«DETRÁS DE LA NIEBLA» / “BEHIND THE FOG” : Contemporary Poetry About Venezuela

Fog is transitory. It can cover up a landscape but never erase it. There’s always something behind it: a room, a body we love... or flags, as in the poem by José Watanabe:

I was listening to the soft pummeling of the waves
on the sides of the small boats
that would leave at dawn to gather nets
crossing between the war ships stationed in the bay.
An abandoned dog at the bottom of a boat, as blind
as me, was whimpering.

Then I saw flags that someone, in the distance, waved
behind the fog.

I was stunned speechless. No footnote
on beauty could actually speak of those flags.

This selection of contemporary Venezuelan poets, present and absent, tries to expose what’s behind the fog (and smoke). These are voices that remain in the very reality of each poem, in its contexts and images. The flag of a country covers everyone: with no trace of patriotism, it’s a blanket that warms you, so ample it might dim the darkness.

At this opportunity, we’re accompanied by Rodolfo Moleiro, Yolanda Pantin, Rafael Cadenas, Víctor Valera Mora, Antonia Palacios, Alfredo Silva Estrada, Harry Almela, Franklin Hurtado, Jorge Gustavo Portella, Rubén Darío Carrero, María Clara Salas, Julio Miranda, Antonio González Lira, Igor Barreto and Juan Sánchez Peláez.

In all of them, we see the flag express itself, gesticulate. It stands out. There it is.

—Ediciones Letra Muerta, Caracas, April 2017

~Rodolfo Moleiro

This peak of the mountain
is for reducing the morning to planes.

We’ll bring down
two invincible balls,
one towards the plains,
the other one to the sea.

They’ll travel centuries of distance
leaving elongated fronds
of golden dust and foam.
At each of the bus stops
we’ll fix posts of air.

And at the level of this peak,
on a solid base of clouds,
we’ll lift up a country
with stones and sheets of dawn
for the birds and for us.

~Yolanda Pantin

The shores
of these rivers.

Same as the flow
of the human swarm
deluging the country
that birthed us.

“Come back tomorrow.”

But outside,
between the buses,
and cars vomiting,

a river passes.

It’s the affluence
of the hour.

And the sun.

And grief.

And the child juggler.

~Rafael Cadenas

I live
to whom do I owe this honor?

My soul falters. Dante is with me
through the Soviet night.

I wander amidst the ruins
of the Hélade.

I can’t escape.
the poems, Nadezda. Hurry.

How could you, César,
our vivacity?

I have abandoned all hope
at the entrance to the camp.

The only one who speaks Russian
couldn’t forget.
A god forgives,
a semi-god doesn’t.

The screams
are lost in the vastness of my country.

~Víctor Valera Mora

Marvelous country in motion
where everything advances and reverses,
where yesterday is an impulse or a farewell.

And whoever doesn't know you
says you’re an impossible lawsuit.

You are mocked so often
yet your feet are joyful.

You will be free.

If the damned
do not arrive at your shores
you will go to them as other days.

I begin and I believe in you,
marvelous country in motion.

* (Translated by Anne Boyer & Guillermo Parra)

~Antonia Palacios

They’ll take all my belongings, all the offerings. The ones that arrived lifted in garlands and branches, ones that collapsed lavishing themselves, ones that remained in suspense, ones left behind for such long fatigues, ones of learned form, stable touch. They’ll arrive battling on top of things, on top of the old approximations, forgotten approximations, rolling ruins over land, the tangle barely begun, the pearl barely mounted. They will arrive fiercely, they will arrive with hatred, they will arrive with scorn proclaiming the void. They will strip me of everything: point, gesture, voice. They will suddenly appear amid circles, angles and rectangles, hard geometries of agonizing lines, infinite parallels without possible encounters, volumes of blood. They will strip me of everything, of the air, of the reflection, of the form. The hour will be concave, the sky will be concave, the earth will open its concave crater in the final offering.

~Alfredo Silva Estrada


The days have slowly been losing their fear

Sometimes, it’s true,
The splendor is disrupted by fog
—Meridians of chaos
Amid the pestilent smoke of any old city—

But shelter is still needed
In the vacant lot

And this beating of words

And eyes that ask
Meditated balances of a star

Not like the disheveled beggar in his rags
And even not knowing how the days lash us
When people sing without pain
The variations of light
Over the poverty of any old city

~Harry Almela

there is no key
that works

nor lock

what approaches
are times
of indigence

the just
are left

those who wished
to impose
their word

those who believed
they could order
our modesty

makes us immune

there are no
ash marks
on the doors

no broken flag
with a half moon
or star

~Franklin Hurtado

teach me how to run

when they loose the dogs
or you break the window
while batting stones

teach me how to eat
the pulp with the shell

I still haven’t
a shade

teach me how to fight

I’ll hide in the tank
so they can’t hear me
while you prepare
the row of fists

kill them all

don’t leave me alone
they’ll tear me apart
and the heat doesn’t help

courage is keeping
your face above water

~Jorge Gustavo Portella

Maybe a little like today, the blues in the sky are dying. The horses surround us expectantly, producing a thunder of clicks and clacks. Weapons. Shouts. Vanquish, victory, viva! No one remembers the dead after the battle.

Pain is a stone, a thousand stones carved with unknown faces that force us. It’s a barren town of wounded soldiers. There is a deaf demand in each sad neighborhood, a solution to the trash, the neglect. A need. Die Bolívar, die.

~Rubén Darío Carrero

I awoke afraid
with eyes closed.

I dreamed I was the day,
the walls the whole time behind the sofa,
the solitude of sugar in cold water,
the door stuck in the heat
and rice vapor at noon.

The day wasn’t what I was.
The windows were open,
the mirrors rose in the unlit elevator,
I was listening to them,
and the drops fell from the clothes
still wet
in the reflection of the hands and clouds in the water.

The sun was a cemetery of buildings.

I was speaking asleep from the dream
and the school on the corner
was also speaking
and I learned how to cross the street,
become multitude
that breaks the locks
and the eye of the door,
the windows, the table.

The television
lit with images, events
and the newscaster’s voice
in the head’s
street vendors
or in the national anthem
after the movie,
naked women
and the statue in front of the children
the next day
the horse,
white and male.

The school was a hospital without bandages or stretchers.

It’s three in the morning
and it wasn’t the body
in the morgue

The crowd
waving flags
while everyone dies.
because they woke up early,
went to school,
were born,

You cross the street
with your eyes
without any eyelids
with your enamored hand.

~María Clara Salas

Observe the city
the daring of its roofs
built randomly
tending to slide
into mud
and death

the children raise their kites
with no hesitation
running up and down
of stairs

From above
the city contemplates us
from above
our fate is decided

~Julio Miranda

we wake for one more morning
we’re the survivors
the city has been good to us
one more night

but what a night: the man was screaming
drunk or terrified and maybe both
—now we’ll never know—
they wanna kill me, those guys
they wanna kill me, call the police
they wan (while: shut up, man, the others
were saying, with chilling softness)
and two thousand, three thousand neighbors squatting
we were in the tall buildings listening
in silence
(a single enormous contained breathing)
(an enormous trembling army)

everyone wanting the man to shut up
someone kill him or not, but shut him up
they should liquidate him somewhere else far away
or maybe it’s been a sinister joke
but he should shut up or someone should shut him up now

and he shut up
and this morning in the elevators no one looked at anyone
and on the sidewalk there were no corpses or blood stains
and the newspapers ignore the matter
and so do we

~Antonio González Lira

They know everything comes true,
that’s why the cross themselves
even when they’re done
at the end of the day

they know
what’s spread in the sereno
is no feat to be drowned
in the remnants of the night

that blind,
from the bell tower
sprouts the owl
with a lament of auguries
to invite terror

disrespect the tranquility
gathered in the dark mouth
of the muted chandelier

that carries in its lugubrious wings
a town that at this hour
doesn’t know

there’s nowhere to stay

~Igor Barreto

By changing the place of the symbols
the destruction of the country began.
The image
went completely black.
People are still scared
and shyness is so close to ire.
How do we make what happened
intentionally disappear?
another man will come
with great power over fate.
We should recover
a greater sense.
We still have pieces of the house:
a door exists
and what’s missing
will return.

~Juan Sánchez Peláez

Untraveled sky, rugged earth, infused, dilatory voice,
Taciturn town livening its flame between my eyebrows,
mother of sanguine night,

In the unmovable
Over doubts and certainties,
I cross the line of my development.

Of going out and crossing the city
The perplexity of things in vigil

To dominate excess, to virginal impulse in the dust of
Of going out and crossing the city
To climb and descend the wall
Follow the human tinge
By bare effort
For dual unity
The pupil profits under nameless mystery.

In dissertating sea shanties to evade without suspicious
accord and arch
All the way to cold sound.

«Detrás de la niebla» is a selection of Venezuelan poetry from the team of Ediciones «Letra Muerta». The selected poems belong to the collections and anthologies of each author. The transcription and revision of the texts was under the care of Néstor Mendoza and Graciela Yáñez Vicentini. The header was designed by Samoel González Montaño, based on an archive photograph of the Guaire river.

{ Ediciones Letra Muerta, 24 April 2017 }

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