“Nature of Exile” and “Mary”

Poems by IGOR BARRETO

Translated from Spanish by ROWENA HILL

These poems will appear in a forthcoming edition titled The Blind Plain, published by Tavern Books.

Los Llanos

Los Llanos, Venezuela

Nature of Exile

(Apartment nocturne, 1998)

Some cattle arrived from a yearning for woods,
from some sorely missed hills.

What was the meaning of those animals
with their human faces?

The kitchen was a bonfire
at midnight.

The vegetable
hush of the balcony

where some ferns
flutter like sphinx moths.

What happened to the quiet of those places
I knew so well?

I didn’t find patterned mire
nor the blue shirt.

It was the nature of exile,
a river of nothing.

Something that cuts an onion in small pieces,
white, like a street lamp under a withered tree.

Naturaleza Del Exilio

(Nocturno de apartamento, 1998)

Unas reses llegaron del boscoso anhelo,
de unas calcetas añoradas.

¿Qué sentido tenían aquellos animales
de rostros humanos?

La cocina era una hoguera
a medianoche.

El acallamiento
vegetal del balcón

donde unos helechos
aletean como esfíngidos.

¿Qué fue de la quietud de esos parajes
que conocía tanto?

No encontré barriales constelados,
ni la camisa azul.

Era la naturaleza del exilio,
un río de nada.

Algo que corta una cebolla en pequeños trozos,
blanca, como un farol bajo un árbol marchito.

Mary

From an early age I wanted to have horses.
Then, I lived in a modest residential area
on a dirt road
to the east between Pennsylvania
and New Jersey.
I remember the sheriff’s rounds
in his metallic black Dodge,
the little gardens
of fleshy petunias
and the lawns
immaculately alone.
Oh, woods and lakes of Medford,
if it wasn’t for you
what would I have done
with myself.
I would never have worn the jacket
and the tightly strung
whip
of the learner rider.
My teacher was a German called
William Locklear,
an old man who loved
the poems of Heine
and scolded me
for my lack of balance in the piaffe.
That was my only fault:
I cleaned stables,
I discovered the misty steam
that horses give off
when they’re bathed,
and the patience to oil harness.
But my fate was in a different place
like an apple that changes a wicker basket
for the pocket of a traveler in a train
and then a ship
and finally a country of tree ferns
called Venezuela.
A country with the shape of a blood stain.
I often remember
the sun on the pastures,
the ribbed clouds of summer
and the campanulas
with their half-mourning mauve flowers.
That Arab filly with the sorrel coat
grazing near the house
at the end of a harsh day.
I can’t forget the children I had,
their clothes perched on the bushes
like white doves.
They say that hope calls at a door
that always opens,
but as the years pass
a horse catches up to itself
on its own legs,
treading on itself,
and that’s what happens to us too
because death dreams of beautiful things.

Mary

De muy joven deseaba tener caballos.
Entonces, vivía en una modesta urbanización
por un camino de tierra
al oriente entre Pennsylvania
y New Jersey.
Recuerdo la ronda del alguacil
en su Dodge de pintura metalizada,
los jardincillos
de carnosas petunias
y los patios de grama
inmaculadamente solos.
¡Oh! bosques y lagos de Medford Lakes
si no fuera por ustedes
qué hubiera hecho
yo de mí.
Nunca hubiese vestido la casaca
y el fuete
tensado con fuerza
de la aprendiz de equitación.
Mi maestro era un alemán llamado
William Locklear,
un hombre anciano que amaba
los versos de Heine
y me reprendía
por mi falta de equilibrio en el piafé.
Esa fue mi única culpa:
limpié caballerizas,
descubrí el vaho de vapor
que los caballos
despiden al bañarlos
y la paciencia de untar con aceite los aperos.
Pero mi suerte estaba en otro lugar
como una manzana que cambia la cesta de mimbre
por el bolsillo del viajero en un tren
y luego un barco
y al final un país de helechos arborescentes
llamado Venezuela.
Un país con la forma de una mancha de sangre.
A menudo recuerdo
el sol de los potreros,
los cirros estriados del verano
y las campánulas
con flores lilas de medio luto.
Aquella potranca árabe de piel castaña
pastando cerca de la casa
al término de un día inclemente.
No puedo olvidar los hijos que tuve,
sus ropas posadas en los arbustos
como palomas blancas.
Dicen que la esperanza llama a una puerta
que siempre se abre,
pero al paso de los años
un caballo se alcanza
con sus propias patas,
pisándose él mismo,
así también le ocurre a uno
porque la muerte sueña con cosas bellas.

Igor Barreto was born in San Fernando de Apure, Venezuela in 1952. He is a poet and leader of literature workshops. He has published ten books of poems, the latest entitled El Muro de Mandelshtam (Editorial Bartleby, 2017, Spain). In 2008 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Several anthologies of his work have been published: Tierranegra (Ediciones Idea, 2008, Tenerife-Spain), Terranera (Rafaelli Editore, 2010, Italy), El campo / El ascensor (Complete works. Editorial Pre-textos, 2014, Spain).

Rowena Hill was born in England in 1938. She taught English Literature at the Universidad de Los Andes in Mérida, Venezuela, where she has lived for over forty years. She has published five books of poems in Spanish, and has translated into English some of Venezuela’s best known poets, including Rafael Cadenas and Eugenio Montejo, as well as an anthology of Venezuelan women poets.

Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Peter Fenda.

“Nature of Exile” and “Mary”

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