Mario Santiago Papasquiaro: Two Poems in Translation


Translated from the Spanish by COLE HEINOWITZ

Poems appear in both Spanish and English. 


Translator’s Note

A, E, I, O, U. The rhythmic concatenation of these five vowels is the tachycardic pulse of Mario’s poetry, and it cannot be imitated in English. Feeling for correlative patterns in the jangle of our consonant-frontal idiom is something like transcribing the pitch values of a Max Roach drum solo for honkeytonk piano. I do what I can with alliteration but even the relatively long decay of the M or the out-hissing S does not match the multi-textured overtones of a hard O spilling through the rails of its word-cage when struck, trailing a foam of soft E’s across the rubble.

When I was a girl, I had chronic pneumonia, which always came with very high fevers. Lying in bed at night, I’d be certain I heard a full orchestra playing a Beethoven symphony or a rock band playing Stones covers in the house next door. When I’d call my mother in to hear it, she’d invariably say, “that’s just the train going by” or “that’s just the boiler rumbling in the basement.” Like the way these fevers magically revealed the harmonies implicit in what we generally think of as noise, reading and translating Mario changed how I hear.

As a reader, I listen into his rhythms and watch the shapes they trace in my mind. As a translator, I lean into the rhythms much more blindly, and it is only when absolutely necessary (and even then, only while editing) that I will try to see an image clearly or grasp the implications of a metaphor. This may be a useful stance in general for the translator, but I mean it in a very particularly way in the case of Mario. Like a sick person touched by a healer or a violin detuning toward to the natural intervals of sound, or maybe more like a radio locking in on a signal, I feel my heartbeat synchronize to the more coherent frequency.

But Mario’s poetry is neither “natural” nor “coherent”—either in the conventional sense of these words or in some metaphysical sense. When he was scouring Mexico City (or Barcelona, or Paris…) at all hours of the day, for days on end, I think he was “tuning” himself the way a string or a wire can be tuned to the dominant or most proximate frequency. But unlike a cello or a broadcast receiver, Mario was tuning to an-ever shifting, incoherent target. What’s more, he contained—and perpetually emitted—a powerfully erratic electro-magnetic charge as seemingly autonomous as the city’s.

This vibrational face-off between a so-called “self” and a so-called “other” is challenging for me because, like Mario, I don’t believe in the distinction. Another challenge is his enormous vocabulary—spanning from Nahuatl and German phenomenology to Cold War bureau-cant and ’70s Chilango street slang. As a translator, there are many moments when all dictionaries seem to be in on the cruel joke of making human history disappear from the record. This is where two of the translator’s unsung virtues—passivity and fragile personal boundaries—come into play. I feel my heart inside my chest. It’s beating very fast and very hard but I don’t worry anymore. “Do you know what Mario said?” I ask my heart. Here are its answers.



El mar toca nuestros cuerpos
para sentir su cuerpo
Lo mismo en Manzanillo pedregoso
que en Neviot / isla de corales del desierto
Nosotros devolvemos su sonrisa de sal
dibujando nuestros nombres & apetencias
en el caparazón de los cangrejos
que parecen buscar viejas patas de palo devoradas por la arena
El mar se para de cabeza
& nos canta / en el idioma más desnudo & afín a nuestro tacto
Port Vendrés Ville ruge como atún encolerizado en nuestros ojos
Bernard prende 1 de sus aretes verde flúor en la cabellera alfilereada de 1 erizo
Los demás pescadores del Saint Joan / Fetiche II
desde sus camarones se sinceran a su modo
con éste también su mar que los filma fijamente
Ahí donde ellos se aflojan su nervioso pantalón
& sus labios no dejan de ulular
cuando ven hasta las anginas del Peñón de Gibraltar
moviéndose como dados o peces plateados
en la sombra de sus vasos de ron


The sea touches our bodies
to feel its body
The same in rocky Manzanillo
as in Neviot / coral island of the desert
We return its salten smile
sketching our names & cravings
on the shells of crabs
that seem to be hunting for wooden legs swallowed by the sand
The sea stands on its head
& sings to us / in the naked language most kindred to our touch
Port Vendrés Ville rages like 1 angry tuna in our eyes
Bernard hangs 1 of his green fluoride earrings in the spiny hair of 1 sea urchin
The other fishermen of the Saint Joan / Fetish II
come clean their own way in their cabins
with this 1 this sea of theirs steadily filming them
There where they loosen their nervous trousers
& their ululating lips don’t stop
when they see to the tonsils of the Rock of Gibraltar
shaking like dice or silvery fish
in the shadow of their glasses of rum



Lamo las llagas de mi propia lepra
Esquirlas de baba
—contraesquina del azar que amaneció nublado—
golpean al corazón del ojo
—tarjeta de Tarot corpóreo—
amarrado al mástil violáceo / intralunar
Camino a Denver o a San Juan Chamula
—roto a tajadas el melón-gota de miel del superego—
El paisaje es 1 muñón de mi destino
Mi drama anterior se hunde resurgiendo
Yo & mi fantasma no sabemos ya si patearnos o salvarnos
¿Me llamo Malcolm o me apodo Firmin?
Estoy sudando sangre / cuajada en la ceguera de la Ilíada
((Se quema mi mar con todo & naves))
Mi muerte / a la izquierda de mis plumas
me susurra señales-piel de pólvora
que ni en trance atino a descifrar
Escribo esto
estrujando mi seco corazón
  / Por si gotea /



I lick the wounds of my own private leprosy
Shards of drool
—cattycorner to random chance dawned overcast—
they strike the eye’s heart
—the Tarot card made flesh—
bound to the purplish mast / intralunar
I walk to Denver or San Juan Chamula
—the superego’s melon honeydrop in shreds—
The landscape is 1 amputation of my fate
My old drama resurfaces sinking
My ghost & I still don’t know if we’re booting or bailing ourselves out
Is my name Malcolm or do I go by Firmin?
I’m sweating blood / clotted in the Iliad’s blindness
(( My sea burns ships & all ))
My death / to the left of my feathers
whispers gunpowder skin-signs
that even in 1 trance I can’t decipher
I write this
wringing my dry heart
/ In case it leaks /



Mario Santiago Papasquiaro was born in Mexico City in 1953 and attended Juan Bañuelos’s poetry workshop at UNAM. In 1975, he and a group of friends—including Roberto Bolaño, Mara Larrosa, Pedro Ramón Bautista, Pita Ochoa, Cuauhtémoc Méndez, and Rubén Medina—founded the radical poetry movement, Infrarealism. Santiago Papasquiaro’s early poems were published in journals such as Pájaro de calor(1976) and Correspondencia infra (1977) and the anthology Muchachos desnudos bajo el arco iris de fuego (1979). The chapbook Beso eterno and the book-length collection Aullido de cisne were published by Al Este del Paráiso in 1995 and 1996, respectively. In 1998, Santiago Papasquiaro was killed by a car while walking through Mexico City. In 2008, the Fondo de Cultura Económica published the posthumous anthology Jeta de santo, edited by Mario Raúl Guzmán and the poet’s widow Rebeca López. In 2008, the collection Respiración del laberinto appeared in its first Cartonera edition. In 2012, Ediciones Sin Fin published Santiago Papasquiaro’s long poem Sueño sin fin, edited by Bruno Montané Krebs. A bilingual critical edition of Consejos de 1 discípulo de Marx a 1 fanático de Heidegger and Sueño sin fin is forthcoming from Ediciones Norteadas.


Cole Heinowitz is a poet, translator, and associate professor of literature at Bard College. Her books of poetry include Daily Chimera (Incommunicado, 1995), Stunning in Muscle Hospital (Detour, 2002), and The Rubicon (The Rest, 2008). She is the translator of Mario Santiago Papasquiaro’s Advice from 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic (Wave Books, 2013), Beauty Is Our Spiritual Guernica (Commune Editions, 2015), and Bleeding from All 5 Senses (White Pine Press, 2019), as well as A Tradition of Rupture: Selected Critical Writings of Alejandra Pizarnik (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2019). Her book-length study, Spanish America and British Romanticism, 1777-1826: Rewriting Conquest, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2010. Cole’s recent poems, translations, and essays can be found in Letters for Olson (Spuyten Duyvil, 2016),The Chicago Review (2017), Erizo: A Journal of the Arts (2018), Two Lines (2018), 19th-Century Contexts (2018), and A Cultural History of Tragedy in the Age of Empire (Bloomsbury, 2019).






Mario Santiago Papasquiaro: Two Poems in Translation

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