The youngest deconstructionists among us
are proud at first to spend their days breaking up
great slabs of fired tile every shade of wine
while the masters climb the scaffolds
with their gold pride, their gilt, reaching for
a sandal buckle or the heights of a halo.
Esther Ramón, born in 1970, lives in Madrid and taught one of my very first writing workshops at various café tables in Lavapiés more than a decade ago, where she skillfully introduced me and fellow students to what it could mean to truly collaborate, to be interdisciplinary, to do more than look at a painting while writing a poem and instead to enter into the methods and mindsets of different mediums, seeing the world not only in a different language (in my case) but with a more creative intention. She continues to be a collaborator with other artists and it feels meaningful to translate her work, in a sense collaborate too, and become involved in her poetic world so many years later.
A slight wind picks up and moves over the lake, clinking rocks together in the wash. Salvador squints into the darkness. The way his fellow construction workers talked about America’s proximity, he’d half expected to sight the faintest outline of one of its cities’ skylines as a shimmer set deep against the horizon. Instead, there’s only the night and, stretching to meet it, the mumbling water.
I chose my frutería not by its quality—how could I know that before I’d sampled its three types of peaches (red, yellow, squashed into donut-shapes), its abundance of tomatoes, its fuzzy orange nisperos?—but because of its old-fashioned tiled façade.
On December 5, 1976, I arrived in Madrid from Argentina. I flew Iberia airlines, caught the plane in Montevideo because I was afraid of the disappearances happening at the border. I left wearing summer clothes, as if I were a tourist heading for the beaches of Uruguay, then, two or three days later, landed in Madrid, where it was winter. My father and sister saw me off. It took me six years—the years of the dictatorship—to return.
This past fall, I asked Lara Moreno if she would be willing to send me some stories. I had read her novel Piel de lobo (Wolf Skin) (Lumen, 2016) over the summer and was struck by the honesty and intimacy in her portrayal of the interior life of her protagonist, Sofía, a woman in her thirties, mother to a young child, and wanted to try my hand at translating her particular voice. Lara was gracious enough to send me several Word documents, including the story “Toda una vida,” winner of the 2013 Cosecha Eñe prize organized by the prestigious Spanish literary magazine Eñe: Qué Leer, and I’ve been honored and delighted to work with her since.
I woke up early to finish some reading, but have been in bed for hours scrolling through Facebook, with little fingers and tired eyes fixed to the screen, and now it’s 1 pm. Though the streets of Barcelona are sunny most days, only secondhand light teases in from the center courtyard of the apartment building, and sometimes in here I forget what sun is. It’s the only bedroom that faces inward, the one my host mother lived in as a girl. This was her childhood home.
POETRY NEVER STOPS DEFINING AND REDEFINING ITS TERRAIN
Poetry never stops defining and redefining its terrain. It has done so throughout history, since Aristotle, Cascales, or Antonio Minturno. But this task, which seems like a kind of prison sentence, is also a fountain of intensity, a force.
Poetry Never Stops Defining and Redefining Its Terrain (English & Spanish)
What always pulls at me, like a persistent hand tugging on my shirt sleeve or at my pant leg, is the poem I haven’t written. Hey, it asks me, when is it my turn?
The blank code of my unwritten poem is inflated with announcements of what it could be and swagger. Much more than a poem already written, where limitations have already ended up imposing themselves and where initial intentions end up lowering their head in embarrassment…