Translation: Poems by Juan de Dios García


Translated from the Spanish by CORY STOCKWELL

Poems appear below in both English and Spanish.


Translator’s Note

Moments are the most intimate of entities. If I had to distill Juan de Dios García’s already vast body of work into a single line, a single thought, it would be this one. The relevance will be clear for the two poems published by The Common, site-specific prose poems taken from a longer series all having to do with places in García’s native Cartagena, Spain. It is a commonplace that poems capture moments, but how to achieve this at a time when places come more and more to resemble one another, and moments, as a result, seemingly lose their attachments to specific sites? For García, the answer does not lie in the obvious gesture, which would be to try to arrest the site in time—to describe it in detail, to focus on its qualities and characteristics, to insist on its uniqueness. On the contrary: what defines a site, for García, is a sort of double insistence, an insistence on two claims that seem—but only seem—to contradict one another: anything could happen at this site; this could only happen at this site. When writing of a poetry reading at the Mister Witt Café in the poem of this name, García is undoubtedly recalling a specific evening, a specific reading, a specific poet who has entered into an almost rapturous state. And yet everything is entirely different for me when, the next day, in the wake of this poet who is at once elusive and resolutely public, I have my morning coffee at this very café, not inside (in the décor that would seem to evoke a certain Chinese pavilion in Lisbon) but on the terrace, or rather—since there is no terrace to speak of, only sleek tiles that blend into the tiles that make up the street of this coastal city in which all distinctions between inside and outside become untenable—at a table placed almost haphazardly near the door. The same goes for the Parque de la Rosa, through which I stroll later that day, under an unfortunate wide-brimmed hat: there is no strange woman who sees me cry, who strokes my skin and sees in me things that I cannot see myself; there is, however, a small black dog who hurtles toward me unthreateningly, playfully, veering off at the last minute toward a young couple whose scent he has picked up. It almost goes without saying that to translate these poems—to pass through the haunts of this poet—is in no way to betray them, but simply to add another layer to what they have already expressed, another moment to the moment they give forth; it is to locate a meaning that can only belong to these places and can only be completely different from all the meanings that came before. Moments, for Juan de Dios García, are the most extimate of entities.

— Cory Stockwell

Mister Witt Café

He speaks to us of Finnish lakes, of a dialect populated by birds and fruit, of high wooded hills, perpetual snow, a petroleum sky.

“In the north they’re raised on melancholy,” he says, “and their dead weigh more than those from here.”

He speaks of a Greek father and a war, of an actress who no longer remembers anything. He disturbs us with strange phrases: “When I chew on your heart it tastes like the roots of an olive tree”; “Death orders an entire solar system for breakfast”; “Kurt Cobain, pistol in hand, looking for a hit in the streets of Paris”; “Between dying and killing, who would choose to die?”

And he shocks us:

“Synonyms don’t exist! No more poets! No more trash collectors! No more Renaissance, no more Baroque—we’re both at once! No gods, no disguises, no clocks!”

He ends by telling us that a black spirit has painted the door of his house red, and that a good ending for a poem would be a raven agonizing in the hands of an angel.

The audience doesn’t know it, but tonight they’re attending the greatest reading of his life.


Mister Witt Café

Nos habla de lagos finlandeses, de un dialecto poblado de pájaros y fruta, de montes elevados, de nieves perpetuas, de un cielo de petróleo.

—En el norte se educa en la melancolía —dice— y sus muertos pesan más que los de aquí.

Habla de un padre griego y una guerra, de una actriz que ya no recuerda nada. Nos incomoda con frases extrañas: «Cuando masco tu corazón sabe a raíz de olivo»; «La muerte pide para desayunar un sistema solar entero»; «Kurt Cobain, pistola en mano, buscando un pinchazo por las calles de París»; «Entre morir o matar, ¿quién elegiría morir?».

Y nos escandaliza:

—¡No existen los sinónimos! ¡No más poetas! ¡No más basureros! ¡Ni renacentistas ni barrocos! ¡Somos barrocentistas! ¡Sin dioses, sin disfraces, sin relojes!

Para acabar contándonos que un espíritu negro ha pintado de rojo la puerta de su casa, que el final de un poema podría ser un cuervo agonizando en las manos de un ángel.

El público no lo sabe, pero esta noche está asistiendo al mejor recital de su vida.


Parque de la rosa

I remember that strange woman in the park who saw me cry, approached me unsentimentally, stroked my skin, lifted up my chin, and said: “After all this time, you’re still bleeding.”


Parque de la rosa

Recuerdo a aquella mujer extraña en el parque que me vio llorar, se me acercó sin sentimentalismo, me acarició el pelo, me levantó el mentón y dijo: «Tanto tiempo después, sigues sangrando».



Juan de Dios García is a poet living in Cartagena, Spain. He has published five books of poetry and five chapbooks. His poems have appeared in over thirty literary journals in Spain and in several other countries, and have been translated into five languages. He is a member of the editorial collective of the Spanish literary journal El coloquio de los perros. Find him online at

Cory Stockwell is a Canadian writer and translator. His writing has appeared in the Oxford Literary Review, Cultural Critique, Politics/Letters, and many other publications. Recent translations include two of Jean-Luc Nancy’s final works, both published by Polity Press.

Translation: Poems by Juan de Dios García

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