Ante “la diosa ambarina” / Antonio Puente

Facing “the Amber Goddess”

“I already knew that coming to Europe this time of year wouldn’t guarantee anything,” he said to break the ice, glancing at the untimely whirlwind outside the large window of his humble room in Madrid. “Well, like any other time of year and any other place,” he concluded, with his proverbial causticity, the fist at the mouth of great shy people and, as in a cubist frame, on his lean Indian face, his piercing and astonished obsidian eyes. Emilio Adolfo Westphalen –whose death occurred a decade ago on August 17th, and his birth a hundred years ago in July– at the time was already more than an octogenarian; but only the publication, a few years ago, of his brief collected poems, Bajo las zarpas de la quimera (Alianza, 1991) –a clinical title, like the eye of his poetics, since it speaks simultaneously of finding oneself under the claws of the chimera and of how depressed one emerges from it– would make him emerge from his condition of enormous secret poet.

After his resplendent books of youth, Las ínsulas extrañas (1933) and Abolición de la muerte (1935), surreal and magmatic, he kept silence for more than forty years, to come back with a laconic and hermetic poetry by which to register the subsidiary character –no more than an “astonished somnambulist” subjected to the whims of the “the amber goddess”– granted by the poet’s task. A succession of epitaphs, ludic and incredulous, chiseled by a senile boy, he composes his books of old age –above all Belleza de una espada clavada en la lengua (1980) and Ha vuelto la Diosa Ambarina (1988)–; at times, as expressive as the mortal simile of this sudden railroad stop: “The train has stopped in the opaque and echoless silence of the anonymous night. It is the arrival at the terminus –there will be no resumption of agitation, noise or anxiety.” And, on occasion, with a point of redemption regarding his complete skepticism and condolence regarding human relations: “Irreconcilably linked / At the edge of desperation / Exchanging business cards.”

Why the great analogical blackout in the intermittence of his poetry? “I would say it left in a fortuitous manner because of perhaps necessary circumstances, and it reappeared afterward in a necessary manner because of fortuitous circumstances,” he answered my question, incorrigible, while, outside, the rain has remitted from the overflow that he himself tended to use in the poetry of his youth, and acquired the sober preventative rhythm he gives it in his old age; thus, in “Error de cálculo”: “The sea has slipped in the poem as in its cave or natural shelter without taking into account the difference of proportions. When the seams give in under the weight, where will all the accumulated bluegreen end up draining?” A retaining wall and, along the way, an affectionate and melancholic palinode regarding the delusions of grandeur of the youthful poet, are promoted by his later poetry. Tightens the saddlebags of he who cannot be anything more than a humble carrier of a “pocket apocalypse”; whose task does not go beyond “underlining emptiness.” This is why he abhored (at that point he did speak at length, when it stopped raining and the summer sun filtered through his bathrobe) the “kettle drums of rhetoric,” and sustained that “erudition is the poet’s main enemy.”

Facing poetry’s exclusive domain, the poet prays: “I am not –I will never be anything but an astonished somnambulist facing the dreadful Beauty of the Amber Goddess.
Nothing exists –nothing can exist beyond the Amber Goddess and her Beauty of a dazzling and lethal Medusa.” What’s more, the poem always comes up short when it faces that omnipotence of poetry: “What might the poem be if not a castle demolished before it is erected / Innocuous work of the diligent scribe or poetaster?”

In the beauty of the Amber Goddess (supreme face of Fate) the nimbus of death and the judgment of the woman-child coincide. The old poet from Lima confesses: “Sudden and irresistible desire to bite juicy coralline damp lips –to deliberately sink (but strongly –but implacably) my teeth in a half opened mouth (...) Hallucinating rite –but an instant more lived than any image plucked from oblivion.” And he soon notices that amber has appeared with the spontaneity of a gang of adolescents “with nubile bodies and minuscule breasts,” who, by merely jumping rope, take him to the agonized awareness: “Why would it always be tender girls who would mark him with the terrible iron of amorous anguish and dissatisfaction?” In compensation, Westphalen sends into the wind the most camouflaged and imperishable epitaph one might imagine: “To aspire to become those fallen leaves that burn in the pupils of certain mulatto girls.”

Antonio Puente (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1961) is a writer, journalist and literary critic. His latest publications are the poetry collections Agua por señas and Sofá de arena (Ediciones Idea).

{ Antonio Puente, Babelia, El País, 27 August 2011 }

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