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My Poetry

The Anatomy Lesson
Strangers in the Night
Something Sadder and More Lonely
In the Middle of the Path of Life
Of Solitude
Body of Evidence
Ann Boleyn
Your Country, On the Back Burner
Under the Shade of Cherry Trees in Flower
Fiesta
Oracle
Millennium's End
Tribute to Paul Celan

 

The Anatomy Lesson

No body, regardless of its perfection and sublime beauty,
escapes the ardor of time.
Beauty is eternity,
but time pursues it.
I have seen the most resplendent bodies naked
and one never knows what will happen
when a body disrobes.
Nevertheless, beauty is not the body’s beehive,
no matter how much honey its blood harbors.
Beauty is always somewhere else.
That saves us.  That condemns us.
We can only cast ourselves at its feet,
like a toy, broken by fright.
Suddenly, on Havana’s most ruined street,
you come across a young man from Corinth,
or a young woman from Cyprus.
And, do you still believe that someone could save you
from such a fateful encounter?
All the viruses, epidemics,
and apocalypses of the world
would not be enough to moderate your blood,
turning to mush the wisdom to resist
the boastful anatomy of a body
festooned with itself.
Not even pain or despair would stop you.
I do not speak to you of love,
but of beauty, filled with rottenness,
always decomposing
like a susent of unbearable loveliness.
The body, I must insist,
is but the lonely shiver of beauty.
A beautiful body is always melancholic:
it has contours, indescribable silences,
ancestral sunsets.
Those who speak of possession,
know not what they say.
To graze on a body it is not to possess it.
To ruminate between its legs,
to open its most hidden chambers,
is not to possess it.
As with tomb-robbers,
in the most sumptuous chamber,
a corpse awaits you.
We possess nothing nor anyone.
The delight lies
in descending into wells of darkness,
in going about the multitude of naked bodies,
while nausea seizes you.

From El cuerpo del delito (Body of Evidence), Seville, 2001
Francisco Moran, translator
(While translating it I made small changes)

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Strangers in the Night

Searching the night so much
and just a touch of light on a stanger's face
approaching with a loaf of sour bread.
Where we stand. Lack of sleep has distorted our faces.
No bite of goodness remains in the milk,
no skin of cream, unseparable whiteness,
or nighttime circumsized
on the cheeks.
We pace with ice tattooed in our blood.
The city has shed all of its leaves.
And the driller of ashes is spinning around
in the drowsiness of each lost encounter.
You don't need the loneliness of a first name,
its delicate flicker,
to miss someone you've never met.
You don't need the itch of pitch blackness.
A night such as this is enough
in all its excruciating loveliness,
the swift body
cruising across a bridge

to nowhere.

From Island of my Hunger (San Francisco, 2007)
James Nolan, translator

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Something Sadder and More Lonely

than everything in nature is brushed by lost coins,
cold trees bent
beneath the weight of the sky, angels in agony
that wander through the night.
I would rock in the rocker and my feet wouldn’t reach
the lilt of the ground where my mother’s shadow
stretched from absence to absence beyond me.
Who can love a boy who spends hours oiling hinges
so they won’t squeal
when ghosts pass by?

How it hurts to stare into the eyes of a tiger
hidden in our blood like some ancient aristocracy,
in perfect harmony with frozen, empty fruits.

I bring my hands close to the flesh of things now gone,
and the lacks are warm, sweet, with a smell of open roses
there where the house no longer holds the damp of waiting.
So rise the deep waters of the night,
and the black, bitter and foamy beer of sleep drags

everything away.

Ben A. Heller, translator

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In the Middle of the Path of Life

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
  mi ritrovai per una selva oscura

                                    Dante, Inferno I

“Repairmen working on the bookshelves at a library in Florence have found a sack of ashes from the tomb of Dante, 70 years after librarians mislaid it.”

                                                                                    BC News, July 20, 1999

A few steps more to the right… not, to the left… right there… below those shelves.  In that slightly heavy, gray bag, Dante’s ashes remain.  They and we in the exile that libraries always imply.  Like in niches, the most celebrated books rest very close to the whisper of newspapers, and mix themselves with the death rattles of sensacionalistic reports, with the sleepiness of the guillotine and the sinister equality of revolutions. Some curious person will approach to question them, only to abandon them on a table, until the employee on duty returns them to their place.  Therefore, finding ashes among books is, at least, tautological.  Those of Dante, recently discovered in the Central Library of Florence, to which parts of Dante’s anatomy do they belong?  Are they perhaps, those of his gaze trying to mend the unstitched geography, so the wines of Ravena may taste like the waters of the Arno?  Are they those of his voice, defenestrated once and again by the bloody fight of Guelfs and Ghibellines? Would they be those of the untainted genitals that never touched Beatriz’s text, or stained her dress with a single drop of ink her dress?  Or would they be those of eternity - found by some voiceless employees in a precious exemplary symbolism - or perhaps those of exile?  Those are the ashes of Paradise.  And I behold with envy – and with nostalgia – the limbo of books where they found peace for so long.  Particularly now, when an edict has just ordered me to live Florence and I find myself lost in the dark forest.

From El cuerpo del delito (Body of Evidence), Seville, 2001
Francisco Moran, translator

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Of Solitude

A man who desperately calls
another who desperately calls
another who desperately calls
another who desperately calls God
who desperately calls...

Francisco Moran, translator

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Body of Evidence

I'm happy with nothing to regret.
Happy from my voice to my valise.
I pack along on every trip I take
life itself to help me pass the time.

I don't suffer or harbor any horrors.
I sleep, relax, and when nighttime comes
I'm lavish with myself to such a measure
that pleasure hands me over all its joy.
       
My body makes the rounds of stables
just as to the loftiest cathedrals
at home among gentlemen and vandals.

Its pommegranate bursts upon the altars
and is baptized in smelly sewer waters:
sweetness is what I squeeze from lemons.

From Island of my Hunger (San Francisco, 2007)
James Nolan, translator

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Ann Boleyn

Mi head floats above my shoulders.
It is not a royal decree
what alienates it from me.
Ever since I was a girl,
I used to put irresistible spells
on its curls.
Everywhere I passed by
the most handsome knights bowed.

I will be beheaded tomorrow.
It is and ancient British custom.
From here, I can see
how the sccaffold is being lifted.
It is like a theatre,

an intermission.

From El cuerpo del delito (Body of Evidence), Seville, 2001
Francisco Moran, translator

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Your Country, On the Back Burner

What the soil smells of, namely,
cemeteries, minerals so yours, so intimate..
It takes a lot of dead folks
to make up a country.

And they are never enough.

Friends sprout from the grass, between toes.
Their burned-out souls are as gauzy as silence,
and the same yeast (oblivion)
makes them look like us.
When asked to sacrifice for your country
(sore genitals will sometimes do the trick)
consider for a moment if it's worth it.
Open the history books
and see how they are made of corpses
dug up over and over again
so you'll decide to follow their lead.

And keep in mind, it's never enough.

You have no choice
if you believe in happiness.
You have to desert your country, put it
on the back burner.

Better to feel homesick
than have the flag always summoning you to fight,
to sacrifice yourself.

When your name comes up, act spaced-out.
But if your country forces you,
slip past enemy lines
to engage in sweaty combat,

body to body.

From Island of my Hunger (San Francisco, 2007)
James Nolan, translator

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Under the Shade of Cherry Trees in Flower

I calmly walk along, cherry trees in flower.
I see safe, happy faces,
plotted by this happy day’s
light and perfume.
The Potomac wanders under God’s fair gaze.
The morning tastes like a cereal;
it is as creamy as yoplait, 
and as comfortable as an S.U.V.
We are encircled, secured by a belt
of electronic eyes.
I stop by to steal a flower of its beauty,
and, then, I leave it,
untouched,
in the palm of that passer-by
that has just crossed
my path.
The forecast was right:
this is a day like any other.
I think of my students,
gathered, too, under the shade
of cherry tress in flower,
while pondering along the apparently stagnant water
of happiness.
They do not know that far from here,
but also here and everywhere
horror has just pulled my eyes out.
I train my conscience
in the art of nothing-happens.
Let’s, then, return to the cherry trees.
Let’s get our ears blocked and have a good time.
Let’s be, for one moment,

as indifferent as God.

(I wrote in English this poem, short before September 11. At the time I was studying at Georgetown University. If writing it was extremely painful, rereading it after the terrorist attacks proved to be even more difficult.)

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Fiesta

There was an unbearable noise,
lots of fireworks,
and more noise.
It looked like the whole world
was partying.
It looked very much like that.
Streets were filled with people
running in opposite direction.
Everything was on fire.
Huge, beautiful fire.
The city lighted by a sudden bonfire.
And there was the noise.

Everybody went to sleep.

And whoever who was not everybody,
turned the tv off.

(I wrote it in English)

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Oracle

Know your self,
and conceal it.

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Millennium's End

My shadow projects itself stealthily onto the floor.
It stretches out like the gesture of a prestidigitator
who has forgotten his old tricks.
I watch it slip away between spasms
and useless harrumphs.
Outside, the others pursue millennium’s shadow,
harass time with celebrations,
gifts and the din of war.
My shadow leaves me and goes out into the street.
It’s time to commit the perfect crime.
It’s time to exhaust the last splendor.

George Henson, translator

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Tribute to Paul Celan

The water of the Seine sleeps with an eye open
on the fish that were decapitated with a single blow,
cleanly.
The fishmonger doesn’t know how much mud
a fish must look at, swallow,
before acquiring that brilliant skin
that adorns the most exquisite plates,
the gourmet’s taste.
It’s difficult to balance over bridges.
The frozen night has a familiar and homey air
reminiscent of circus acrobats,
the shock of seeing their bodies
bend in the air.
You see the city stretching its dirty big top
above your head.
Beneath, there is a crowd
of bearded women,
Polyphemus dwarfs,
and domesticated beasts.
Before the leap
there is always an immense nostalgia,
a yearning for fire that cinches you to the water.
Afterward only time remains,
polished, shining,
making bubbles deep below.

George Henson, translator

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