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Winétt de Rokha: Three poems.

 Translated by J. Mark Smith

Domingo Sanderson

I CLOSE MY eyes, dreaming myself out ahead of whatever is fixed and final, so that time’s ___window disintegrates
and they appear, men and women, you and I, our children, and everyone else
through whom destiny and form have lived:
………………………………………………………………ivories, corals, ebonies, stars.

Useless nostalgia, useless effort of the industrious insect, of water-logged wings,
of lives that throw themselves from the brain’s height to the deep, and from the deep back up ___to the brain’s height —
there you all are, we’re right here, there you’ll be for a good long while.

Like the old man Domingo Sanderson, my grandfather, in that rigid provincial square,
that very well-sunned square, with ponderous trees and municipal birds,
and loneliness, and dust — on the roads, at the doors, in the cabinets —
loneliness and dust in the souls of the furniture, and of the sad ones
watching how the bats depart, how they bring back time and fear.

Because once, in a cranny of the centuries,
he lived and died between books and dreams, books and horror,
books and witchcraft and devilry and sacrilege —
Voltaire, wrapped in a red cloak, lean and pale
(all angles and forbidden iridescence), he stared into it too —
books and dreams, books and books, malediction and spellwork.

Scattered intentions, sickly children, creatures of rancour and pain,
alien, sporadic beings whose names are forever just beyond my fingertips.

Three or four dates and, traced in a few engravings, an equivocal vision,
his vision, the polyglot, Domingo Sanderson —
books upon books weighing him down, with lots more back at home, books and books and ___books,
still more crammed into that rooming house, wedged in, a downpour of books,
a landslide, piled high like stones on top of stones,
pain and exhaustion and books, writings upon writings, a calligraphy of suffering and ___dreams.

Seventy four broad-minded years up against unreality,
seventy four broad-minded years of combat without violence, of questioning, of doubt.
His family may speak ill of the cadaver
but the mountains of books all around — they do not speak;
the books, opened up like chestnuts, are scorched,
and his body alone, marmoreal, immutable, descends alone, without books,
alone, absolutely alone, non-productively alone,
an abecedary between its teeth.

I open my arms to clasp to myself everything that is useless and immeasurable:
myths, books; rivers, books; disappointments, books; books; books;
and you and I together, through two hundred twilights…

 

DOMINGO SANDERSON

Cierro los ojos anticipándome a lo definitivo, y la ventana del tiempo se disgrega,
vienen ellos y ellas, tú y yo, nuestros hijos, y vosotros todos,
se ha vivido el destino y la forma: marfiles, corales, ébanos y estrellas.

Inútil añoranza, inútil afán de insecto laborioso y alas de agua,
vidas que se precipitan del cerebro al mar y del mar al cerebro,
allí estáis vosotros, aquí estamos, allí estaréis vosotras un largo año.

Como el viejo Domingo Sanderson, mi abuelo, en la cuadrada plaza de provincia,
soleada plaza con pesados árboles y pájaros municipales,
soledad y polvo, en las carreteras, en las puertas, en los campanarios,
soledad y polvo en las almas de los muebles y los tristes,
mirando cómo emigran los murciélagos que traen tiempo y miedo.

Porque una vez, entre siglo y siglo,
vivió y murió entre libros y sueños, entre libros y espanto,
entre libros y brujería, y demonio y sacrilegio,
en el cual Voltaire, enfundado en una roja capa muerta,
miraba enjuto y pálido, lleno de ángulos y fosforescencia prohibida,
— libros y sueños, libros y libros — maldición y conjuro.

Hijos, voluntades dispersas, enfermizas, criaturas de dolor y de rencor,
ajenas, esporádicas criaturas con un nombre en el extremo de las uñas.

Tres o cuatro fechas y en la memoria de algunas estampas, una visión equívoca,
eso, de Domingo Sanderson, el políglota,
libros y libros a la espalda, con ellos de casa en casa, libros y libros y libros,
con ellos de pensión en pensión, encajonados, llovidos,
rodando, acumulados como piedras de piedra,
dolor y cansancio y libros, escrituras y escrituras en caligrafía de dolor y sueños.

Setenta y anchos cuatro años sobre la irrealidad,
setenta y anchos cuatro años de combate sin combate, de duda;
LOS SUYOS, maldicen el cadáver;
los libros amontonados no hablan,
los libros deshojados como castaños, son quemados,
y el cuerpo solo, marmóreo, inmutable, desciende solo y sin libros,
solo, absolutamente solo, inútilmente solo,
con el abecedario entre los dientes.

Abro los brazos estrechando lo inútil inconmensurable:
mitos, libros, ríos, libros, desengaños, libros, libros, libros,
tú y yo entre los doscientos crepúsculos…

[Oniromancia, 1943]

 

Autumn, 1930

Beneath the white arch,
terrified of the blue winds,
I throw a glance
(like lips on their way to a kiss)
through the balustrade at the yellow ocean.

How it lives, the odour
of rosebush and orange after rain.

A cat — flower of the winter thistle —
electrifies itself, begins to sing;
flies look for smoke-blackened beams;
chickens cluck and shake out their underclothes;

and my heart, trying
to house its sorrow when all covering has been ripped to pieces,
goes barefoot, and blindly.

 

OTOÑO EN 1930

Sobrecogida, bajo el arco cándido,
de los vientos azules,
arrojo desde mi balaustrada en avance,
(como labios que van a besar),
la mirada hacia el océano amarillo.

Todo vive ese olor mojado
de rosal llovido y de naranja;
el gato — flor de cardo de invierno —
se electriza y se hace cantar,
las moscas buscan las vigas ahumadas,
las gallinas cloquean y sacuden su ropa interior;
y mi corazón
trata de acomodar su tristeza de velos desgajados,
descalza y sin pupilas.

[Cantoral, 1936]

 

Antique Scene with Melopoeia

A cave, with stalactites and stalagmites,
all white, like the index finger of the morning.
A tapestry, blood-spattered, repetitive,
my slipper but one seed in the watermelon.

Every eye doubles itself in the little mirrors of my toe-nails;
my arms fall, lift themselves, and fall again through autumn.

The word becomes a butterfly of the night,
bats its wings, stops, opens itself to unforeseen pearls —
catches at an echo that rolls slowly
away, dividing and dividing again, and chases after its own flight
like the mane of a comet as it dissolves.

 

ESCENARIO DE MELOPEA EN ANTIGUO

Cóncavo, con estalactitas y estalagmitas,
todo blanco, como el dedo de la mañana,
y un tapiz rojo, ensangrentado y repitiéndose,
donde mi zapatilla es una sola pepa de sandía.

Todo ojo se copia en los espejitos de mis uñas,
y mis brazos caen, se levantan y caen otoñándose.

La palabra se hace mariposa de noche,
pestañea, gira, se detiene, abre su corazón de perla inopinada
y se prende a un eco que rueda,
lentamente, desdoblándose, persiguiendo su órbita,
como una cabellera de astro que se disuelve.

[Cantoral, 1936]


lossless-page1-800px-WinettdeRokha1951.tifThe Chilean poet Luisa Victoria Anabalón Sanderson (1894-1951) published her mid- and late-career work under the name Winétt de Rokha. Born to a patrician Catholic family in Santiago, in 1916 she married the poet and communist Pablo de Rokha — a modernist firebrand who was to become one of the most revered figures in twentieth century Chilean poetry. Together they concocted her nom de plume, Winétt. (“De Rokha” was already an invented name: Pablo’s name at birth had been Carlos Díaz Loyola, but as a schoolboy he became “Pablo of Rock.”) The couple had nine children, seven of whom lived to adulthood (among them the poet Carlos and the painters José and Lukó). During these busy years, Winétt de Rokha published four notable books: Formas del Sueño (1927), Cantoral (1936), Oniromancia (1936), and El Valle Pierde Su Atmósfera (1949). Chile, even more socially polarized in 1930 than it is today, was hit hard by the Great Depression; its economy contracted to a greater degree than that of any other nation. In 1939, Winétt and Pablo together founded the communist and anti-fascist literary journal — and publishing house — Multitud (whose slogan was, “For bread, peace, and global freedom”). In that decade, Winétt would look back to her childhood relationship with maternal grandfather Domingo Sanderson, an anglophile classicist with Scottish (or perhaps Irish-Scottish) roots, as being pivotal in her turn away from the moneyed, Catholic establishment of Chile’s capital city. The early twenty-first century has seen a renewal of literary and scholarly interest in Winétt de Rokha’s poetic achievement quite independent of her husband’s fame. See Fotografía en oscuro, a selected edition (Madrid: Colección Torremozas, 2008); and El valle pierde su atmósfera, a critical, collected edition (Santiago de Chile: Propio Cuarto, 2008).

J. Mark Smith is a Canadian poet, critic, and translator. Several of his translations of poems by Winétt de Rokha appeared in the October 2015 issue of Shearsman. His own work has been published most recently in Vallum, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, Zócalo Public Square, Queen’s Quarterly, and Partisan. He teaches in the English Department at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, where he has lived since 2006. 

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