Pablo Neruda – Sonnet 44


You’ll be aware that I do and don’t love you
since there are two modes to life,
the word is a wing of silence,
and there’s a cold side to fire.

I love you in beginning to love you
to reengage in what is infinite
and so as never to stop loving you:
that’s why I still don’t love you.

I do and don’t love you as though I held
in my hands the keys to happiness
and an uncertain fate of unhappiness.

My love has two lives with which to love you,
that’s why I do love you when I don’t
and why I do love you when I do too.

Pablo Neruda

From One Hundred Love Sonnets

Translation by John Lyons

Rosario Castellanos – Presence

Some day I’ll know. This body that has been
my refuge, my prison, my hospital, is my grave.

Whatever I have clustered around an anxiety,
a pain, a memory,
will desert in search of water, a leaf,
the original spore, even inert matter and stone.

This knot that I was (inseparable
from anger, betrayals, hopes,
sudden insight, abandonments,
hungers, cries of fear and helplessness,
joy glowing in the deep darkness,
and words, and love and love and loves)
the years will sever it.

No one will see the destruction. Nobody
will take up the unfinished page.

Among this handful of disperse
acts, scattered to chance, not one
will be set aside as a precious pearl.
And yet, brother, lover, child,
friend, ancestor,
there’s no solitude, there’s no death,
though I may forget and I may be done.

Man, where you are, where you live,
we all remain.

Rosario Castellanos

(Translation by John Lyons)

Rosario Castellanos – Valium 10


Rosario Castellanos, John Lyons (40 x 40, oil on canvas)

Valium 10

Sometimes (and don’t try
to play it down,
saying it doesn’t happen often)
your measuring stick breaks.
your lose your compass
and then you don’t understand a thing.

The day becomes a series
of incoherent acts, of duties
that you carry out through inertia and out of habit.

And you live it. And you give instructions
to whoever it concerns. And you teach the same
the class to students registered or not alike.
And at night you draft the text that the press
will devour the following day.
And you keep an eye (oh but only from above)
on the running of the house, the perfect
coordination of multiple programs
—because the oldest son is all dressed up
to go as escort to a fifteen year old’s debutante do
and the youngest wants to play soccer and the middle one
has a poster of Che next to his record player.

And you review the expenses and together,
with the cook, reflect on the cost
of living and the ars magna combinatoria
from which the possible daily menu emerges.

And you even have the will to take off your makeup,
and apply your face cream and even to read
a few lines before turning out the light.

And now, in the darkness, on the brink of sleep,
you realise what’s been lost:
the most valuable diamond, the nautical
chart, the book
with a hundred basic questions (and their corresponding
answers) for a basic
conversation, even with the Sphinx.

And you have the distressing feeling
that an error crept into the crossword
That makes it unsolvable.

And you spell out the name Chaos. And you can’t
sleep unless you open
the bottle and swallow one of the pills
in which the chemically pure world order
has been condensed.

Rosario Castellanos

(translation by John Lyons)

Valium 10 is one of the most famous poems by the brilliant Mexican poet, Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974).

Adélia Prado – Marriage

There’re women who say:
My husband, if he wants to fish, let him fish,
but let him clean the fish.
Not me. At any time of the night I get up,
Help with descaling, slitting open, filleting and salting.
It’s so good, just the two of us alone in the kitchen,
from time to time our elbows bump,
he says things like “this one was tricky customer”
“he flashed his silver tail in the air”
and he makes the gesture with his hand.
The silence of when we first met
flows through the kitchen like a deep river.
Finally, the fish on the platter,
we go to bed.
Silver things blossom:
we are bride and groom.

Adélia Prado

From , Terra de Santa Cruz (1981)

Translation by John Lyons


Há mulheres que dizem:
Meu marido, se quiser pescar, que pesque,
mas que limpe os peixes.
Eu não. A qualquer hora da noite me levanto,
Ajudo a escamar, abrir, retalhar e salgar.
É tão bom, só a gente sozinhos na cozinha,
de vez em quando os cotovelos se esbarram,
ele fala coisas como “este foi difícil”
“prateou no ar dando rabanadas”
e faz o gesto com a mão.
O silêncio de quando nos vimos a primeira vez
atravessa a cozinha como um rio profundo.
Por fim, os peixes na travessa,
vamos dormir.
Coisas prateadas espocam:
somos noivo e noiva.

Terra de Santa Cruz (1981)

Shoulders bear the weight of the world

Comes a time when we no longer say: my God.
A time of absolute stripping to the bone.
A time when we no longer say: my love.
Because love turned out to be useless.
And the eyes don’t cry.
And the hands only weave coarse work.
And the heart is dry.

Women knock at the door in vain, you won’t open it.
You were left alone, the light goes out,
and your eyes shine enormous in the dark.
You’re full of certainty, can suffer no more
And you expect nothing from your friends.

That old age approaches matters little, what’s old age?
Shoulders bear the weight of the world
and it weighs no more than a child’s hand.
Wars, famines, and conflicts in buildings
Merely confirm that life goes on
And not everyone has yet broken free.
Some, finding the spectacle barbarous,
Would prefer (the sensitive ones) to die.
Time has come when there’s no point in dying.
Time has come when life is an imperative.
Mere life, without perplexity.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade
(translation by John Lyons)

corrected version

Sea privilege – Carlos Drummond de Andrade


          Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987)

On this tolerably comfortable terrace,
we drink beer and look out at the sea.
We know that nothing will happen to us.

The building’s solid and so too the world.

We know that every building houses a thousand bodies
toiling away in a thousand identical compartments.
Sometimes some wearily enter the elevator
and come up here to breathe the ocean breeze,
which is a privilege of these buildings.

The world really is made of reinforced concrete.

Surely, if there was a rogue cruiser,
anchored in the bay opposite the city,
life would be uncertain. . . unlikely. . .
But in the calm waters there are only trusty sailors.
How cordial the fleet is!

We can drink our beers with honour.


Carlos Drummond de Andrade
(translation by John Lyons)

Privilégio do Mar

Neste terraço mediocremente confortável,
bebemos cerveja e olhamos o mar.
Sabemos que nada nos acontecerá.

O edifício é sólido e o mundo também.

Sabemos que cada edifício abriga mil corpos
labutando em mil compartimentos iguais.
Às vezes, alguns se inserem fatigados no elevador
e vêm cá em cima respirar a brisa do oceano,
o que é privilégio dos edifícios.

O mundo é mesmo de cimento armado.

Certamente, se houvesse um cruzador louco,

fundeado na baía em frente da cidade,
a vida seria incerta.. . improvável. . .
Mas nas águas tranqüilas só há marinheiros fiéis.
Como a esquadra é cordial!

Podemos beber honradamente nossa cerveja.

With poetic licence – Adélia Prado

Adélia Prado

When I was born a slim angel,
the type that blows trumpets, announced:
she’ll carry the flag.
Very heavy load for a woman,
even today a downtrodden species.
I welcome the tricks that suit me,
without having to lie.
Not so ugly I can’t marry,
I think Rio de Janeiro’s beautiful and
do and don’t believe in painless childbirth.
But, what I feel I write. I’m true to my stars.
I inaugurate bloodlines, found realms
—pain is not bitterness.
My sadness has no pedigree,
but my longing for joy,
its roots go back a thousand years.
To limp through life is man’s fate.

Women are flexible. I am.

Adélia Prado

(translation by John Lyons)

Brazil’s greatest living poet, Adélia Prado was born in 1935 and lives in Divinópolis, Minas Gerais.

Com licença poética

Quando nasci um anjo esbelto,
desses que tocam trombeta, anunciou:
vai carregar bandeira.
Cargo muito pesado pra mulher,
esta espécie ainda envergonhada.
Aceito os subterfúgios que me cabem,
sem precisar mentir.
Não tão feia que não possa casar,
acho o Rio de Janeiro uma beleza e
ora sim, ora não, creio em parto sem dor.
Mas, o que sinto escrevo. Cumpro a sina.
Inauguro linhagens, fundo reinos
—dor não é amargura.
Minha tristeza não tem pedigree,
já a minha vontade de alegria,
sua raiz vai ao meu mil avô.
Vai ser coxo na vida, é maldição pra homem.

Mulher é desdobrável. Eu sou.

Chess – Rosario Castellanos


As we were friends and occasionally loved each other,
perhaps to add a further interest
to the many that already bound us,
we decided to play mind games.

We set up a board between us:
equal in pieces, in values,
and possible moves.

We learned the rules, swore to respect them,
and the match began.

We’ve been seated here for ever,
ferociously pondering
how to land the final blow that will irrevocably
annihilate, once and for all, the other.

Rosario Castellanos

(translation by John Lyons)

Us no matter where – Paul Éluard

The bird halts observes an invisible prey
He hunts he provides for his young
The wherewithal to sing fly sleep

To the harsh contact with the dense forest
He prefers the damp fields
Teeming with the day’s last straws

The fine web of life
Gently covers your face
And you hold in this basket
Our means our reasons for living
You’re as wise as you are beautiful
You attract the most beautiful words

We will talk tonight about us and the birds
We won’t listen to the long and sorry history
Of people driven from their homes
By golden-jawed death
Men with less pride than beasts
Who track misfortune everywhere
May they not appear quite naked then
In a haven of clarity such as our own

We take care of each other
Day by day we preserve our life
Like a bird his hatched form
And his pleasure
Among so many birds to come

Paul Éluard (from Le livre ouvert, 1940)

(Revised translation by John Lyons)

Nous n’importe où

L’oiseau s’arrête guette une proie invisible
Il chasse il donne à ses petits
De quoi chanter voler dormir

Au dur contact de la forêt fermée
Il préfère les champs humides
Chargés des derniers brins du jour

La fine trame de la vie
Couvre doucement ton visage
Et tu tiens dans cette corbeille
Nos moyens nos raisons de vivre
Tu es aussi sage que belle
À toi vont les mots les plus beaux

Nous parlerons ce soir de nous et des oiseaux
Nous n’écouterons pas la longue et sourde histoire
Des hommes chassés de chez eux
Par la mort aux mâchoires d’or
Des hommes moins fiers que des bêtes
Qui suivent le malheur partout
Que n’arrivent-ils donc tout nus
Dans un asile de clarté comme le nôtre

Nous prenons souci l’un de l’autre
Jour après jour nous gardons notre vie
Comme un oiseau sa forme éclose
Et son plaisir
Parmi tant d’oiseaux à venir

Eugenio Montejo – Caracas


Caracas seen from the Milleniumm de Los Dos Caminos Mall

So tall are the buildings that
nothing of my childhood remains to be seen.
I’ve lost my back yard with its slow clouds
where the light dropped ibis feathers,
Egyptian clarities.
I’ve lost my name and the dream of my house.
Rigid walkways, tower upon tower,
now hide the mountain from us.
The din grows a thousand engines per ear,
a thousand cars per foot, all deathly.
Men chase after their voices
but the voices drift
behind the taxis.
More distant than Thebes, Troy, Nineveh
and the fragments of their dreams,
where was Caracas?
I’ve lost my shadow and the feel of its stones.
Nothing of my childhood remains to be seen.
I can grope my way through its streets now
increasingly lonely;
its space is real, unflinching, solid concrete.
only my history is false.

Eugenio Montejo
(translation by John Lyons)

See Eugenio Montejo 21 grams