Page 1


Poems and Translations by Phil Neff

Maxim贸n, San Andr茅s Xecul, Iximulew


Dedicated to “El Mono� Victor Leiva, Guatemalan artist & youth activist killed February 2, 2011. The system Eduardo Galeano (Uruguay) The machine persecutes youth: locks them up, tortures them, kills them. They are the living proof of its impotence. It throws them out: it sells them, human flesh, to foreigners. The sterile machine hates everything that grows and moves. It is only able to multiply jails and cemeteries. It produces nothing but prisoners and cadavers, spies and police, beggars and exiles. To be young is a crime. Reality commits it every day at the hour of dawn; and also history, which is born anew each day. This is why reality and history are prohibited.




Interment (For those who have not lived to see justice) The General's sickroom is a cell— through drapes a glimpse of bloody bougainvillea, an elegant spiral of razor wire. Withering fingers grip the stock of a rifle, shove home a bayonet to its depths, grasping at satin sheets. The voice that severed the raw will of conscripts, exhorting conquest of coward morality, is silenced in fevered gasps. Somatic provinces in open revolt, its body becomes shadow of the blood-slicked torture chamber. His will be an honorable death, unstained by official infamy. Military-school comrades will send their condolences, bouquets stinking with hollow awareness of their creeping fates. The General will be congratulated in state by high society, by the economists, for a life spent crushing the dreams of peoples whose dreams mean nothing to their world, except as things to be crushed, and feared.


The General yet sleeps fitfully, suffocating on a goose-down pillow. Silent men and women come to his bedside, dressed brightly, as for a carnival procession. The celebrants carry heavy sacks anchored to their foreheads, small wooden boxes balanced like crowns. The lids are lifted with an echo of laughter disinterred. A sudden cry— the notes of laughter crystallize their air, falling in a rain of shattered bones. With a sighing of machetes the sacks are slit open— in the dream of the celebrants the General drowns in a torrent of ashes.


Blasphemies for San Simón Pilgrims, we enter your sanctum through a courtyard of hungry kittens, unstable helices of flies, hermetic diagrams on the walls glimpsed in passing. Within you reign imperious over the ghosts of a thousand melted prayers. Your priest stirs the charring blood-resin smoke of a caramelizing axis mundi in celestial dyed sugar, compass rose symmetry of hen’s eggs, murmurs a litany to your holiest of places and incarnations— “San Simón de San Andrés Xecúl... San Simón de Zunil... San Simón de Santiago Atitlán... San Simón de San Andrés Itzapa... San Simón de Nahualá... San Simón de San Jorge La Laguna... “Volcan Tajamulco... Volcan Santa María... Volcan Santiaguito... Volcan Pacaya... Volcan Chicabal... Volcanes de Agua y de Fuego...”


Maximón, you beautiful bastard! Maximón, vindictive and beneficent in your blessings and curses! I imagine you sitting by some crossroad not far from Hell, in resplendent motley, mustachios and stunna-shades glinting, sharing a joint and a flask of firewater with your old friend Papa Legba, telling dirty jokes, whistling ancient lecher, you accost our passing souls, laughing, “Pinches gringos turistas hijos de la gran puta...” while Saint Judas hangs out nearby in his olive tree, watching with mournful X's in his eyes... San Simón de San Andrés Xecúl… Volcán Chicabal… Infinite Iximulew, I offer you nothing but these dozen white candles, and this black flower makes thirteen. *

San Simon aka Maximón is a Guatemalan folk saint of mysterious and ancient origin... Papa Legba is a Vodou deity that shares some interesting similarities with San Simon.


Q.E.P.D. Only a scent of sulfur at the scene of the assassination— no carnations spilled along the roadside in floral epitaph, where the congressman, party of “mano dura,” manager of the Fuentes Georginas hot-springs resort, was machine-gunned by unknown assailants a few days past. Routine political violence. The dead man's brother keeps vigil, guarding the gate to the spring— paramilitary mourning-garb, rostro preocupado. Tourists pass by the truckload, witnesses to no miraculous discoloration of the bitter volcanic waters— obscure vapor rises ceaselessly through primeval foliage.


Ixcán haiku Sunset-colored soil beneath my feet, horizon a soil-stained sunset. Ravenous jungle, devouring in being devoured— a spray of orchids. Glittering spiders' eyes under the headlamp at night— brighter than dewdrops. Fireflies flying amidst the swarming of stars. Water, a mirror.


Carnivore A glimpse of carnage through the door of the butcher's shop— purple private interiority, yellow glistening huddle of chickens, pungent being pendulous on the meat hook, fly-ridden ethereality of flesh.


The clouds in Guatemala In Guatemala the clouds slide down the skirts of the volcanoes into the caldera lake, rustling and roaring with the rain approaching— We swam this morning off the rocks, you floated away around an outcrop and I was alone with the warm waves and my body, sensual and small beneath clear sky— Now the hammock is an empty orbital arc on the balcony, a cool breeze slips through the window and the mountains go hazy across the lake— Pumice flows in the gutters as if fallen with the rain— Moisture seeps through the dust, quenching bones in the hurricane mud— Gold teeth sown by the hand full in the clandestine hills are germinating in the rich soil— In fields of maize shivering under the highland mists new ears come up red as sunrise—


Casa de dios, puerta del cielo Volcán Santamaría At the peak a small fire was already burning, smoky and heatless; rough tents and people gathered under the shrouded morning sun. Lightheaded, sweaty and shivering in a hidden world of cloudy currents, I waited for the vista to reveal itself. A cry cut the fog— I took it for a child's, pobrecita, tired, cold and hungry— But there was something heavier in that cry than a child’s whine— the straining voice of a woman cloistered in a brushy thicket on the slope weeping prayers so close to the sky, and amidst graffiti-stained, devotional boulders inscribed with Maya glyphs and Cristo viene I saw a man kneeling, facing the veil of clouds, another man standing at his side with one hand on the kneeling man's head, the other stretched out to the gauzy sun.


Lying on pumice-dusted grass I listened— ¡Soy un pobre pecador, señor! the circle of worshipers raising dissonant voices— ¡Tengo nada para pagar mi deuda a usted, señor, sólo mis palabras! mingling moans in the house of god, at the door of heaven— ¡Todo es posible en la sangre de Jesús! off-key hymns swept away by the wind— my rarefied faith a swirling vapor in the impoverished atmosphere, pale shadows parting, towns glinting in the patchwork valleys like flashes of light on frozen waves, a crooked spine of volcanoes, ancient steeples, expansive lowlands joining the horizon, perhaps the sea.




And you were snuffed out

Humberto Ak'abal (Guatemala) Like a tiny candle-flame after a night's vigil, your eyes were losing light. There was nothing more to see. The bells let fly their doves of pain. And you were snuffed out.



テ[bar Past (Mテゥxico) I hadn't been born. The voice that spoke from a box had its music and its woman. She looked after the stones and sang in the root of the sky. She wanted to lull us to sleep. And so the men came to kill people. Well. Never mind! We won't speak any more now. Only, please, don't kill the musician. Haven't they seen that man is born of music? Don't let them kill him. But was ended. That devil woman, yes, she who was taken by the devil, she fucked us all! But where did he go? He disappeared in the full light of day. Elegant, black, that's how it was:


The creator of the world came to defend the music, but he died. They stabbed the woman, dragged her by the hair and she died cut to pieces by their machetes. She spoke up and that's why they wanted rid of her. I didn't hear anything. They said that she was the Temptress. Three stones fell on the wind, scored by the cries of a people hexed. The thunder startles me. Earthquakes and storms enter me. I open and let forth hailstones, swallows, urines, prayers. I call on the most hidden and the stones speak to me. We rose up against the boss. We put up our market. It's the soldiers who write history. Those of us who don't know how to read tell it differently.


from XXII

Felipe Mรกrquez (Venezuela) A horse mounts my infancy guided by the compass of aimless dreams Agony, the fluent doubt of the tightrope-walker astonished upon the tense threads, parallel like words of chess Every poem is a cemetery of living words sustained by the game of reason Corpses toll like bells Pedigree of lime and bone The spider weaves its destiny Trapped Pursuing the trace of an unforgettable caravan Today I contemplate adversity Encrypted wintry footfalls Arms crossed under a full moon Stitched smiles Scraps of memory


Pride in defeat pushing away the hours disturbed To demonstrate is to admit tender defeat My path through life implies actions and retreats Five senses are not enough to take in the world Anchored before the dock I enjoy the movement of a boat In vain I try to impose my way of inhabiting the instant Slow footfalls of forgetting Deep breathing of the religious mantis Yearning for voices and mirrors of memory Unhurried, covered in clouds Once in a while disturbed by thunder of a distant storm I am sleepy for no reason beyond the dead If they ask me for an explanation I yawn and smile


We will open our lungs to an air without poison Jorge Hernández Pieldivina (México)

Facing any border, Facing any comedy or pantomime beauty and lucid eyes. The men of the lie change like the days. Facing this, the knife-brushstrokes kneaded with living flesh; thus the wound on naked skin until a New Age is born flashing between two or more clouds, to sing it from our throats: No more clots, let the blood flow! Only our dreams galloping like a storm. The Sun falls out of its orbit fucking your eyes. Crime is momentary on the threshold of time and in the folds of spring the resinous lineage of life keeps its secrets. Immense coincidences, avarice of split fruits, ransom from eternal unrest—swarming of blood—light that unites us and love followed by bewitching suns biting the path it leaves. I take up the angels' cry in the pulsing of your heart. To start the day I give you my song, my builder's hips, the howl of my iron-clad truths. Life life life—Says who?


The riots

Roberto Bolaño and Bruno Montané (Chile) When the riots come the old Chilean poets will come out to the street to see what's going on When the riots come anguish will rent a room in a hard-luck hotel and will lie there until it commits suicide When the riots come the old Chilean bricklayers will grow wings and be able to play at falling from buildings and the birds will walk the streets tired of only building nests When the riots come the old Chilean singers will intone boleros in the lost dives of the desert and they will be phosphorescent as the bird which chased the miners When the riots come the old Chilean lawyers will be able to spend all day at the movies—the silvered desert of seats where commandos light fires to heat food —those men will talk about anything When the riots come the old Chilean mutineers will cry of nostalgia and sorrow for no longer being alive and the toilets will explode and the plumbing on the black horizon will be a pure knot soaked with shit When the riots come the ancient Andean range will collapse so that the Argentinians can come to Chile on foot, and the power-brokers will have to go to Switzerland to ski if they still feel like skiing When the riots arrive at the old Patrona of Chile they will attend a brothel, taking advantage of the circumstances


When the riots come the old Chilean military-men will dance a cuenca along the sea and all the whales will come up to see such a marvel and they will open their whale jaws so that there will be thousands of Jonases all over the world When the riots come the old, the oldest Chilean lovers will say goodbye goodbye for ever And the eyes of the young will be polychromatic like a time machine, they will be moist and beautiful like leaves torn by the wind When the riots come


Every pore a cascade: Sofsofsof Mario Santiago Papasquiaro (México) For Norma Sverdlin, en memoriam Oasis softly opens Desert's fly the famous “age of reason” liquefies them every pore a cascade/vines of skin sprout in clusters The right flanks/the backtracking steps of the clock have stopped painting mottled on hips born for the Sun on the ankle-bracelets of their beaches Dunes hard to shatter asphalted with glue in place of blood aqueducts petrified with fear are no longer the crater-sensation the cloud-hemoglobin which gathers/gives to suck fingernails pull oxygen by its straps the robe-pulse which makes gleaming wings the impulse-carnival/the phosphorescent swelling of these bodies Staircases of eroticized light the hot fruit-petal of their lips


May voice of lightning without place may the feathered skirt of the manatee-mermaids owners of the only imagination-kiss not mutilated sing splash spill scatter here the electrified nerve-cobblestone of their plazas/their internal viaducts Oasis softly kisses Desert's PopocatĂŠpetl-lightning rod Eyes of water-eruption & poultice fig bloods/on the verge of birthing & suicide The nomad wind sweats the shirt sweeps the cunt/trapeze: balance: pirouette & with this juice the feet & heights of these deltas give warmth: refresh Oasis kisses Sofsofsof the fly fever that bur/bur/bur of her beloved desert The nomad wind takes/by the udders derailed streetcar of Desire Heading toward what ovary-sensation? Heading toward which unpierced mouth of Desolation? Sofsofsof Bur/bur/bur


Index The system, by Eduardo Galeano (Uruguay), from Días y noches de amor y guerra

Poems Photo: Cronos, Cementerio General, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala Interment (For those who have not lived to see justice) Blasphemies for San Simón Q.E.P.D. Ixcán haiku Carnivore The clouds in Guatemala Casa de dios, puerta del cielo

Translations Photo: 30,000 by Nicolás Guagnini (Argentina) And you were snuffed out, by Humberto Ak'abal, from Tejedor de Palabras Stones, by Ámbar Past, from Huracana from XXII, by Felipe Márquez We will open our lungs to an air without poison, by Jorge Hernández Pieldivina, from Diez poemas y once poetas Infrarealistas The riots, by Roberto Bolaño and Bruno Montané from Diez poemas y once poetas Infrarealistas Every pore a cascade: sofsofsof, by Mario Santiago Papasquiaro from Diez poemas y once poetas Infrarealistas


Lago Atitlรกn, Sololรก, Iximulew


Iximulew 5126 Cascadia 2011

Cascadia Solidaria - Poems and Translations  

Poetry inspired by life and struggle in Guatemala, with translations of Latin American poets.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you