, that apart from some poems, not much of what he wrote after the 1950s was really much good. In his essay on Borges, Coetzee has written of some of the later works that “there is much tired writing in them; they add nothing to his stature” and: “The stories that had made him famous had been written in the 1930s and 1940s. He had lost his creative drive and had furthermore become suspicious of these earlier, ‘baroque’ pieces. Though he lived until 1986 he would only fitfully reproduce their intellectual daring and intensity.”

Anyhow, it gave me something to think about, along the muddy riverbank, as the dog wrestled with a big fish, which, on closer inspection, became a log.

 

 

 

 

Borges and I

The idea that we contain a double, or a secret other, is a strangely pervasive one, and has fascinated writers from different traditions and in distinct genres. Among those who have famously approached the topic are Robert Louis Stevenson in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Joseph Conrad in his long story The Secret Sharer. In Jorge Luis Borges’ short piece, reproduced below (in the translation Norman di Giovanni made with Borges himself rather than the travesty published by Andrew Hurley in the Collected Fictions) the writer focuses on the schism between the public persona of the famous writer Borges, and the individual, private Borges in whose first person the piece is written. Or is it that straightforward? While this is the apparent message of the text, we, the readers, are nonetheless engaging with it in the knowledge that it is written by Borges, the famous writer, so the dualism is in a sense perpetuated by that knowledge, driven by our relationship to Borges the writer rather than Borges the private individual. In the end, as Borges intended, we are faced with a hall of mirrors, in which Borges’ self-confessed tendency to falsify and magnify things (as do all writers of fiction) reaches into the very representation of the ‘I’ that claims to reject such things. We are all the products of an insidious dualism, the piece tells us, and to attempt to deny it only draws us deeper into the labyrinth.

 

Borges and I

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork of the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

 

 

 

 

Rhys Ifans meets Voodoo Mama

I came across this diverting little ad (or spoof ad – I have no idea whether Voodoo Mama chilli sauce really exists: if it doesn’t, then it should) on Anthony Brockway’s always interesting blog Babylon Wales.

 

 

If you liked this, here is an even more hilarious real news report from Sky TV concerning Snoop Dogg (or Mister Dogg, as he is clepped in the clip) and one Ian Neale, a champion vegetable grower from Newport. Enjoy. And keep them coming please, Anthony.

The Promised Land

I have made a couple of references recently to The Promised Land, my favourite bar and hostelry, which can be found in Windsor Place, near the city centre, and which serves, amongst other things, the best coffee in Cardiff.

The Promised Land’s owner, Nick Davidson (pictured) set the place up in the style of a certain kind of city bar to be found in Manhattan or Madrid, places that serve quality drinks, fine wines and good food – often of a Spanish flavour – in a friendly, informal atmosphere, and which isn’t burdened by a particular social identity: lawyers, plumbers, painters and decorators, dropouts and even journalists, politicians, poets and the odd celebrity drop by and mingle, and there is a space upstairs for hire to private parties.

Which is the point I am coming to. In my other role, as Richard Gwyn, I teach on the MA in Creative Writing at Cardiff University, and our Visiting Writers’ programme, supported by Literature Wales, is hosted by The Promised Land. Every few weeks between October and April we invite writers to give a reading, answer questions and share the evening with our students and other guests. The reading is followed by an Open Mic session for Cardiff University creative writing students, often work of a very high standard. The Promised Land provides evening meals, which you are welcome to enjoy before or after the guest reading. On October 3rd we hosted the first of the series, novelist Lindsay Clarke. The rest of the programme is as follows:

 

24th October, poet Clare Potter

14th November, Student event coordinated by scriptwriter-dramatists Othniel Smith and Tim Rhys

5th December, poet Peter Finch

6th February, ex-national poet of Wales Gwyneth Lewis

27th February, poet and novelist Owen Sheers

12th March, novelist Belinda Bauer

26th March, poet Douglas Houston

 

All events take place on a Monday evening at 7 pm and are free to the public.

 

 

Field of broken dreams

'Neutral' referee Alain Rolland

Here is the man who wrecked the rugby world cup, referee Alain Rolland, wearing his jersey of choice. The French team were utter shite. Sam Warburton’s tackle seemed, at worst, a yellow card. We were robbed of victory by bad refereeing and some unlucky place kicking, but the French were dire and in no way deserve to be world cup finalists. A ludicrous refereeing decision by the half-witted, half-French ref.

But look at this crewage who stopped off for a fag outside the Yoga club opposite The Promised Land. Do they look as if they are here for the yoga?  Do they give a fuck? Should I? Should we? What a day. Oh fallen hopes. Oh crushed dreams. Blanco is bereft.

Hunger for Salt

from left to right, Blanco’s stuntman and sometime collaborator Richard Gwyn, Carlos Pardo, Juan Dicent and Niels Frank.

 

A post from Pablo Makovsky, director of the Rosario International Poetry Festival, and a video of us reading ‘Hunger for Salt’ in English and Spanish (translation by Jorge Fondebrider). Also on the festival website a very good quality recording of our rendition of ‘Dusting’.

 

 

 

Hunger for Salt

 Will I remember you in the dull yellow light,

as a fish that enters my mouth, as a virus

that enters my blood, as a fear that enters my belly?

Will I remember you as a catastrophe

tearing between my legs, fine teeth slitting my lip,

tongue touched with salt my tongue was crazy for?

You never confessed to those little thefts:

my mother’s ring, the statue from Knossos,

the locket I kept for the hair of children

we never had. I see you, come to steal my bones,

small teeth so white, a necklace of coloured stones,

clams and mussel shells around your waist,

an ankle chain of emeralds. But now you have gone

back to the sea, I can forgive your cruelty,

your violent moods, your plots of revenge,

remembering instead the brush of your skin

on mine, the way you looked at me that afternoon

in the sea cave, gulls clamouring outside,

a crowd of angry creditors in a world otherwise

gone terribly quiet. And you, nestling in

the white sand, caught in the nets I wove

with a devout sobriety, turned utterly to salt.

 

 

 

Hambre de sal

¿Te recordaré en la luz insulsa y amarilla,

como a un pez que me entra en la boca, como un virus

que me entra en la sangre, como un miedo que me entra en la panza?

¿Te recordaré como una catástrofe

desgarrándome entre las piernas, dientes minúsculos que me hienden el labio,

lengua tocada con sal por la que mi lengua estaba loca?

Nunca reconociste esos pequeños robos:

el anillo de mi madre, la estatua de Knosos,

el medallón que yo guardaba para el cabello de los chicos

que nunca tuvimos. Te veo, ven a robar mis huesos,

dientecillos tan blancos, un collar de piedras coloridas,

valvas de almejas y mejillones alrededor de tu talle,

una cadena de esmeraldas en el tobillo. Pero ahora te has ido

de vuelta al mar. Puedo perdonar tu crueldad,

tus humores violentos, tus tramas de venganza,

recordando en lugar de eso el roce de tu piel

sobre la mía, el modo en que me viste aquella tarde

en la cueva marina, las gaviotas chillando afuera,

una multitud de airados acreedores en un mundo distinto,

vuelto terriblemente silencioso. Y tú, anidando

en la arena blanca, atrapada en las redes que tejí

con devota sobriedad, por completo convertida en sal.

 

From Being in Water (Parthian, 2001).


 

Two poems by Wendy Guerra

David Hockney, Picture of a Hollywood Swimming Pool, 1964

Wendy Guerra (b. 1970, Cienfuegos, Cuba) is part of a younger 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 a non-fiction novel based on her diaries, Todo se van (Everyone’s leaving) in 2006. The poems below are both from her poetry collection Ropa Interior (2008), many of them centring on what she describes as the ‘circular coherence’ of life in contemporary Cuba, and reflecting the influence on her writing of the visual arts. In this highly entertaining video, she explains a little about her work and ideas.

 

REVERSE JOURNEY

 

I pack and unpack my bag

I pack and unpack everything with the intention of leaving

I call my friends     tell them I’m escaping

and later descend surreptitiously to the pool

to absorb the sorcery of the sun in peace

A wedding ring lost in the stomach of a fish

And again the luggage for my long overdue 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 into which flows the water from my eyes

I see how my half-packed suitcase reveals

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

make the journey to the interior

realizing that what I announce

illuminates the borderline of my ideas

 

 

A FACE IN THE CROWD  (GRAFFITI)

 

My parents got it right one time

They met in a packed square singing in a choir

They loved each other in a sea of ten bunks silenced by

the command to “be silent”

They brought me into the world in a room of beds tidied

into shared emotions

We swam at beaches packed with bathers confused

by their identical swimsuits and communal trucks

Saturday nights we watched the same films

crying in the same way as a subtitled country cries

in black and white

Sundays we said our goodbyes

hazy in the uniform     blue that separated us

My parents   when at last they were left alone

Lost their minds.

 

 

Translations by Richard Gwyn, first published in Poetry Wales Vol 47, No 1, Summer 2011

 

 

 

 

The Empty House

 

 

 

The Empty House

 

Invite no one

into our house,

for they will repair

the doors, windows, staircase

and windows,

they will see the moths

in the corners,

the rusty locks,

the blind, ruined lamps.

 

Don’t bring anyone to our house

for they would only anguish

on account of your table,

your bed, the tablecloth,

the furniture, laugh pitifully

at the cups, pretend to

endure nostalgia for my name,

make fun, what is more, of our hammock.

 

Don’t bring people to our house any more

for they would write you songs,

enervate your soul,

whisper mischievously,

plant a flower at your window.

 

That’s why – I beg you – you must

not bring people to our house,

for they would turn pink,

greenish, reddish, blueish,

on discovering broken walls

and withered plants.

 

They would want to sweep out the corners

open our blinds,

and find, tucked away among my books

the perverse excuses they are searching for.

 

Don’t bring anyone to our house any more,

for they would discover our ridiculous things

carry you off to faraway beaches

tell you tales of shipwrecks

drag you from our house.

 

 

Siomara España (b. 1976 Guayaquil, Ecuador)

 

English translation by Richard Gwyn, of ‘La casa vacia’, first published in Poetry Wales Vol 47 No 1, Summer 2011.