paris, texas


why travis what’s left of that dark question

why the house falling apart why him why her

why the summer of nineteen seventy one


what had to happen what kind of chemistry why

the metal workers’ strike why the traffic jam

why did they arrive exhausted and kiss anyway


as if my life depended on it

Birds in the night


looking out the windows at the mountains

towns on the edge of the highway red lights

rest stops endless trucks at the gas stations

here’s some money buy a suitcase shirts some boots

take the money lay low for a while don’t worry

let things blow over a couple of months

I don’t know what to say

don’t say anything you should buy a map too

a map of america you never know



put your heart in that plastic bag

keep the bag in your locker leave the key with the attendant

put on your coveralls


pay full attention don’t miss a beat

take note only of what’s important but don’t let that impulse

give you too many ideas


here are your tools

leave everything clean when you finish lock all the doors 

and pick up your heart you don’t want it to spoil

Original ↓


parís, texas


por qué travis qué hay de esa oscura pregunta

por qué la casa en ruinas por qué él por qué ella

por qué el verano de mil novecientos setenta y uno


qué tuvo que pasar qué clase de química por qué

la huelga en el sector metalúrgico por qué el atasco

por qué llegaron rendidos y aun así se besaron


como mi vida les fuera en ello



Birds in the night

miraba por los cristales las montañas

los poblados al borde de la carretera luces rojas

áreas de servicio camiones interminables en las gasolineras


aquí tienes dinero compra una maleta camisas unas botas

coge este billete no aparezcas por un tiempo no te preocupes

deja las cosas pasar por unos meses


no sé qué decir


no digas nada compra también un mapa 

un mapa de américa nunca se sabe


mete tu corazón en esa bolsa de plástico

guarda la bolsa en tu taquilla deja la llave al encargado

ponte el mono de trabajo

presta toda la atención no pierdas detalle

anota sólo lo importante pero cuida que este impulso

no te lleve a demasiadas conclusiones

aquí tienes las herramientas

déjalo todo limpio cuando acabes cierra bien todas las puertas

y recoge tu corazón no vaya a estropearse

Translator's Note

Pablo García Casado’s poems are wonderfully polyphonic. They make for exciting reading because the reader must parse meaning by interpreting the enjambments, the lack of punctuation, and the competing voices. The wavelengths in the resultant harmonies can get a bit difficult to distinguish from one another. For example, in “1972” the speaker’s voice blends with those of the characters in Wim Wenders’ 1984 film, Paris, Texas. The “why travis” that opens the piece could be spoken by one of the on-screen characters or by our speaker/viewer. His emotional involvement in the film, abundantly evident by the final line, is such that he is likely mouthing the script as he watches.

As I rendered García Casado’s many voices into English, I had plenty of opportunities to explore the rich ambiguity that gives them life. Sometimes happy chance helped me out. My “pay attention” corresponding to García Casado’s “presta toda la atención” in “Workmanship” is an example; it just so happens that both Spanish and English use verbs relating to economic transactions when we talk about “attention.” I was pleased that in English, however, you can’t expect the same future returns on a “payment” as you might with a “préstamo” [a loan] in Spanish. In such a grimly ironic poem about the way repetitive work can numb the soul, the English communicates even less hope than the original.

Other moments likewise offered tough and important choices. This is why I love translation. The voices in “Birds in the night” find themselves at a vital crossroads, impelled by the heavy freedom of flight. The poem opens, “miraba por los cristales las montañas.” As the Spanish includes no subject pronoun, this sentence could be “He/she was looking out the windows at the mountains” or “I was looking out the windows at the mountains.” Is the poem spoken by the “I” told to flee, or does a third party (the poet?) reproduce the dialogue? I went with “looking,” which, as a gerund, is even more ambiguous than the original’s imperfect past. A similar thing happened with “billete,” which could have been a single $100 bill or a bus ticket in the Spanish. I chose to repeat “money” and leave unknown the wanderer’s method of transport as well the extent of his friend’s largesse.

I worked hard to maintain the particular American terseness so characteristic not only of García Casado’s syntax but also of his subject matter. He’s from Spain but his poetic world is full of Americana: films, brands, and the mythology of the American highway’s expansive possibilities. Hopefully these translations approximate a register of American English that captures this essential aspect of García Casado’s work.

Zachary Rockwell Ludington


In the Classroom