it’s raining on the Río de la Plata and it’s almost 36 years since they killed Federico García Lorca but what’s the relationship between that outer reality and this inner unreality? or what’s the relationship between that outer unreality and this inner reality? I don’t know the river’s gray line looks like the knife with which they slit the sky looks like the knife with which they slit childhoods in Azul slit childhoods in Santa Fe and other places in the republic sometimes forever or always forever it’s one of the country’s great agonies that’s for sure in the west the sunsets are not inflamed by the sun here children’s blood inflames the republic’s sunsets children from Salta children from Tucumán little angels blood evaporated or fallen swept away by the sunset each and every each and every day and what’s that got to do the death of Federico García Lorca with the execution of Federico García Lorca in Granada in 1936? or the sunset in the west of Spain that is inflamed not by the sun but from the blood of Federico García Lorca poet each and every each and every day I don’t know I don’t know “child, you’re going to fall into the river!” said Federico García Lorca “when he was lost in the water I understood” said Federico García Lorca “within the rose there’s another river” said Federico García Lorca but why does his blood inflame Granada each and every day every day? and the children of Azul Santa Fe Tucumán Salta why do they inflame the sky of the republic beneath which they have forgotten them or pretend to forget? why did they fall into the river were lost in the water went to the river of another rose from ugly poverty? what’s the relationship between that outer reality and this inner unreality? or what’s the relationship between that outer unreality and this inner reality? when did they kill Federico García Lorca in Tucumán? when was he shot in Azul Santa Fe Salta?
(Translated by John Lyons)
In this poem, Juan Gelman – of Ukrainian origin and one of Argentina’s greatest poet – draws a parallel between the murder of the poet Federico García Lorca by Franco’s fascist troops at the start of the Spanish Civil War and the slaughter of innocents in Argentina during the so-called Dirty War (the name used for the period of United States-backed state terrorism in Argentina from 1976 to 1983). Azul, Santa Fe, Salta and Tucumán are representative provinces of Argentina, though the military dictatorship spread terror throughout the country.
I was in Mexico in 1976, en route to the rainforests of the Yucatan to visit the ruins of Mayan cities as part of my doctoral research before travelling on down to Nicaragua. In Mexico City I stayed for a few days in a house in the magical neighbourhood of Coyoacan. It was in this part of the city that artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived, and where Trotsky set up home in exile and where eventually he was assassinated. Their homes were now museums and within walking distance of the beautiful house where I was staying. That house had once been home to the Spanish poet Manuel Altolaguirre (1905–1959) who had come there in exile in 1939, at the end of the Civil War in Spain. Altolaguirre had been active on the Republican side of the war and was friends with many of the leading poets of the day, including the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda and Spain’s leading poet and dramatist, Federico García Lorca. Lorca had been murdered by members of the Nationalist militia in 1936, a few weeks into the war.
For many years after, I would look in bookshops for editions of the poetry of Altolaguirre but everything seemed to be out of print. Then one day in 2002, I walked into the Livraria Cultura, the largest and best bookshop in São Paulo, and there sitting on the shelves in the Spanish language section, as though it had been waiting for me, was a copy of Altolaguirre’s poetry. Five of those poems I have translated today, and I have appended the Spanish originals for those who may care to consult them.
The light and I
The light and I invent you, city, as now in the breaking day of fantasy and sun you are born into the world; city still hazy, with blood, light and dreams on your white facades.
I don’t know what dawn I cast on buildings, nor what morning sun illuminates the valley, the sea, the streets, within me. The world and I have exchanged lights.
Today to me my body seems a recollection of me. It’s not my memory that lives in my forehead, but my whole body which is huddled within it, among the clouds, waiting for the death of oblivion. I’m now more than me. I shaped my surroundings, wrapped my soul around me, abandoned the life of men. I want to forget my body, would like it to sleep within me. Its external dreams will flood my spirit. Foreign populations, new gods, different elements, surround it. I’m dictating words to the one I was in the world, who believes he detains me under his watchful eye, the one I’m bossing about, overshadowing, the one who writes this story.
How lonely you were inside! When I peered through your lips a crimson tunnel of blood, dark and sad, plunged deep down to the ends of your soul.
When my kiss penetrated, its warmth and its light sent tremors and shocks through your stunned flesh.
Since then the pathways that lead to your soul you want never to be deserted.
How many arrows, fish, birds, how many caresses and kisses!
The Elm is reborn
If I can no longer see myself, if only my roots survive, if birds look in vain for where their nests were amid the sad absence of my arms, do not cry for this.
In a Spring silence, verdant shoots of life will emerge from the earth like tears.
I will be that horde of adolescents, that laurel wreath that encircles the trunk sundered by the axe.
Life multiplied brings death. Multiple are the rays of dawn.
Elegy for Federico García Lorca
I forget to live if I remember you, I recognize that I am dust of the earth and I incorporate you, as does that part closest to your grave, insensitive land that usurps the zealous love of your friends.
With your life over, its outline is forever fully drawn: there’s no door to take you into the future.
The tree of your name has blossomed into an incalculable Spring. Death is perfection, a rounding off. Only the dead can be named. We who live are nameless.
The mythical makers of fame catapult the chants of your name world-wide and life’s lake opens its eyes with endless eyelids of glass: There is no mountain, no sky, no plain, that does not concentrically enhance the echo of your illustrious name.
It’s not a brother’s grief, not human pain, my suffering is part of the sentiment that turns the pensive stars into flowers embroidered on the night that shrouds you. I write these words separately from the daily pattern of my sleep, from a distant planet where I suffer your irreparable loss in tears.
Translations by John Lyons
YO Y LA LUZ
Yo y la luz te inventamos,
ciudad que ahora en un alba
de fantasía y de sol
naces al mundo;
ciudad aún imprecisa,
con sangre, luz y ensueño
en tus blancas fachadas.
No sé qué madrugada
sobre los edificios voy dejando,
ni qué sol mañanero
ilumina la vega, el mar,
las calles, interiores de mí.
Hemos cambiado mundo
y yo nuestras luces.
FUERA DE MÍ
Mi cuerpo hoy me parece
un recuerdo de mí.
No es mi memoria
la que vive en mi frente,
sino mi cuerpo entero
el que está arrinconado
en ella, entre las nubes,
esperando la muerte del olvido.
Yo ya soy más que yo.
Formé mi ambiente,
me envolví con mi alma,
abandoné la vida de los hombres.
Quiero olvidar mi cuerpo,
dormirlo en mí quisiera.
Sus sueños exteriores
inundarán mi espíritu.
Voy dictando palabras
al que yo fui en el mundo,
al que cree contenerme
debajo de sus ojos,
al que estoy dominando,
al que escribe esta historia.
¡Qué sola estabas por dentro!
Cuando me asomé a tus labios
un rojo túnel de sangre,
oscuro y triste, se hundía
hasta el final de tu alma.
Cuando penetró mi beso,
su calor y su luz daban
temblores y sobresaltos
a tu carne sorprendida.
Desde entonces los caminos
que conducen a tu alma
no quieres que estén desiertos.
¡Cuántas flechas, peces, pájaros,
cuántas caricias y besos!
EL OLMO RENACE
Si ya no puedo verme,
si de mí quedan sólo las raíces,
si los pájaros buscan vanamente
el lugar de sus nidos
en las tristes ausencias de mis brazos,
no hay que llorar por eso.
Con el silencio de una primavera,
brotarán de la tierra como llanto
insinuaciones de verdor y vida.
Seré esa multitud de adolescentes,
esa corona de laurel que ciñe
el tronco quebrantado por el hacha.
Multiplicada vida da la muerte.
Múltiples son los rayos de la aurora.
ELEGÍA A FEDERICO GARCÍA LORCA
Me olvido de vivir si te recuerdo,
me reconozco polvo de la tierra
y te incorporo a mí, como lo hace
la parte más cercana de tu tumba,
esa tierra insensible que suplanta
el amoroso afán de tus amigos.
Acabada tu vida, permanece
con su total contorno dibujado:
no hay puerta que te lleve a lo futuro.
El árbol de tu nombre ha florecido
en una incalculable primavera.
La muerte es perfección, acabamiento.
Sólo los muertos pueden ser nombrados.
Los que vivimos no tenemos nombre.
Los míticos honderos de la fama
tiran los cantos de tu nombre al mundo
y el lago de la vida abre sus ojos
con párpados de vidrio interminables:
No hay montaña, no hay cielo, no hay llanura,
que en círculos concéntricos no agrande
el eco de tu nombre esclarecido.
No es dolor fraternal, no es pena humana,
es parte, mi pesar, del sentimiento
que hace de las estrellas pensativas
flores sobre la noche que te cubre.
Te escribo estas palabras separado
del cotidiano sueño de mi vida,
desde un astro lejano en donde sufro
tu irreparable pérdida llorando.