Translation: Poetry by Esther Ramón

Poems by ESTHER RAMÓN

Translated from the Spanish by EMMA FERGUSON

Poems appear in both Spanish and English.

 

Translator’s Note

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.

In Morada (Dwelling), published in 2015, Ramón presents our human participation in and collaboration with nature, beginning with the simplicity of seeking shelter, and even moving to burial and decomposition. She writes in her description of this collection, “The first and last refuge is a hole—excavated by hand—in the uncomfortable earth.” Her litanies of incongruous images in short lines are full of movement within and through uncomfortable interiors: “…an aroma that spreads / through the hair / through the buckets of rice / through the musical carpet / through the flasks, / inside the bedroom / and nothing burns.” One challenge of short lines is the quantity of articles and prepositions that need careful placement in English. The movement of images easily chokes on small bits of grammar, and in my drafts I ended up with lines made up entirely of prepositions and articles as I shifted things around.

Translating this volume, I can’t help but keep thinking of Gaston Bachelard and The Poetics of Space, and I’ve been trying to keep the imaginative interior as a central figure while I work. These poems take us through physical, yet dreamlike spaces we have a sense of, but no real concrete grasp of, and we as readers are allowed to surface our own dreams and subconscious. The absence of a strong “I” in nearly all the poems in this volume creates not only a centering of space as the main figure or character, but also creates a sense of collective, observed experience. Ramón intentionally avoids an active agent for her verbs; she focuses on infinitives and passive constructions. I have found myself turning to imperative verbs in English, like musing internally to oneself, or to no one in particular. That these words dwell in our own interiors, as readers, is what matters.

—Emma Ferguson

 

 

Entendí dos de las letras,
dos de los breves animales
que poblaban las ramas
y los muebles inservibles
por la humedad
y el abandono.
Separadas, ausentes
del decurso abrasador
de los insignificantes,
del ciclo alimenticio,
tantos deseos en el retal
que ondea desgarrado
de una de sus vigas
microscópicas,
tanto muestra su ruina,
el anverso y el reverso
de lo roto,
caían a destiempo,
sin encontrarse,
una después de la otra,
legada y salida
sin preparación
ni huella,
no había marcado
mis manos
para su fragilidad,
para la apertura de sus
túneles, que derramaban
un finísimo hilo
sobre los dedos,
entenderlas,
no escribirlas,
encenderlas con este
calor que no encuentra
aposento ni cauce,
reunir estambres
de mirlo y después
volver a mirarlas,
a ojos cerrados,
soñar con ellas para
poder decir que todo
fue un sueño, que había
distancia y volumen
en los bordes,
entregamos la sed
para poder nombrar
un frasco de cristal,
un pedazo reseco
de este sol
con dos letras.

 

 

I understood two of the letters,
two of those brief animals
that populated the branches
and the furniture made useless
by humidity and neglect.
They were separated
From time that burns as it passes,
from this insignificance,
from the feeding cycle,
my desires in the shredded remains
pulsing
out of microscopic beams,
so much revealed by ruin—
the obverse and reverse
of what’s broken.
They fell too late,
without finding each other,
one after the other,
arrival and departure
without any plans
not leaving a trace, 
my hands unprepared
for that fragility,
for the opening of
tunnels that spilled
a thin thread
over fingers.
Understand them,
don’t write them,
light them with this
directionless heat that spreads
without stopping,
collect stamens
of blackbirds and then
look at them again,
with closed eyes,
dream about them
so you can say
they were a dream,
that there was distance
and volume framing it,
we give up thirst
to name
a glass jar,
a dried-up piece
of this sun
with two letters.

 

 

De perfil en el espejo
peino este pelo de madera,
lo divido y lo quemo,
nacen pájaros en llamas
que prenden los tejidos,
desnudando los cristales,
el suelo desgastado,
los platos del hambre
encaramados a la mesa.

Se hace más nítido
lo que se ilumina
y se aquieta,
apenas una mota de luz,
puro espacio.

Toma por detrás las veladuras
de los ojos, y es mirada
sin jaurías,
reflexión, irradiación,
de frente ahora,
instinto del reverso
que mastica
los panes ausentes,
y se traga sus nombres. 

De espaldas,
el agua que penetra
por la nuca,
el dedo que me toca
sin su cuerpo, un rostro
que me abre
en el revés bruñido
del cráneo.

 

 

Sideways in the mirror
I brush this wooden hair,
I divide it and burn it,
hatching flaming birds
that set fire to the roof,
stripping the windows,
the worn out floor,
the hungry plates
perched on the table.

Illuminated
and calmed,
a mote of light
comes into focus,
pure space.

They remove the glaze from
the back of your eyes
leaving you with vision
unfit for hunting,
reflection, radiation,
now head on,
this backward instinct
that chews
on absent breads, 
and swallows their names.
Behind me,
water gets in
through my nape,
there’s the finger that touches me
without its body, a face
opening me
through the back 
of my polished skull.

 

 

Crece la migración desde
el reflejo, arranca quejidos
de la madera que frena
el avance de la casa,
rompe los bastones
que apuntalan las
puertas,
el fondo coloidal
de los armarios.
La cal se disuelve
en oleaje, flotan
tejas boca arriba,
se separan los goznes
del metal, el mar
del agua.
El barro cubre el suelo,
las colchas, las cortinas,
los manteles de sal,
cubre la savia prensada
y el fragor de sutura
de las avispas.
En la grupa del mirlo,
en el alféizar expuesto,
en la molécula de cruce,
de contagio,
tres pasos en línea recta
hacia el furgón de salida,
tres piedras planas
o golpes líquidos,
ondas concéntricas
que se trazan que se
ahogan en la herida
renovada del lago.

 

The migration grows out
from the reflection, it creaks
in the wood that slows
the advancing house,
it breaks the canes
that brace the
doors,
the colloidal depths
of the closets.
The lime dissolves
in the tide,
roof tiles float
face up,
the hinges come off
the metal, the sea
separates from the water.
Mud covers the floor,
the mattresses, the curtains,
the tablecloths of salt,
it covers the compressed sap
and the roar of the wasps
and their stitching.
On the blackbird’s rump,
on the exposed windowsill,
the hybrid molecule
of contagion,
three steps in a straight line
toward the departing truck,
three flat stones
or liquid impacts,
concentric ripples
that are traced that are
drowned in the wound
reawakened in the lake.

 

 

 

De hablar muy deprisa
y retirar las paredes
y los muebles,
surge el agua.
Se abre en retículas
dulces, lo licuado,
se hinchan sus letras,
crece un fragor
de turbinas
en los cimientos,
la estela de olor
de las corrientes.
Se multiplican las aspas,
los brazos líquidos,
los peces liberados
de su volumen,
que avanzan siendo
habitantes y también
casa, que fluyen
de un blanco a otro
en el derramamiento.
Lava un sonido
la memoria,
una breve explosión
o una nota que vibra
en la cuerda
y después se extingue.
Resta el recuerdo de un
contorno, de un momento
de sombra en la papilla,
de un decurso pequeño
a la materia.

 

 

From so much talking, and so fast,
and taking down the walls
and the furniture,
I made the water come up.
It opens in sweet
lattices, the liquid,
its letters swell,
a roaring of turbines
in the foundations leaves a growing
wake of stink
in the currents.
The blades
and the liquid arms
multiply,
the fish are liberated
of their size and volume,
advancing, being both
inhabitants
and house, flowing
from one target to another
in the spillage.
A sound washes over memory,
a brief explosion
or a note that vibrates
on the string
and then dies.
An outline of the memory
remains, of a moment
of shadow
over the porridge,
of a brief passage
of time over what is material.

 

Emma Ferguson is a poet, translator and educator from Seattle. She has a degree in Latin American Studies from Bard College and in Hispanic Literature from NYU in Madrid. She is a scholarship recipient for the 2021 Breadloaf Translators’ Conference, and is at work on a translated manuscript of the poetry collection Dwelling (2015) by Esther Ramón, among other projects. Most recently her translations can be found at Columbia Journal and The Offing, while her poems can most recently be found at The Bookends Review and River Heron Review. She grows vegetables, brews beer, and plays piano.

 

Esther Ramón is a poet, critic and professor from Madrid, Spain. She has published nine volumes of poetry, and earned the Premio Ojo Crítico in 2008. Her poems have been translated from Spanish into various languages and she appears in the US anthology Panic Cure: Poetry from Spain for the 21st Century (Otis Books, 2014). She has been coordinating editor for the journal Minerva, director of radio poetry programming for Radio Círculo, and is currently a professor at Universidad Carlos III in Madrid.

Translation: Poetry by Esther Ramón

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