Elena y los elementos / Juan Sanchez Pelaez

What follows is my version of Sanchez Pelaez's title poem from his first collection, published in Caracas in 1951. In 2001, Venezuela's state-funded editorial house Monte Avila Editores re-released the title with a brief introduction and minor edits by the author. That same year, he was awarded the title Doctor Honoris Causa (along with the poets Rafael Cadenas and Ramon Palomares) by the Universidad de los Andes, Merida.

I first came across Sanchez Pelaez's poetry by "chance" at a book fair in Providence, RI in 1997. Reading through that book (Aire sobre el aire) revealed to me new possibilities for what a poem could be and how it could sound. Although his first two books are characterized by a torrential flow of disjointed and hallucinatory imagery and sounds (often accomplished through the technique of automatic writing), Sanchez Pelaez's recent poetry has tended toward a cultivation of silences. Aire sobre el aire, for example, is a collection of 14 short poems within twenty pages.

In the spring of 2001 El Universal's literary supplement, Verbigracia (edited by the poet Patricia Guzman), published four new poems by Sanchez Pelaez. I'll post translations of these (as well as sections from Aire sobre el aire) later on. I should emphasize that my translations of his poems are versions, since I've found it impossible to live up to the subtleties of his Venezuelan Spanish.


Elena and the Elements


Alone at the bottom of the tumult. To her, who jeers my flesh, who
keeps my bones awake, who whimpers in my shadow.

To her, my strength and my form, before the landscape.

You who don't know me, grant me oblivion.
You who resist,
a scream's brightness, legs in ecstasy, I destroy you,
friendly blood, my enemy, cruel lascivious.

Our unfaithful animal voices crawling a
sumptuous room without doors or keys.

When a nautical breeze of bees tears me apart, I lose
your oil paintings, your magnets, a vine of estuaries in the garden.

Hunger, battles are my first communion.
Does my forehead roll into an arc,
do my eyes jump over the pacific snow?
Do melodious bells flower in an abyss of fear?

Later, without design, the dew blends into the world its
wide nostalgia of humid falcons.


Dragged under anvils without noise or caresses
Another time another instant
Separate me from my body's planks, the spoils
The spoils of my soul
Toward a nest of fear, chaos growing there.

Then a revolver interrupted itself
Shot into the air three times
By the love drunkards.

My close friend died three years ago
From three bullets sent into the air.

She was scandalously dressed attending a masked ball
She was playing a game of poker at the fatal moment.

I remember my close friend.
I am certain I knew her three hundred years ago.
And forget her just now.

Another time, another instant
The halo of the specters inundates me.


While uprooting me into nothingness
My mother saw what? I don't remember.
I was arriving from the cold, from the incommunicable.

One morning I discovered my sex, my broken flames,
my bursts of impossible spring.

At the tree's shadow
from my wide nostalgia they'll begin to devour me,
they'll begin.

May you know, oceanic Ondina from the sea and ephemerous algae
of the earth.
A tall man went to the cemetery
He frightened a dog that was barking
His force shirt strangled him
He fell strangled.

And I have revealed their destinies to all my friends
Those I know without greeting, those I greet
without knowing.

I gave death to the strangled
Despite his signs of indelible fatigue.

I bordered five years of life
Did a locust bear me in the summer?

It was a damned day.
My mother didn't manage to recognize me.


Still perfection, the sheared bells.
Still who conquers you, Oh you, perturbed Guest, Your mask
tears, Your finger is a light nightingale.
Trills an occult flame. Your body overcomes,
your modesty, your vigil.
Great hermetic ancestors of mine lift my
carnivorous lobster heart.

Lift me into clarity. I am an
abject simian needing forgiveness.
A buffalo descending
in the leprous garden
on the lit back of the rainbow.

Lift me into clarity.

The night is a lost island
in the coiling vortex of your

Clenched sky of dawn, Displaced
raccoons, high peaks;
My earth, and the dew of kites and the flaming
foliage of the sidereal doves;
Extensive benevolent
and you, open rose, fallen
against the black splendor of my desires.


I was travelling through the black hills of an
unknown country
Herein the spectacle:
I was lucid in defeat: My ancestors were handing me
combat weapons.
I fled through the universe because of a great injustice
You who escort me toward a distant eternity
Oh prayer at dawn, mourning summits, doors that
border fog tajamares.
Save my injured masses, verify a graceful act
on my slopes.
But what do I see, spread in a wilderness of dry
branches? A glacier slides languidly
in the fields
The marble says goodbye to man because this one
is an irreverent statue.


Brandishing a glass dagger between foreheads
The soldiers walk by, the blacksmiths, the colored races, the
melancholy women
Through the gray canals of the rainbow, silenced into the cliffs
of foam
To the celestial adventure of the cinematographers, the small
monuments of the stellar birds.

A dream makes them different from reality
An unknown bat made them visible to life.

And afterwards, do you remember?
I remember
Your mother conquered by your father.
And afterwards, do you remember?
I remember
All the mothers of the world conquered by all the
fathers of the world.
And afterwards, do you remember?
I remember
All the mothers of the world divorced from all the
fathers of the world.

And the first day they gave you little pats on your shoulder
And the second day they gave you little pats on your stomach
And the third day they gave you little pats on your forehead
And the fourth day you did not have a shoulder
And the fifth day you did not have a stomach
And the sixth day you did not have a forehead
But instead invalid enigmas,
enigmas flowering skin.

You followed my route: The deluge of my kisses
at the edge of the milky way
The choleric wing of my blood
A band of red insects gnawing the fog.

You were telling me: "On top of the sky there is an
intersection of primal forests
On top of the snow lies the taciturn corpse of my tongue
And the world's magic in the arms of love?"

Warlike ships of my vegetable feet
With a submerged bell the wine's star
Strange names, glacial
rivers, impalpable watersheds
shirt horses with two fingers forward
May a woman unclothe her soul
Her body and her soul
At the edge of the pulsing stars

May she build with hammering blows of oblivion
A fantastic garden with inebriated salamanders.

Nothing is yours, nothing can quench your terrestrial thirst
Nothing is mine, except death's perforation, except indispensable
pieces for negligence, forgotten organic
strengths may sing their illuminated redemption.

Bread of the moon's milk, dark tremor of the cereals
Cloud precipices that drowned my sleeping face
among the waters

Declare me empty in my rest, in my insanity
Declare me guilty.
The perfumed finger of the air
Signals the demented ears of love.

You wrinkle your brow, you are honorable
you listen to music in the gunpowder canons of the

When a silent ship cut in two
the cruel landscape of my lips
When my viscera extinguish themselves
they'll find a lost scream.
The perfumed feathers of a taciturn gavilan.
A hostile world.
A disappeared world.
Blue trunks that floated at the mercy of the mud and the
An insect on the bourgeoisie's table
Palindrome animals that drag somber catafalques
Invalid enigmas
Enigmas flowering skin
Memories of sterile stars
Black tunnels of distracted word
Domesticated dogs
Dogs of luxury, melancholic and mellifluous
Deaf survivors and defunct melodies sighing
an air of warm wash
While my earthly breasts ignore
Your nacre dress
Where the keys
Of Extermination
Do not appear.


How many times drowned by your magic bracelets,
The senile palm trees in the rain untie me?
I stretch over the gray fountain of a sob.
Waters within dreams have another ampler ambiance.

How many times is my faithfulness prisoner to your

Toward where goes her woman scream, Oh Night, to
lift in me this dripping nest of my thirst, My
primitive desire?
If her body is young and calm,
She flows to my eyelids, with the bound of a
a jaguar.
But She knows me.
And pummels my arms with her blood;
The invisible trumpet of her light: Launched in my zenith.

You who escape toward a sunlit day,
This tree is not a tree.
This wall is not a wall.

At that point I dropped in my mouth, The
ductile petals of your breasts.
That was everything.
Like a torch that burned and burned beneath the

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