"That poet who stares at me." / Martha Kornblith
When considering her poems, one is unfortunately always distracted by her early death in 1997. Reading through Martha Kornblith's Oraciones para un dios ausente (Caracas: Monte Avila Editores, 1995) recently, I find myself thrilled to be listening to her prayers, complaints and invectives. When reading her poem "Ese poeta que me mira" we have to keep in mind the possible location for this text. In the outdoor hallways at the Escuela de Letras at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, in the tree-filled neighborhood of Los Chaguaramos. These outdoor hallways, along with the rest of the campus, the "Ciudad Universitaria," were designed by the architect Carlos Raul Villanueva in the 1950s, a late-modernist masterpiece. I think of Kornblith smoking a cigarette or drinking a coffee during a break from one of her night classes, observing this beautiful poet who "shakes off his blue jeans" after staring back at her. The following seven translations are excerpted from the opening sequence of untitled poems in her book, Oraciones. Although her eventual suicide haunts most of the poems in this collection, it should not overshadow her sharp, thrilling voice, which is so flexible, and which gives back to Caracas as much as it takes.
1. "Por eso dedicamos nuestros libros"
2. "Por eso me volvi poeta"
3. "Este recuerdo a lo ancho de lo eterno"
4. "Ese poeta que me mira"
5. "He visto a un poeta escribir"
6. "Nunca se acabara este insistente tono ladrillo"
7. "Me quedo mirando la palabra"
"Por eso dedicamos nuestros libros"
That's why we dedicate our books
to the dead.
because we carry the hopeless conviction
that they listen to us.
We, who are accomplices to
less innocent careers,
believe that we will be gods
in other worlds
because we think happiness
is the miracle's distance
when we dream of one word,
when we watch airplanes rising.
"Por eso me volvi poeta"
That's why I became a poet
because time passes slowly in solitude.
Isin't it merely a dangerous moment
that maintains our composure?
Doesn't madness depend
on our single, fragile chord?
Doesn't she lean on one term alone,
on the exact term,
or damns us?
"Este recuerdo a lo ancho de lo eterno"
This memory inside eternity's breadth,
that absent presence,
that memory that disrespects the body
(death leaves without saying goodbye).
This anguish of inability,
"Ese poeta que me mira"
That poet who stares at me.
he leaves class,
explains a verse,
shoos the flies away from the water fountain,
drinks a sip,
shakes off his blue jeans.
And he keeps doing this, always
the audience cheers,
and he searches his pockets,
sinking his forehead into the theater box
while I think:
and the blank page.
"He visto a un poeta escribir"
I've seen a poet write
about poetry's uselessness.
They become, at the end of their lives,
chaotic and teluric,
they reflect on the cosmos,
they denigrate the poem, for the right reasons,
while their hands shake
over the glass of whisky
and they return to the initial torment
that expands now into our dedications.
They sleep over their book covers
but they no longer conspire, like others in the salons.
Good and visionary
they never confess their disaster,
they are above the end of the world.
They weep because the word has become stupid
and they wonder if the wait has been legitimate.
"Nunca se acaba este insistente tono ladrillo"
Will this insistent brick tone never stop:
the tedious road that leads
to another artificial sandwich?
Maybe when the dull lights of
Orlando City turn on
and the tourists consume their final dollar.
There will never be an accident for the smile
that religiously wishes "Good day."
The same song will converge
throughout all corners of the road:
Baby, I'm burned by your fire,
while the sun howls at each approaching gas station.
"Me quedo mirando la palabra"
I remain, staring at the word,
the ruins my first verse began,
only things speaking themselves forever and never,
there will be no more talent emerging from the fragments,
only the others' letters announce a disaster.