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

Friday, February 5, 2010

Homero Aridjis: Poems of the Double

Translation from Spanish by Jerome Rothenberg

I grabbed my face
and brought it to the mirror

Searched my eyes
but did not know them

Observed my gestures
weak from terror

He was frightened
of my self

You walk at night alone
your own self's equal

counting out your hearbeats
in the windows' faded wings

on turning around a corner
a man tears off your face

beheaded you remain
at the foot of your own shadow

while someone in the distance
looks at you through your eyes

your hands a pair of crows
in the other’s pockets

sufferings unseen
in a deaf man's ear

but don't believe that it was you
sorrows rich dust dispossessed

in any nook of day
you also become dark

The years like crows’ feet
pass from me to you

my tears do not stop falling
rolling down your cheeks

only a breath dividing
mirror & reflection

in a corner of the window
memories are breaking up
beneath the old bed
teenaged girls are sleeping
broken is desire's jug
tablecloth soaked through
& in the picture's upper part
tears falling without eyes

I closed the door & waited for my double
but instead of the expected face
a macaw burst forth from the white wall
the color of red fire.

Like an arrow tipped in blue
- hyacinth hallucination -
a parrot with yellow eyes
landed on the table.

The Kandinskys then arrived
wings spread wide & blue
belly orange, head in purple
their throats a breathless J.

A melody of greens
the undisputed parrot came,
its chest, its beak, its neck,
its head & all in green.

Not a single one needed to show
credentials of who he was. There was
a congress of parrots in my mind.
They were going to pick the most handsome.

They began to discuss the value
of begreen, waxgreen, fieldgreen,
bluegreen, cardinalgreen, lividgreen.

In view of all such circumstances
I postponed until the next day
the encounter with my double.

I opened his eyes
my living darkness

is there a boatman anywhere
able to shift the light
from limit unto limit?


Beyond you
I do not exist not even I
there is no definite horizon
nor hands to touch the light

all being is a surface
a place a stone that's all

Beyond me
you do not exist not even you

to breathe out the ghost
is the task of the living

to drink memories
from eyes
is the role of the dead

in my mouth today
we break
the bread of illusion

one hour
hurls shadows
onto another

one butterfly wing
is setting
at my eyes’ horizons

when the double has vanished
at the end of the road
all blackness is mine

Mexico, Saturday-Sunday 6-7-8 of March 1999

NOTE. I first met Homero Aridjis in 1960, when he had just turned twenty & I was not yet thirty. This was my first visit to Mexico, & a letter from Paul Blackburn brought me to the office of Ramón Xirau at the Centro Mexicano de Escritores. Nothing much happened there, but at the end of a brief conversation, Xirau introduced me to Homero, who was in the capitol on a beca (fellowship) & otherwise unknown. Diane & I had been staying near Avenida Juarez & would drop in from time to time to a small coffee shop on the avenue (Café las Americas if I remember correctly), where our attention fell on a group of young men who seemed to be there regularly. There was nothing exceptional in their appearance – as there might have been a few years later – but something in the way they moved & spoke that made us think of them as poets. It was no surprise, then, that after we started talking to Homero he suggested that we continue the conversation at that same café, & when we got there we instantly became part of the group, which included the American poet Philip Lamantia, then living in D.F., & another young poet Juan Martínez, who would become a legendary underground writer & artist over the next several decades. Six or seven of us all told, who spent the next number of evenings together, but in the aftermath of that visit & serendipitous meeting it was only Homero who remained a good friend & correspondent down to the present. He also became, over that span, a poet & writer of truly international dimensions: poet, novelist, essayist, & in the tradition of other Mexican & South American poets, an impressively public figure: ambassador to the Netherlands & to Switzerland, president for six consecutive years of PEN International, & until recently the Mexican ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. Beyond that too he & his wife Betty Ferber co-founded & have continued to direct the Grupo de los Cien, an association of one hundred artists & intellectuals that became heavily involved in trying to draw attention to & solve environmental problems in Mexico & beyond. Their work to preserve the habitats of grey whales in Baja California & migrating monarch butterflies in his native Michoacan is an amazing hands-on example, however threatened, of the successful intersection of poetry & ecology in our time.

The preceding translation was prepared in 2000 for inclusion in Aridjis’s Eyes To See Otherwise (selected poems from New Directions, 2002) and is still in print.


Phanero Noemikon said...

#6 particularly I liked.
It is interesting to note,
perhaps, that the double,
is I believe part of the
shamanic beliefs of the Yacqui?
Or is that just hooey from
Casteneda. At any rate, I
do think this has some
sense of the nagualic tradition,


thanks, boss.

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