Image credit: Sufyan Jalal, from Withering Exhibition

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IN SEARCH OF THE LOST BODY

There are days when we awake with one less arm

when a foot is as remote as if it belonged to an ancestor or as if it were about to be born

                in another body

when we turn our back on our backs

when our eyelids wonder if they are eyelids for opening or closing

 

then we stalk the punctual throb with which the blood repeats a name

in the bend of an artery

corner with the heart

before crossing that dangerous arena

that quagmire of names and dreams

or to risk it armed with the cry with which that name is pronounced

 

and the arena, taken forever

in a love-coup

to travel the forgotten provinces

recover all the possible ways a body has

               to be a body

so elbows and knees might hear

and the smile at the nape of the neck might appear

and the eyes of the heels open

 

 

THINKING ABOUT ONE THING

Why can’t I think with the left half of my brain

the same way I think with the right half?

or why is there a thought from the nape the neck

that doesn’t support the thought from the forehead

that belies it by sending signals from behind?

 

(You ask me what I’m thinking about

Less than one thing: about so many things!

I answer you: about nothing)

 

Or why am I thinking in more layers than an agate or an onion?

: a thought grows from deep within

and pushes until the last shell bursts

and immediately is in danger as well

                                                                     thinned

by another thought pushing it from even deeper inside

 

But I’m thinking of you inside the inside

with a thought that grows outside-in

a centripetal wonder like the flower of the fig

Where thinking about one thing is more than thinking about just one thing

 

 

PROBLEM

 Calculate

(given the product of the multiplication of caresses

the number of wingbeats per second with which passion compensates for the weight of bodies

the velocity acquired by thinking about ourselves

the air resistance to all our flying propositions

the permissible range between the maximum temperature and minimum temperature of desire

the intermittencies with which we fabricate our continuity

the tolerable margin of error for simultaneous entry into your known oblivion

the probabilities of backsliding from a lack of memory

the greater or lesser necessity for a metaphysical dessert at the carnivorous banquet

the percentage of parings that can be recycled in situ

the force of gravity of all joy

and the trajectory of this ever-bending line to the starriest ceiling)

the necessary and sufficient condition for this love

 

 

THE WEIGHT OF LOVE

 Specific gravity of two: the quotient

of lost true weight

divided by the volume

of a never-ending cloud

 

 

INSTRUCTIONS FOR COUPLES

 ·

Grasp

             then let go

of love:

                breathe it in

like borrowed air

that inhaled exhaled

always in transit

                               opens

only in memory

simulations of rest

 

·

Have it

                don’t have it

Its presence is safe

in its twin absence

It wants to be more:

                                       piercing

promise of return

 

·

Walk alone in love’s space:

where they say

far and near

with the same ancient word

                                                      Where

the narrow being together

invites you to be limitless

 

 

·

Live

        not time

                        only

time in love:

never and always in the now

days at the same time

lost     recovered

continuity in suspense

eternity to scale

made of intermittencies

 

·

(A certainty

already takes hold

                                   in constant

danger

              in long amazement)

Open

             close your hands:

that grace may flow

 

 

DIURNAL

 daytime is what occurs around our bodies

 

surviving in the night like a private bubble of light

in which love always keeps its eyes open

so we only dream that we are dreaming

mindful of our agreement to be diurnal

with eyelids dancing on the tip of a geyser

 

 

)PARENTHESIS(

 life exists in parenthesis

like the one sure part

of the sentence that never ends

 

love exists in parenthesis

like the one sure part

of the sentence of life

 

but the parentheses of love

open the other way round

                                                   they are

parentheses for escaping

parentheses for going to dwell in the color green



Original ↓

EN BUSCA DEL CUERPO PERDIDO

 Hay días en que amanecemos con un brazo de menos

en que un pie es tan remoto como si perteneciera a un antepasado o como si estuviera por nacer

                en otro cuerpo

en que damos la espalda a nuestra espalda

en que los párpados se preguntan si son párpados de abrirse o de cerrarse

 

entonces acechamos el latido en punto con que repite la sangre un nombre

en el recodo de una arteria

esquina con el corazón

antes de atravesar esa plaza de peligro

ese tembladeral de los nombres y los sueños

o para atravesarla armado del grito con que ese nombre se pronuncia

 

y tomada la plaza para siempre

en un golpe de estado amoroso

recorrer las provincias olvidadas

recuperar las maneras límites que tiene un cuerpo

              de ser cuerpo

para que los codos y las rodillas oigan

y se dibuje la sonrisa de la nuca

y se abran los ojos de los talones

 

 

PENSAR EN UNA COSA

Por qué no puedo pensar con la mitad izquierda de la cabeza

lo mismo que pienso con la mitad derecha?

o por qué hay un pensamiento de la nuca

que no apuntala al pensamiento de la frente

que lo desmiente haciendo señas desde atrás?

 

(Me preguntas en qué pienso

En menos de una cosa: en tántas cosas!

Te respondo que en nada)

 

O por qué pienso con más capas que un ágata o una cebolla?

: un pensamiento de más adentro crece

y empuja hasta que estalla la última cáscara

y en seguida peligra también

                                                           adelgazado

por otro pensamiento que lo empuja desde más adentro

 

Pero te pienso en el adentro del adentro

con un pensamiento que crece al revés

en un prodigio centrípeto como el de las flores del higo

Donde pensar en una cosa es más que pensar en una sola

 

 

PROBLEMA 

Calcular

(dado el producto de la multiplicación de las caricias

el número de golpes de ala por segundo con que la pasión compensa el peso de los cuerpos

la velocidad adquirida al pensarnos

la resistencia del aire a todas nuestras iniciativas voladoras

el intervalo admisible entre la temperatura máxima y la temperatura mínima del deseo

las intermitencias con que fabricamos nuestra continuidad

el margen de error tolerable para un ingreso simultáneo en el olvido que sabes

las probabilidades de reincidir por falta de recuerdo

la mayor o menor necesidad de un postre metafísico al banquete carnívoro

el porcentaje de limaduras virutas rebabas que pueden ser recicladas in situ

y la fuerza de gravedad de toda alegría

y la trayectoria de esta asíntota al más estrellado techo)

la condición necesaria y suficiente de este amor

 

 

PESO AMOROSO 

Peso específico de dos: el cociente

del perdido peso real

entre el volumen de una nube

de nunca acabar

 

 

INSTRUCCIONES PARA LOS JUNTOS

 ·

Asir

         luego soltar

al amor:

                 respirarlo

como un prestado aire

que aspirado espirado

siempre en tránsito

                                       abre

en la memoria sola

simulacros de pausa

 

·

Tenerlo

               no tenerlo

Su presencia está a salvo

en su ausencia gemela

Quiere ser más:

                              aguda

promesa de retorno

 

·

Andar sólo en su espacio:

donde lejos y cerca

se dicen con la misma

palabra antigua

                               Donde

el angosto estar juntos

invita a ilimitarse

 

·

Vivir

           no el tiempo

                                     solo

 

enamorada tiempo:

nunca y siempre en ahora

días al mismo tiempo

perdidos     recobrados

continuidad en vilo

eternidad a escala

hecha de intermitencias

 

·

(Una seguridad

ya cunde

                  en sostenido

peligro

              en largo asombro)

Abrir

           cerrar las manos:

que la gracias circule

 

 

DIURNO

 el día es lo que sucede alrededor de nuestros cuerpos

 

sobrevive en la noche como una burbuja privada de la luz

en la que siempre tiene el amor los ojos abiertos

para que sólo soñemos que soñamos

atentos a nuestro pacto de ser diurnos

con párpados que bailan en la punta de un géyser

 

 

)PARÉNTESIS(

 la vida está entre paréntesis como la única parte cierta de la frase de nunca acabar

 

el amor está entre paréntesis como la única parte cierta de la frase de la vida

 

pero los paréntesis del amor

se abren al revés

                                son

paréntesis para escapar

paréntesis para ir a habitar el color verde

Translator's Note

Note on the Process of Translation by Terry Ehret

I first read poems by Ulalume González de León in the fall of 1982 in Frances Mayes’s graduate workshop on the prose poem at San Francisco State. Our text, Michael Benedikt’s The Prose Poem: An International Anthology, featured a long poem in fifteen parts, “Anatomy of Love,” and I was instantly enthralled by the language: richly erotic imagery blending anatomical and scientific vocabulary in an unconventional syntax. To discover just how this poem’s magic worked, I experimented with the seventh part, “a la recherche du corps perdu” [on the search for the lost body]. I dismantled the language, organizing the words by parts of speech; then I assembled them in new patterns, rather like the process of recombinant DNA, to create a kind of “mutant” poem. This became “Lost Body,” the title poem of my first collection. Thirty years later, wanting to read more of González de León’s work, I Googled the name, not knowing at the time that this mysterious poet was a “she”—a confusion she apparently didn’t mind and even courted during her life. Oddly enough, the first entry that came up was my name. I had no idea how this could be, until I realized that the one reference to her name in English on the Internet was my poem, with its epigraph referencing González de León. Immediately I wanted to rectify this and find a way to bring this poet’s life and work to a wider English-speaking audience. In 2013, John Johnson, Nancy Morales, and I began meeting—informally at first, and then professionally—to translate the poems in the collection Plagios. González de León was the daughter of poets Roberto and Sara de Ibáñez. Whether it was the incantatory power of her name, inspired by the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe, or the company of artists and poets who frequented her parents’ home in Montevideo, Uruguay, Ulalume proved a precocious child. She began writing poetry at an early age, studied at a French Lycee, and later at the Sorbonne in Paris where she met her husband, artist and architect Teodoro González de León. She and Teodoro lived in Mexico City, and later Ulalume became a nationalized Mexican citizen. In the 1960s and 70s, Ulalume González de León part of a generation of Latin American women writers experimenting with language and challenging the traditional identities of women, marriage, and relationships. She won many literary awards for her essays, stories, and poems, and worked on the editorial boards of the journals Plural and Vuelta, under the direction of Octavio Paz, who considered her “The best Mexicana poet since Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.” She also translated the work of Elizabeth Bishop, Ted Hughes, Lewis Carroll, and e.e. cummings. Given my first experimentation with González de León’s language, it pleased me to learn that she believed “Todo es plagio. Todo ha sido ya dicho” [Everything is plagiarism. Everything has already been said]. This idea of stolen or reworked language is so important to her that when her collected works were published, she chose the title Plagios, which translates “Plagiarisms.” Most of all, what draws me to this poet is a sense of the ephemeral nature of identity, how dependent it is upon the ever-shifting ground of language and memory, and a quality Octavio Paz described as “a geometry of air.” Translating her poems has been a challenge because, in Paz’s words, “if we seek to touch them, they disintegrate.” Nonetheless, her work resonates so deeply, our goal is to bring these poems into English equivalents that retain the original complexity and delicacy of her language.


Terry Ehret
John Johnson
Nancy J. Morales

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