What they don’t know – Juan Gelman

Juan GelmanThe great Argentine poet, Juan Gelman (d. 2014) was born in Buenos Aires on May 3, 1930. On August 26, 1976, his children, Nora Eva, 19 years old, and Marcelo Ariel, 20, were kidnapped by the security forces, along with their daughter-in-law María Claudia Iruretagoyena, 19 years old, who was seven months pregnant. On January 7, 1990, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team identified the remains of his son Marcelo, found in a river in San Fernando (Greater Buenos Aires), inside an oil drum filled with sand and cement. The poem translated below describe the plight of individuals on the run during Argentina’s so-called Dirty War (1976-1983).

«Ignorances»

dark/luminous times/the sun
shrouds in sunshine the city rent
by sudden sirens/the police on the hunt/night falls and we
we will make love under this roof/the eighth

in a month/they know almost everything about us/except for
this plaster ceiling under which
we will make love/and neither do they know
the old pine furniture under the previous ceiling/nor

the window that the night pounded while it shone like the sun/nor
the beds or the floor where
we made love this month/surrounded by faces like the sun that
shrouds the city in sunshine

Juan Gelman, from Hechos (1974-1978)
Translated by John Lyons


«Ignorancias»
tiempos oscuros/luminosos/el sol
cubre de sol la ciudad partida
por súbitas sirenas/la policía busca/cae la noche y nosotros
haremos el amor bajo este techo/el octavo
en un mes/conocen casi todo de nosotros/menos
este techo de yeso bajo el cual
haremos el amor/y tampoco conocen
los viejos muebles de pino bajo el techo anterior/ni
la ventana que la noche golpeaba mientras brillaba como el sol/ni
las camas o el suelo donde
hicimos el amor este mes/rodeados de rostros como el sol que
cubre de sol la ciudad

Noises, by Juan Gelman

Juan Gelman
Juan Gelman

The poet Juan Gelman was born in Buenos Aires in 1930. The third son of Ukrainian immigrants, his father, José Gelman, had been a social revolutionary who participated in the 1905 revolution in Russia before finally settling in Argentina.

Gelman himself was an ardent political activist and in 1975 briefly became involved with the Montoneros, later distancing himself from the group. Following the 1976 military coup, Gelman was forced into exile. In 1976, his son Marcelo and his pregnant daughter-in-law, Maria Claudia, aged 20 and 19, were kidnapped from their home. They became two of the 30,000 disappeared, the people who vanished during the period of the military junta and the so-called Dirty War.

In 1990 Gelman was taken to identify his son’s remains (he had been executed and buried in a barrel filled with sand and cement). Later still, in 2000, Gelman managed to trace his granddaughter, who was born in a clandestine hospital before Maria Claudia was murdered. The baby had been adopted by a family that supported the military government. Maria Claudia’s remains have not been recovered. The poem below was published in 1991. In 2007 Gelman was awarded the prestigious Miguel de Cervantes Spanish language prize. He died in 2014.  


Noises

those footsteps are they looking for him ?
that car is it stopping at his door ?
those men in the street are they lying in wait ?
there are all sorts of noises at night

in the midst of those noises day breaks
nobody can stop the sun
nobody can stop the cock crowing
nobody can stop the day

there’ll be nights and days he might not see
nobody can stop the revolution
nothing can stop the revolution
there are all sorts of noises at night

those footsteps are they looking for him ?
that car is it stopping at his door ?
those men in the street are they lying in wait ?
there are all sorts of noises at night

in the midst of those noises day breaks
nobody can stop the day
nobody can stop the sun
nobody can stop the cock crowing

Juan Gelman

(translation by John Lyons)