Aire sobre el aire / Juan Sanchez Pelaez
Having found this text unexpectedly in Providence a few years ago, spending the last of my dollars for that week on this discovery, and feeling as though I had stumbled on a language that I could not understand, but which spoke my name, Aire sobre el aire is the work of a master poet at the height of his powers. The 13 sections of the title poem are preceded by the poem "Los viejos" ("The Elders") which at one point passes through a hotel in Liverpool on the way elsewhere. Octavio Paz published an early version of "Los viejos" in his magazine Vuelta (which I believe can be seen at Letras Libres, somewhere in their digital archives). I feel foolish for even attempting to translate this poem, but hopefully some portion of its beauty will survive the brusque move into English. I have yet to finish sections VII through XIII. Maybe a few years from now. One lives hoping for new poems by Sanchez Pelaez to emerge, particularly now that Venezuela is undergoing such a huge political and cultural crisis. Not to attribute non-existent powers to any poet, but rather to acknowledge the ability of certain writers (very few) to speak beyond normal frequencies.
Air Over Air
A round horse comes into my
house after wandering for so long
in the fields
a brown and drunken horse with
many spots in the shade
and with such a voice, my God.
I told him: you will not lick my hand,
wandering star of the specters.
And that was enough. I didn’t see him again. He
left. Because the horse
cannot be told about
the specters, not even for brief
intervals of vertiginous lightning.
With a stone I’m going to close
your mysteries and hummingbirds and place them in the same
I’m going to close them with a stone
because they’re here tonight and make
because they also sleep beside
my afternoons and dusk
because they too dreamed and acted in the name of
all of us
the years that gather and coil, and the days
are here tonight, and they make noise and never
César Moro, beautiful and humbled,
playing a harp in the outskirts of Lima
said to me: come into my house, poet.
Ask always for air, clear sky,
because one must die some day, it is understood.
One must be born, and you are already dead.
The floor will always remain, wide and quiet,
although dying from the same family is birth.
Tomorrow will portion what raw taste, dense
looks in already, without plotting distance
how thunder sounds and dreams
samples the earth of our abyss
what is there due north, due south
that dark or better luminous
or maybe our blessing
hard, light on our shoulders
sustain and carry us today?
Stay calm if I take a step toward the
garden and the desert
and may our life and death be calm
the tremors of the fresh, enormous breeze calling
should I answer?
will you let me?
traveling far, our bread tree is the spirit
those tremulous tremors that lull
silence and silence
—I trust them.
Maybe Ezra Pound has a workshop in the beyond
or smiles frequently at the immense tenderness
of Gerard de Nerval. The universal American might
say while looking at clouds: “These hairy dogs
belong to us.” But then, the angels will see
his almond maritime heart. And they’ll find
the darkest, below, as if poured from earth,
exploding in air, a thin splendrous fan.
Ezra Pound’s mouth will taste that fruit again
(sweet fig), that chunk bitten with women
he loved; and he will open sacks full of herbs, oatmeal,
plentiful oatmeal, plentiful herbs with infinite mornings
keep us nourished and awake, all of us.
Aire sobre el aire (1989)