To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Toward a Poetry & Poetics of the Americas (5): Víctor Terán, Six Poems from “The Spines of Love”

Translation from Isthmus Zapotec by David Shook 


The north wind whips through,
in the streets papers and leaves
are chased with resentment.
Houses moan,
dogs curl into balls.
There is something in the afternoon’s finger,
a catfish spine,
a rusty nail. 

Someone unthinkingly
smoked cigarettes in heaven,
left it overcast, listless.
Here, at ground level, no one could
take their shadow for a walk,
sheltered in their houses, people
are surprised to discover their misery. 

Someone didn’t show,
their host was insulted.
Today the world
agreed to open her thighs,
suddenly the village comprehends

Who can divine
why I meditate on this afternoon?
Why is it birthed in me
to knife the heart
of who uncovered the mouth
of the now whipping wind,
to jam corncobs in the nose
of the ghost that pants outside? 

The trees roar with laughter,
they split their sides,
they celebrate
that you haven’t arrived at your appointment. 

Now bring me
the birds
that you find in the trees,
so I can tell them
if the devil’s eyelashes are curled.


From the palm of my hand
the afternoon eats its meal:
lean horse abandoned for being old,
nagging horse, dirty horse. 

There is a trail
behind the hill
you see there.
In the open sky
three white tissues distance themselves,
saying goodbye.
Nostalgia has hung
its hammock in my heart
and my grudges
hastily sharpen their weapons. 

Here the earth is broken,
land of acacias and stones.
In the sky smoke and clouds are visible,
clouds, smoke, and grief. 

The footpath that zigzags
behind that slope
leads to your house.
The long cloud that extends across the horizon—
maybe you are looking at it,
maybe you look at it now.
My love for you is not the size of that cloud,
not that size.


You will not manage to hurt me.
You will not break my existence.
The cathedral of light that you left me is immense,
warm and joyful. 

You scented my existence for a long time.
You introduced me to paradise
with your warm and naked body. 

My hands still shake at the memory
of your fleshy ass.
My lips still tremble
when I remember the taste of your nipples. 

With these memories, how can I feel hurt?
Though you left me, how can I abhor you?
You left me with an ocean of dazzling fish,
an ocean of incessant fish.


I know your body,
entirely I know you.
If you were a city
I could give perfect directions
to wherever they asked me.
I like all of your body,
I like to see you talk, laugh,
move your head. Your two well-rounded hills
are the honey of bees, where my lips celebrate to the gods.
I would have liked to continue storming your forest,
lodgings made deliberately for a nice death.
You were created with love,
your body is worthy of praise. What an honor to have lived,
to have been. I am no longer bothered
when men turn to look at you,
I am no longer impatient when you undress.
You are a stag in the air. A raft of flowers
that snakes across the river by morning. 

There is no part of your body that I do not know, there is no
part that I do not like. I want to keep being
the light stunned at the look of your white
roundness of flesh. I want to keep
       in the beautiful city
                             that you are.

                              For Víctor Yodo 

did you kidnap
a man whose word is as true
as a thorn,
who yearns for
my flowered Juchitan? 

what grievance did he commit against you?
did he stomp
on your family’s necks?
did he sic his dogs on
flowered dreams? 

tell me,
don’t bite the words
that come
to your tongues. 

open your mouths.


Moon. Sweet white moon
like the gleam in the eye of an unlucky hunter
who chases a rabbit across the mountain. 

Emptied and moldy cachimbo shell moon.
Pregnant belly moon.
Delirious moon
like a colander that dreams of overflowing with water. 

Deformed egg moon.
Ripe rubber-fruit moon:
give me a slice of your joy
to refresh life in my town.
Ceremonial huipil moon
that adorns the Zapotec’s head:
give me the fireflies that live in your heart
to light my people’s paths.
Intact moon, full moon.
Moon happy to die laughing
slapping its ass. 

[note.  A significant array of stateless languages & cultures, while positioned outside the reach of dominant nation-states, has begun more recently to create new literatures as vehicles for those outsidered by the ruling powers.  In Latin America alone, writers in indigenous or subaltern languages & creoles have appeared from multiple directions – Mapuche, Mayan, Mazatec, Nahutal, Quechua, Zapotec, among others.  Like others so engaged, & perhaps more than most, Víctor Terán begins from a base in the Zapotec spoken & now written on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and in Oaxaca, & pushes outward to merge & become a part of the poetry & literature of the world at large.  Writes David Shook as Terán’s translator: “Víctor Terán may live on a small isthmus in Southern Mexico, he may write in a language with a mere 100,000 speakers and even fewer readers, but he is a world poet. His most recent personal project attests to that: an anthology of forty poems by forty world poets, from Basho to Cavafy to Hikmet, Shakespeare to Whitman to Eliot, all translated for the first time into Isthmus Zapotec by Terán himself, who uses Spanish cribs.  The Spines of Love, Terán's first selected poems in any language, and the first ever trilingual Isthmus Zapotec-Spanish-English book that I know of, proves that he belongs in those esteemed poets' company.”  The importance of these poetries for a new poetry & poetics of the Americas is by now irreversible … or should be.  Terán’s forthcoming publication by Restless Books in Brooklyn is but another step in that direction.  (J.R.)]

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