December 2017 Poetry Feature

Three poems by ALBERTO de LACERDA, Transnational Spirit
Translations and introduction by SCOTT LAUGHLIN

“This is what I live for: friendship and the things of the spirit.” Alberto de Lacerda often repeated this refrain to his friends. Friendship meant kinship, connection, and community. The things of the spirit were poetry, literature, art, dance—the myriad expressions of the spiritual and transcendent Alberto sought, and lived by, his whole life.

Such values perhaps couldn’t lead to anything but an intercontinental life.

Born in the then-Portuguese colony of Mozambique in 1928, Alberto began writing poetry as a child. This impulse propelled him to Lisbon when he was eighteen, his first book of poems in his pocket. Fernando Pessoa’s publisher promptly accepted the manuscript for publication. Salazar, however, horrific dictator, loomed large (Alberto was even jailed), so he fled to London and fell in with a group of friends, including Edith Sitwell, who would determine the future course of his life. He traveled to Brazil; Manuel Bandeira met him off the boat. Alberto befriended Elizabeth Bishop. Then there was Austin in the late ‘60s and a friendship with Octavio Paz and, later, Boston University, where a new group of American writers became his friends.

But Alberto’s search wasn’t about fame or name but about affinities and camaraderie, about friendship. Many former students, including myself, were among his closest friends. The things of the spirit also stayed with him, as he continued to visit exhibitions, see plays, and, most importantly, to write poetry until his death in 2007. He lived by his vision with a profound purity and dedication. And now his poems are traveling beyond him, just as they should be.

– Scott Laughlin 


To See You

To see you is to stay and remain,
To see you is finally to see;
I open my veins to life
As if an exceptional body
Desired my blood.
I discover everything in you.
You look in my eyes: you are
The liquid filling
The bridges of heaven and earth.
To see you is to forget fear,
To speak and not see the divisions
Words create.
To see you is to be a forest,
A tree happy because it feels
Birds, the wings of birds
Stirring on each branch
Like an infinite promise.

At every moment
Life leaps from you.
You sing with your lips mute,
You dance being still.
You envision the very space
That frees and confines you.

You are total like the sun,
You have no shadow.

My love for you
Suddenly rushing with thirst.

Are you fountain, or woman?

 

The Monster

In spite of the dazzling light
In spite of the astonishing scenery
In spite of Lisbon itself
Princess of Camões
In spite of Don Pedro the First’s
Being Portuguese
The passionate and just
King of this doomed
Country I love
The exile is here
Our land has been seized
By a Monster
Who won’t die but kills

 

“Ritornello”
            To Scott Laughlin

Each absence more complex
Each more labyrinthine

I found you in the middle of the street

We lose one in the other
Continuously

When you appear
Our eyes together
A world unfolds around us in counterpoint
That for one moment
Of eternity
Reveals everything

Then we awake

And the ever-changing cycle
Is renewed again
                                        

Alberto de Lacerda is considered one of the greatest and most prolific Portuguese poets of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Born in 1928 in Mozambique, he spent his nomadic life living in Lisbon, London, Austin, and Boston, where he was professor at Boston University. He died in 2007. 

Scott Laughlin’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Guernica, Great Jones Street, Post Road, The L.A. Review of Books, and other publications. Scott has an MFA from Converse College and is Associate Director of the DISQUIET Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal. He currently teaches at San Francisco University High School.

December 2017 Poetry Feature

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