Poetry

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from Century Of The Death Of The Rose:

The Selected Poems of Jorge Carrera Andrade, 1926-1976

translated from the Spanish by Steven Ford Brown

Biography

The window born of a desire for sky
has stationed itself in the black wall like an angel:
it’s friend to man,
a carrier of air.

It converses with puddles of the earth,
with childlike mirrors of houses,
and tiled roofs on strike.

From high up, windows,
with their diaphanous diatribes,
face the multitudes.

The main window
diffuses its light into the night.
It extracts the square root of a meteor,
totals columns of constellations.

The window is the gunwale of earth’s ship;
a surf of clouds peacefully surrounds it.
The Captain Spirit searches for the island of God 
and the eyes are washed clean by blue tempests.

The window divides among all people
a quart of light, a bucket of air.
The window, plowed by clouds,
is the small property of the sky.

1930

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April

A time when the heart wants to skip barefoot
and trees grow breasts like a young girl.
A time when we are seized by the desire
to write things down with a swallow’s feather.

These pools are no more than sips of clear water
rippled by a wing stroke or grass stem
and the glass air is a blue tide
where the slow craft of an insect navigates.

Water sandals splash happily.
Mosquitoes appear to sieve the silence
and sparrows collect in their beaks
the pearl of good weather.

1928

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Bad Weather Bulletin

The northern sky
raises a black banner
on the barricade of the horizon.

No more golden sun on park benches.
Down with spring’s monopoly of flowers!
Handbills mutiny
as thin bayonets of rain
line up their first squadrons.

Storm winds initiate a new order 
on the boulevards,  
forcing the bourgeoisie to run   
for the refuge of apéritifs
in reactionary corners.

Houses turn on
red cockades of coals
and good weather capitulates
in the ambulance of dead leaves.

1928

 

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Sunday

Fruit seller church
seated at the corner of life:
crystal orange windows,
the sugar cane organ.

Angels: little chicks
of Mother Mary.

The blue-eyed bell
wanders off on bare feet
throughout the countryside.

Sun clock:
angelic burro with its innocent sex;
wind, in Sunday best,
bringing news from the mountains.

Indian women with loads of vegetables
embracing foreheads.

The sky rolls up its eyes
when it sees the church bell
run barefoot from the church.

1929

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Ecuadorian Man under the Eiffel Tower

You turn into a plant on the coasts of time.
With a chalice of round sky
and open tunnel for traffic,
you are the largest ceiba tree on earth.

The painter’s eye climbs up
through your scissor-stairs to blue.
Over a flock of roofs you stretch your neck
like a llama of Peru.

Robed in folds of wind,
with an ornamental comb of constellations,
you loom over
the circus of the horizon.

Mast of an adventure upon time!

Pride of five hundred and thirty cubits.

Pole of the tent raised by men
in a corner of history.
With gaseous lights the Milky Way
reproduces your sketch of the night

First letter of a cosmic Alphabet,
pointing towards sky,
hope standing on stilts,
a glorified skeleton.

Iron that brands a flock of clouds,
mute sentinel of the Industrial Age.
The tides of heaven
silently undermine your column.

1930

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Nothing

In bookstores there are no books,
in books no words,
in words no essence:
there are only husks.

In museums and waiting rooms
are painted canvases and fetishes.
In the Academy there are only recordings
of the wildest dances.

In mouths there is only smoke,
in the eyes only distance.
There is a drum in each ear.
A Sahara yawns in the mind.

Nothing frees us from the desert.
Nothing saves us from the drum.
Painted books shed their pages,
becoming husks of Nothing.

1966

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Power Of The Word

You, panther and statue, angel of fruit,
sexual bread shop, monument of wheat,
with throat pierced by the dart
of a sudden word, have fallen into shadows.

Oh deadly and fiery word that arrives
to engrave itself so accurately in marble,
like the rifle that blindly strikes down
the soldier from a distance.

Panther of wheat, you now lie like
a toppled statue on an empty beach.
The sea foam of oblivion washes up around you –
O prone pillars where doves nest!

Blue lightning of the word
has scattered your useless wings and fruit,
and, in shadows, your abandoned body is
a frigid bread shop washed out by the moon.

1947

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Sketch Of Contemporary Man

The world is covered with cradles
that sing in the night.

Man lives accumulating blocks of stone
for the houses of the future man.

Weighed down by climates,
making his way among towers, chimneys and antennae,
a traveler each day in his own city,
he is shipwrecked by five o’clock
among an electric vegetation of advertisements.

Master of machines,
he lives in skyscrapers.
You are in the North, South, East and West:
white man, yellow man, black man.

In his hands bloom
itineraries of boats and trains.
Nourished by newspapers
mornings are summed up in his eyes.

The railroad plows through the earth,
turning up shavings of landscapes;
piloted by the man with perfect hands
an airplane rises against the geography.

Man shouts
in Mexico and Berlin, in Moscow and Buenos Aires
as his telegrams cover the planet.

This is the landscape of our night:
the city girds on its belt of trains,
as searchlights extend their snail’s antenna
and an airplane, a celestial shipwreck, descends.

Man, inventor of the future, arises
surrounded by machines,
posters of Lenin, street plans of New York
and panoramas of the world.

1935

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Loneliness of Cities

Without knowing my number,
enclosed by walls and borders,
I walk around with a prisoner’s moon
and perpetual shadow chained to my ankle.

Living frontiers arise
a step beyond my footsteps.

There is neither north nor south, east or west,
only a multiplied loneliness exists,
a loneliness divided by a cipher of men.
Time’s race around the circus of the clock,
luminous navels of streetcars,
bells with athletic shoulders,
walls that spell out two or three colored words,
are the materials of loneliness.

Image of solitude:
bricklayer singing on a scaffold,
fixed raft in the sky.
Images of solitude:
a traveler submerged in a newspaper,
a waiter hiding a photograph in his vest pocket.

The city has a mineral appearance.
Urban geometry is less beautiful
than the geometry we learned at school.
A triangle, egg, cube of sugar
initiated us into a celebration of forms.
Circumferences only came later:
the first woman, and the first moon.

Where were you, loneliness,
that I never knew you before I turned twenty?
On trains, in mirrors, in photographs,
you are always at my side now.

Country people are less alone
because they are one with the land:
trees are their sons,
they see weather changes in their own flesh,
and are taught by the saints’ calendar of little animals.

This solitude is nourished by books,
solitary walks, pianos, and fragments of crowds,
by cities and skies conquered by machines,
sheets of foam
unfolding toward the limits of the seas.
Everything has been invented,
but nothing has been invented to deliver us from loneliness.

Playing cards guard the secret of garrets,
sobs are formed to be smoked away in a pipe,
and there have been attempts to inter solitude in a guitar.
It’s known that loneliness walks through vacant apartments,
has commerce with the clothing of suicides,
and confuses messages in the telegraph wires.

1935

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A Dream Of Farmhouses

My shadow, penetrated by dewy pastures,
by constellations imprisoned in farmhouses,
the breathing of sleeping men
in their temporary tombs,
advances down a road that discovers horizons.
The cosmic anguish of frogs pierces me,
the metaphysical frogs that converse with stars.
Each frog, counterfeiter of silence,
loses, one by one,
its copper coins.

Beneath the mountain is a nude river
like an archangel in its crystal suit of armor.
Listen: the horse lifts iron hooves
and with slow dance-like movements
plunges into the water of dreams.

Beloved land: I feel you living inside me
with the totality of your shapes and beings.
The murmur of your trees circulates among my bones.
While everything around me sleeps,
I work like a bee in the hive of the spirit.

1966

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Hydrographic Poem

Rivers seek each other throughout the world,
and spread throughout the earth their glass trumpets.
Navigation charts contain
the blue biographies of rivers.

Equatorial hydrography
illustrated with fruits of the earth.
Ecuador: in your ring of color,
South America sleeps in its parrot laziness.

Coastal trees
decorated with the bow of a silly snake.
Mulatto coconut trees with flexible waists.
Banana trees with rosy entrails.

Forests pierced by parrots.
Cane huts, homes of shore dwellers;
tamer of mosquitoes
and decapitator of coconuts.

Fierce mountain rivers:
waters that bite like spurs
provoke horses to rear up on hind feet.

Infant scribble on the bridge where
every morning an Indian woman passes
carrying a pitcher of milk.

Eastern shores populated by partridges.
Turtles with eyes of stone,
gold washings,
and paralytic roots of science.

Rubber tree, with its deep wounds,
—staircase for Indians—,
stops just below the sky.

Boats of rough wood
in which blonde immigrants
carry rifles and seeds.

The booming sound of plows runs
along the big rivers.
Barefoot colonists see a rainbow reflected
in an earth combed with blessed furrows.

Mountain range of toiling rivers,
sea coast of artisan rivers,
Orient of missionary rivers,
let us launch our boats over the fresh waters!

1928

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Indian Rebellion

Refracted into brilliance,
last candles hiss
in the mountain’s rainy mist.

Village Indians carry sunrise
on the blades of their sickles
into the lowlands.

In steam from mountain ponchos,
the color of apples,
flutter birds and voices.

Wind from the highlands
descends in concave brims of hats
toward the lowlands, fat with sheaves.

In carts of air
mule driver roads carry clusters of songs
through the night.

The Indian rebellion carries morning
in the protest of their shovels.

1929

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Movements of Nature

Tree-bark listens to the rustle of plants and insects
as wind softly ruminates through the field.
The pond takes down a note in its memory
of kinship between the smallest clouds and geese.

In their wineries of shadow, trees untidily store
schoolboy berets of mushrooms.
Night plays sleight-of-hand with the landscape.
A sidereal farmer scatters sheaves of light.

1947

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Sum

Windmill, drum, and rose,
accordion, water-pail, scarecrow;
chickencoop ladder, sombrero without shade,
wall where sun hangs its white posters.

Shovel that turns over identical volumes,
and brilliant birds that ripen on branches.
Air that lives out its dreams in glassware,
and the walking stick hooked to a wicker-bottomed chair.

Lettuce marching down river like schoolchildren.
Radishes: Red Riding Hoods living underground.
Watering-pot, nest, fungi on wood:
green numbers, animated sums.

1935

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God of Joy

God of joy,
I glimpsed you
in broad daylight.

A robe of light
enfolded the tree
without memory of the cross.

Your crystal footsteps
descended the well’s
staircase.

The sky smiled;
flower and pebble
shared good company.

Everything was divine
language.
Each wing was a journey

toward all light,
God of joy.
The world was on fire.

1966

 

All poems translated from the Spanish by Steven Ford Brown from Century of the Death of the Rose: Selected Poems of Jorge Carrera Andrade, edited and translated by Steven Ford Brown, published by New South Books: Montgomery, AL, 2002. Copyright © 2002, 2020 by Steven Ford Brown.