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

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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).

Chess – Rosario Castellanos

rosario_castellanos_books

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)

Rosario Castellanos – The day-to-day

Rosario_Castellanos

For love there’s no heaven, my love, only today;
this sad hair that falls
as you brush it in front of the mirror.
Those long tunnels
that we traverse panting and breathless;
the walls without eyes,
the hollow that rings out
with some hidden and meaningless voice.

For love there’s no respite, my love. The night,
suddenly, becomes breathable.
And when a star breaks its chains
and you see it zigzagging, wildly, till it disappears,
even then the law doesn’t loosen its grip.
The encounter is in the dark. The taste of tears
mingles with the kiss.
And in the embrace you clasp
the memory of that orphanhood, of that death.

Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974)
(Translation by John Lyons)


Lo cotidiano

Para el amor no hay cielo, amor, sólo este día;
este cabello triste que se cae
cuando te estás peinando ante el espejo.
Esos túneles largos
que se atraviesan con jadeo y asfixia;
las paredes sin ojos,
el hueco que resuena
de alguna voz oculta y sin sentido.

Para el amor no hay tregua, amor. La noche
se vuelve, de pronto, respirable.
Y cuando un astro rompe sus cadenas
y lo ves zigzaguear, loco, y perderse,
no por ello la ley suelta sus garfios.

El encuentro es a oscuras. En el beso se mezcla
el sabor de las lágrimas.
Y en el abrazo ciñes
el recuerdo de aquella orfandad, de aquella muerte.

Rosario Castellanos

Rosario Castellanos – The absent-minded

Some were unaware.
They believed that the earth was still habitable.
They didn’t look at the crack
that the earthquake opened up; they weren’t there when the cancer
appeared on the frightened face of a man.

They laughed the moment
an apple, instead of falling,
flew off and the universe was declared insane.

They didn’t witness the decapitation
of the innocent. They never distinguished
between an innocent and one who is not.

(On the other hand right from the start
they had approved the death penalty.)

They kept turning up to the places,
demanding a more comfortable chair, a tastier
menu, a more appropriate treatment.

My dear, if they wait on you ungratefully, punish them!

And on the walls there was a strange disorder
and on the tables there was no food but hate
and hate in the wine and hate in the tablecloth
and hatred even in the wood and in the nails.

The absent-minded whispered among themselves:
What’s going on? You have to complain!

Nobody was listening. Nobody could stop.

It was the time of emigrations.

Everything burned: cities, entire forests, clouds.

Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974)

(translation by John Lyons)


Poetry is universal. Rosario Castellanos wrote many poems about the dispossessed of Mexico. When we read her poetry we are all Mexicans, and in our minds and hearts in this tragic moment, we are also all Ukrainians, as Zelensky says : Shakespeare is Ukrainian, Dante is Ukrainian, Cervantes is Ukrainian. All cultures are one human culture and culture, by definition, resists and denounces all tyranny and inhumanity for all time.

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We kill what we love – Rosario Castellanos

Rosario Castellanos (1925 – 1974) a Mexican poet and one of her country’s most important literary voices in the 20th century. She identified deeply with the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The translation below has been revised from an earlier post.

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We kill what we love. The rest
was never alive.
No one else is that close. No one else is hurt.

by a lapse of memory, an absence, sometimes less.
We kill what we love. Let this suffocation of
breathing through anothers lung end!
The air’s not enough
for us both. And the earth is insufficient
for our two bodies
and the portion of hope is tiny

And the pain cannot be shared.

Man is an animal of solitudes,
a deer with an arrow in its flank
that runs off and bleeds to death.

Oh! but the hatred, its glassy-eyed
insomniac stare; its attitude
which is both calm and a threat.

The deer goes to drink and in the waters
a tigers reflection appears.
The deer drinks the water and the image. It becomes
—before they devour him—(complicit, spellbound)
just like its enemy.

We only give life to what we hate.

Rosario Castellanos

(translation by John Lyons)