Mi padre, el inmigrante / Vicente Gerbasi

Vicente Gerbasi was born in the village of Canoabo in 1913. He published over a dozen collections of poetry, including Mi padre, el inmigrante (1945), Antología poética (1980), and Los oriúndos del paraíso (1994). Born of Italian immigrant parents, Gerbasi spent a substantial part of his adolescence studying in Italy. He worked as a diplomat in various countries, including Haiti, Israel, Poland, Denmark, and Norway. In 1969, Gerbasi won the Premio Nacional de Literatura, Venezuela’s highest literary honor. Regarding Gerbasi’s poetry, the literary critic Hernan Carrera has written: “His poetry pushes the country toward a later engagement with modernity: that territory where homelessness makes all of us immigrants.” He died in Caracas in 1992.

Included below are my translations of the first four cantos of Gerbasi's most famous book. Gerbasi was good friends with Juan Sánchez Peláez, and you can find references to each other in their work. They were both responsible for introducing surrealist techniques into Venezuelan poetry in the 1940s and 50s. During the 1930s and 40s, Gerbasi was associated with the Caracas-based literary group Viernes (named so because they met on Fridays). Gerbasi is another poet we could designate as "Wordsworthian" (like Paz Castillo), primarily because Nature plays such a central role in his poetics. Even in Caracas, Valencia, Barquisimeto (or any other city in Venezuela) one is always aware of Nature's vastness. Once the sun goes down, crickets and frogs begin their night-long mantras, so that anywhere in the city you can hear their songs. On the other hand, Nature can destroy on such a massive scale (such as during the horrific mud-slides in 1999 that killed thousands) that it would be ludicrous to ignore her.

Decades after he left his village, Gerbasi always returned to those initial years of his life in his poetry. The "magic" and lessons encountered in the jungles and mountains of his childhood served as his introduction to poetry as a phenomenon that one inhabits, beyond the page & the pen. Gerbasi is always able to balance this pastoral tendency with an ability to hallucinate vividly and strangely in his poems. His Venezuelan Spanish is as much a part of the poem as metaphors or narrative might be.


My Father, the Immigrant

We come from night and toward night we move.
The earth stays behind wrapped in her vapors,
where the almond tree, the child and the leopard live.
The days stay behind with lakes, reindeer, snow,
with austere volcanoes, with charmed jungles
where fear’s blue shadows hover.
The tombs stay behind at the foot of the cypress,
alone in the sadness of distant stars.
The glories stay behind like pyres that muffle
secular gusts of wind.
The doors stay behind complaining in the wind.
Anguish stays behind with its celestial mirrors.
Time stays behind like tragedy in man:
life-creator, death-creator.
Time who lifts and wastes the columns
and murmurs in ocean’s millenary waves.
The light stays behind washing mountains,
the children’s parks and the white altars.
But also night with its pained cities,
the daily night, what is not yet night,
but instead, brief pause trembling in fireflies
or passing through spirits with agonized fists.
The night that descends again toward light,
waking flowers in taciturn valleys,
refreshing the water coils in the mountains,
launching horses toward blue cliffs,
while eternity, within gold lights,
moves quietly through astral plains.

We come from night and toward night we move.
The steps in dust, the blood’s flame,
the forehead’s sweat, the hand on shoulder,
the wail within memory,
everything is shut down by rings of shadow.
Time lifts us with ancient cymbals.
With cymbals, with wine, with laurel branches.
Plus, twilight agreements drop into spirit.
Grief digs with wolf claws.
Listen inwards to the infinite echoes,
the enigma’s horns in your distances.
Within rusted iron, there are glimmers into which the spirit
falls desperately,
and stones that have passed through man’s hand,
and lonely sands,
and watery lamentations in river beds at dusk.
Yelling into the abyss, reclaim
that inner gaze moving toward death!
Heliotrope reflections, passionate hands
and dream lightning all repose among the hours.
Come to the deserts and listen to your voice!
Come to the deserts and scream to the skies!
The heart is calm solitude.
Only love rests between two hands
and descends with a dark murmur in the seed,
like a black torrent, like a blue pollen,
with the tremor of fireflies hovering in a mirror,
or the scream of beasts that break their veins
in avid nights of insomniac solitude.
While the seed brings visible and invisible death.
Summon, summon, summon your lost face
on the shores of that great specter!

Ecstatic lightning between two evenings,
fish swimming through nighttime clouds,
glitter’s pulse, jailed memory,
trembling coin over dark nothingness,
vision facing the shadow: that’s us.
The day passes taciturn through the stagnant water
doubling through rushes toward the forgetting vessels.
The spirit trembles in the violets quietly.
Are we not a secret hidden by the hours?
Look how vision is a glimmer of azahares,
in the evening’s architecture,
as the self hides
in the subtle sigh of fronds.
Something ever closes around our forehead.
The stones’ cold courses in our blood.
A murmur of dice descends through valleys.
And always man alone, under the sun and thunders,
chased by voices and whips and teeth.
Always man alone, with his vision, his,
with his memories, his, and his hands, his.
Man questioning his quiet shadows.
Listen: I’m calling you from my solitudes,
from the palm tree districts
opened to the luminous sky signals.
The wind tangles with you in sidereal fogs,
and stops you at the foot of the black birch trees.
Ancient deer from the moon
go running through memory arcades,
and heart flames fall into your silence.

What I feel in my blood like a sand clock,
next to some portrait, from the string and the salt;
what I listen to in my blood like a day’s rumor,
when a night butterfly
arrives to kiss our shadowed heart;
what I listen to in my blood like harp chords,
when everything turns off and everything is a yesterday,
with faces, with ashes and hands in the shadows;
what I listen to like a grain falling,
in the twilight of rooms,
where the autochthonous mirror of confidence
vainly destroys the masks of man:
what I listen to in my blood like sun flutes,
when my children dance around my existence
like a far hill of vintage;
when thought transforms my secrets
into ivied chasms,
and I recline my forehead on nocturnal wine;
when I feel my steps on earth,
and when I say: earth,
and I know that I’m here illuminating myself,
loving her and listening to her mandate, which is to exist,
within what secretly descends toward my death;
rumor that sustains and draws me
in my ancient portrait,
with the falcon on the shoulder,
in the penumbra of olive leaves:
mark of conscience,
enigma of old walls,
fallen from light in sadness,
hay in the afternoon, solitude clouds,
night fires in the form of skeletons,
vision toward the jaguar’s shadow.
We are not inhabitants of light.
There are fog tongues and burning signs
dancing around us.
Our vision falls on mourning rings,
in rushes of fear, in stars made from silver.
The lost forehead moves, like a cold flow
through the nightly scarecrow humidity.
When does my dark walking come out of you?
Abyss into which my eyes fall, stays behind.
Man belongs to the night who follows him,
dream that the sun defends,
a parenthetical uncertain wonder,
image that crumbles the fog.
My mother still contemplates your portrait
and a far glimmer begins in her white hair.
I am here on the earth, here on earth,
and in your death, dispersed within my senses.
And eyes persist, flashes of danger.
And the habit of moving by the sound,
by humidity, laughter, fog,
where light rays dance
like reminiscing of familiar deaths.
Everything advances in me and all falls, and all is rumors,
a nearing and love, and a suffering for what’s loved,
and to carry it all toward dream
and making the earth a dream.
And it’s what approaches burning, sounding like thunder
above a child,
from your hard life, your lonely death,
your death like wide fields
where night curves her slowness of stars,
with a rumor of helmets, of stones, of skeletons,
with guitars fallen next to the heart,
with a devil’s verse,
with the sulphur of the tyrant Aguirre
dancing in the hills
and distant ancient lightning
in a thicker horizon with flood shadows,
and the winds that sound over the deaf drum
of burning earth,
of the alligator’s water and the poison tooth.
My father, father of this hurricane. And of my poetry.

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