Image credit: Eylul Doganay, "Arena"

TOUCHÉ

 

No one could touch there

like someone cracking the nut

Like quartering life and pulling back

No one could touch there    explore with that intimacy of you

     tasting me

We are related by blood    an extension of this secret touch

No one before you could know the key of my sex

You remember which country is mine

I find your back from my enlightenment

Yours is a secret touch and when you undress

I feel the same sacred touch of your body

tapping on my gagged waist

No one can pull us apart

We are up there

delirious

and New York out there

waiting.

 

 

 

BUNK BEDS

Look we tried to put distance between us 

To the point of rehearsing being enemies

Look    we won    prizes    money and spots in

    museums so far away

Look you call me from the other side of the world to cry

     or laugh at my fears

Look time goes by and I dress and undress without

     discovering the years

The school has been restored and new faces

     blend into each other in my wake

How useless the trips

How stupid to distance oneself

How painful this strange thought of erasing

We all keep sleeping on filthy bunk beds

You on top and I below    For eternity

Making love    Eating    Defending ourselves from everything

Demystifying the canonical and the classical

Spending winters like one long cumulative head cold

Shivering because of the grades life will give us

Look    we are far from each other but I persist

Asking you to lower the volume on WQAM

To not move so much

To leave me in peace    without the excessive    promiscuity

     that brought us together

Asleep in the vertical building maintaining us

Scholarly

Connected

Grouped

Quoted

Distinguished

Missing you terribly

Asleep on the bunk bed    sincerely yours I bid you farewell.

 

 

 

 

THE WORST THING ABOUT INCEST

 

Don't fear being my father

Let your blushing show through and let’s see each other in that same expression

Don't tremble before my masculine side   

     the culprit summoning me to be daring

Be open and let the fantasies of my legacy be revealed    without revulsion

Leave me to search for myself, scavenging through your leftovers

Your handouts on my tattooed back

A few mistakes without public consequences

Don't search in the past of things and now let the

     light descend upon my forehead

Don't fear being my father  don’t rein in desire because of the

     natural bond keeping us apart

We are unique    alienated    unfamiliar    don't blame yourself

Worse is the orphanhood of being kept in the dark

Attempting to find you in my drawings

Or in the nude photos I let strangers take of me

I'm not the judge    or the enemy

I'm the daughter. 



Original ↓

TOUCHE

 

Nadie pudo tocar allí

como quien rompe la nuez

Como cuartear la vida y regresar

Nadie pudo tocar allí    bucear con esa intimidad con que

     me pruebas

Somos consanguíneos    una dilatación de este toque secreto

Nadie pudo hasta ti saber la clave de mi sexo

Tú recuerdas cuál es mi país

Llego a tu espalda desde mi alumbramiento

Tienes un toque secreto y cuando te desnudas

siento el mismo toque santo de tu cuerpo

repiquetear en mi cintura amordazada

Nadie puede arrancarnos

Estamos allá arriba

delirando

y New York allá afuera

esperando.

 

 

 

LITERAS

 

Mira que tratamos de alejarnos

Hasta el punto de ensayar volvernos enemigos

Mira    que ganamos    premios    dinero y espacios en

     museos tan distantes

Mira que me llamas del otro lado del mundo para llorar

      o reírte de mis miedos

Mira que pasa el tiempo y me visto y desvisto sin

     descubrir los años

La escuela ha sido restaurada y los nuevos rostros se

     confunden a mi paso

Qué inútiles los viajes

Qué estúpido alejarse

Qué agónico este extraño pensamiento de borrar

Todos seguimos durmiendo en las literas sucias

Tú arriba y yo abajo    Eternamente

Haciendo el amor    Comiendo    Defendiéndonos de todo

Desmitificando lo canónico y clásico

Pasando los inviernos como un largo catarro acumulado

Temblando por las notas que la vida nos dará

Mira que estamos lejos pero sigo

Pidiéndote que bajes esa radio WQAM

Que no te muevas tanto

Que me dejes tranquila    sin la excesiva    promiscuidad

     que nos ha unido

Dormida en el edificio vertical que nos mantiene

Becados

Conectados

Agrupados

Citados

Señalados

Extrañándote tanto

Dormida en la litera   sinceramente tuya me despido de ti.

 

 

 

LO PEOR DEL INCESTO

 

No temas ser mi padre

Transparenta tu rubor y deja vernos en ese gesto idéntico

No tiembles ante el lado masculino que poseo culpable

     que me emplaza arriesgada

Ábrete y trasluce las fantasías de mi herencia   sin asco

Abandóname a escarbar buscándome en tus sobras

Tus limosnas en mi espalda tatuada

Algunos errores sin consecuencias públicas

No busques en el pasado de las cosas y deja ya entrar la

     luz sobre mi frente

No temas ser mi padre    no frenes el deseo ante el lazo

     natural que nos aísla

Somos únicos    ajenos    desconocidos    no te culpes

Peor es la orfandad de estar a oscuras

Tratando de encontrarte en mis dibujos

O en las fotos desnudas que me dejo hacer por los extraños

No soy el juez    ni el enemigo

Yo soy la hija.

 

Translator's Note

Wendy Guerra lives between worlds. While her poetry could be defined as distinctly Cuban and Caribbean, it captures the nuances of both the colony and its colonists, old and new. As an artist who grew up during the Russian involvement in Cuba who is not afraid to write about it, Guerra brings a fresh perspective to the Cuban experience, both on a political and personal level. Although Guerra writes in Spanish and makes references to Cuba, her work is transnational in its articulations with colonialism and Communism. While her poems contain themes of isolation that immigrant poets write about, the isolation she feels and describes also happens in her own country.

 

The poems in this selection come from Ropa interior (Underwear), a poetry collection that has never before been published in English. We were drawn to the strong and sensual, yet vulnerable woman’s voice infusing the poems, reminiscent of the work of Anaїs Nin. Indeed, Guerra quotes Anais Nїn in an epigraph at the start of this poetry collection. She even has described herself as “a sort of descendant of Nin” and kept her own diaries.

 

Translating these poems has been challenging in that Guerra chooses an unexpected context in which to set each poem, which then becomes a kind of metaphor for each poem’s theme—usually love—either lost, broken, or difficult. For example, in “Touché” she uses the sport and art of fencing to address the lover in the poem, playfully teasing the reader by saying they are “related by blood,” which conjures images of incest (foreshadowing a future poem), but also referencing the dangers of swords. “Bunk Beds” uses the metaphor of an earlier time, in  an earlier school setting, which may or may not have happened as depicted. “The Worst Thing About Incest,” the last poem in the book and an echo of “Touché,” made us first think that Guerra, like her heroine Nin, had been involved in an incestuous relationship, but upon further analysis, we took incest as yet another metaphorical framing of her poetry.

 

As two women co-translators translating a woman poet, we are delighted to be contributing to the greater effort of bringing more women and nonbinary authors into English. According to the University of Rochester’s translation database, not only do translations account for a miniscule percentage of books published in English (approximately 3%), but the number of translated books authored by women is also disheartening. “Women in Translation” month occurs every August, but we are doing our part to celebrate it year-round.

 

 


Nancy Naomi Carlson
Esperanza Hope Snyder

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