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from Issue #3: Poetry by Shaindel Beers (II)

Photo (CC) Martin Cathrae @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Martin Cathrae @ Flickr

*

3.22 Miles, 32 Minutes, 10/02/12

First run through crush of leaves.
Featherlight piles of aspen, yellow litter
of locust. My runner’s mantra in time
with my breath – Breathing in, I calm myself;
Breathing out, I smile.
 Calming.
Smiling. The long history of runners without
this luxury. Bare feet that have slipped through sand.
Booted feet skimming or crunching through snow.
In some languages feet are the hands that touch
the ground. The way the potato is the apple
of the earth. The heel strike. The push off
the ball of the foot. The scenery. The grey horse
on the dun hill, which another runner may see
as sniper distance. The truck exhaust, which,
Thank God, isn’t the smoke of burning bodies
or villages. The boy I pass at the school bus stop might
in another world be holding a rifle, a machete,
instead of a lunchbox. I have this luxury to utter
mantras. Slow is the new fast. To wear out
hundred dollar shoes every 300 miles. To stop
when I want. Slow when I want. Search
for the deer on the ridge with the eyes
of the curious, not the starving.
If I say I am running for my life it is merely
a metaphor about health. A pithy saying
painted on a gym wall. I am lucky.
There is no heart pound of the pursuer
behind me. Just me. Just the foot strikes.
Just breath.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon’s high desert and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary (http://contrarymagazine.com). A Brief History of Time, her first full-length poetry collection, was released by Salt Publishing in 2009. Her most recent collection, The Children’s War and Other Poems, was released by Salt in February this year. She is currently working on a short story collection. Find out more at http://shaindelbeers.com .

from Issue #3: Poetry by Shaindel Beers (I)

Photo (CC) Rafał Próchniak @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Rafał Próchniak @ Flickr

*

After Origin Story by Jessica Plattner

Our people believed that the earth rode on the back
of a giant turtle until we felt the sway of the man’s hips.
The rocking of his stride tumbled our homes.
Because turtles are steady, we knew we would have
to change our tale. The turtle’s slow lumber had been erased,
but we wanted to keep him. The youth suggested
we make him the man’s dinner. So, the man pushed
up out of the green algae, pressing the turtle
from him. Offering him to the sky – a prayer
before soup. Then our keenest warrior heard
a gurgle. The women agreed, and we stretched our sights
further. There, on the pale belly of the turtle
sat an enormous baby – our dreaded dictator, our god.

After Milkpour #5 by Jessica Plattner

First his cries panicked the horses.
Stall doors kicked down. Fences cleared.
No horses, no plowing. No plowing, no food.
So the men vowed to kill the enormous baby.
No! shrieked the women. What if he is a god?
What if the mountains are the breasts
that nourished him? No matter that he was here
in the village far from the mountains.
The women appointed themselves his mothers,
brought bucketfuls of milk from sheep, goats, cows,
hand expressed their own breasts. Made his clothes
from whole fields of cotton and flax.
The enormous baby became the white elephant
who would ruin our village.
Sometimes the path to destruction is saving
the one it takes too much to save.  

Friends, 1991

After Ken Fontenot

We were desperate sex in girls’ bodies.
We were girls mothers warned sons about.
We were handcuffed together to a bed at a party.
Sent home together in a cab from a field trip.
We were barns burning for anyone’s love.
We were lonely walks to the cemetery to talk to graves.
Blowjobs behind tombstones. Always hoping
to get caught. Always dreaming of escape.
We were talks on the hood of a car. Dreaming
up early dramatic deaths. Scared shitless
of ending up pregnant or poor or fat
or all three. We were learning to drive
a stick shift on gravel roads while eating
ice cream. Flirting for freebies from sweaty,
nervous boys at restaurants. We couldn’t have
lived any different. We couldn’t have saved
one another. We were just trying to survive
the only way we knew how.

*

ABOUT THE POET

Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, in Eastern Oregon’s high desert and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary (http://contrarymagazine.com). A Brief History of Time, her first full-length poetry collection, was released by Salt Publishing in 2009. Her most recent collection, The Children’s War and Other Poems, was released by Salt in February this year. She is currently working on a short story collection. Find out more at http://shaindelbeers.com

from issue #3: ‘The Other Side of the Pier’ by Guadalupe Nettel

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PIER by GUADALUPE NETTEL
Translated from the Spanish by Elvira Quintana

Photo (CC) Ines Hegedus-Garcia @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Ines Hegedus-Garcia @ Flickr

To Aimée E. Robinson

“Every friendship is an inconspicuous drama, a series of subtle wounds.” – EMIL CIORAN, from The Trouble with Being Born.

 

OVER THE YEARS I’ve heard many views on True Solitude. It is a topic that often comes up during my family’s after-dinner conversations. As with current affairs or moral issues, with this topic sincerity is not always the best policy since you will likely get stuck in the spectacular fibromas of misunderstanding. Some people, especially those getting on in years, talk about True Solitude as a strong spider web that we build over time. There are also those who consider it a whimsical and privileged place with arbitrary rules of access. When my better judgement gives way to all the talk, the spectacles, slurps, aunts with overdone make-up, and a child’s sticky hand reaching for a biscuit, I subscribe to the second definition because I remember, not without a certain nostalgia, that I went in search of that paradise at the age of fifteen. As I saw it then, the sole inhabitant of True Solitude had to be a young girl still ill at ease with her pointed breasts, like the breasts of a skinny mongrel, and a body too tall for her dresses and too plain for her swimming suit. When I think about this I’m overcome by an urge to smile, discretely, lowering my face so no one in the family notices. But the urge to smile is checked definitively because, while Clara gently smacks the child’s sticky caramel hand, I am transported to that summer in Santa Helena, the fishing island where Toño and Clara imagined a home, which they called La Casa de los Naranjos (The House of the Orange Trees), and that memory freezes my smile.

In those days, when instead of True Solitude there was a mediocre and oppressive loneliness full of sarcastic laughter in a squalid high school in Mexico City, I was the niece and Clara was my mother’s youngest sister. I didn’t call her Aunt, so that I could distinguish her from my other aunts who wore high heels even at home and spent their mornings at the beauty parlour. Clara was a 28-year-old sports teacher in a progressive primary school; she owned a VW Beetle convertible, which no one thought would make it to the coast, and had a boyfriend called Toño whom my grandmother hated, which was enough to endear him to me. At the time my parents’ quarrels were getting serious, so there was no need to convince them to let me go along with Clara and Toño to a deserted island where they had managed to purchase La Casa de los Naranjos for a ridiculously low price.

When they picked me up the car was already packed with several suitcases, a cooler, newly-framed paintings, and the tool box for repairing the house.

“You can bring whatever you want,” they told me, pointing to an over-packed boot. I had taken with me the bare minimum so nothing would distract me from my search.

After a long drive, when the road had already become a photographic landscape completely fitted out with vegetation, salty air, and macaws, we swapped the car for a boat which dropped us off at a pier on the island. We arrived there late afternoon and, to my joy, the only things moving were a few scattered palm trees shaken by the wind. As soon as we set foot on solid ground I realised Clara had misled the family. There were no orange trees, the marvellous British-style house was the vaguest memory of a ruin, and the roof was a wooden cover about to collapse.

“It’s almost perfect; the wooden planks will do the job. If it doesn’t rain, it will be ready in a tick,” she said with her typical enthusiasm while placing her hand on top of my head. Toño put his arm around her waist and brushed his moustache against her neck. The frailty of the roof did not weaken my joy; if I was ever to find True Solitude, I was sure that it would be here.

Half of the island was a fishing town and the other half, where we spent all that summer, was an empty beach with a few houses, most of which were large and unoccupied, including the house that Toño and Clara had planned to fix up within two weeks; that way they could relax there during their last week of holiday.

The first week in Santa Helena was a long siesta in the sun. I had thought that once I was there everything would be really easy. That it would just be a matter of concentrating on the infinite strip of sand and paradise would come and surround me with its silence. The heat persisted day and night and the forecast rain was about as likely as trees sprouting from the sand. Clara and Uncle Toño (I did like calling him Uncle, especially in the presence of my grandmother) would spend their mornings and afternoons working on the roof of the house. At a distance I would lie on the sand, always dressed, because I couldn’t stand the idea of a neighbour seeing me in my swimming suit. In the background I would hear them hammering and exchanging a few words, then I would try to recognise shapes in the clouds and fall asleep thinking that even if I didn’t know it, I was entering paradise.

As night was beginning to fall and the sun was a vitamin C tablet dissolving away on the surface of the sea, they would come home, take a shower, and smear their dry and tanned skin with thick layers of cream. Afterwards, the dinner party would take place. Clara would put candles all around the house and she would bring to the table a tray of canned seafood bought in Mexico City; the roof kept them from going into town to buy food, and I was too terrified of seeing other people. The candlelight, the hunger, and the relaxation made those moments quiet explosions of harmony, in spite of the canned food. The few boats that came to Santa Helena would leave the coast at seven in the morning and go back some time in the afternoon. Most of the passengers were vendors bringing baskets of fruit and bread to sell in town. Every day they would pass near the house making a racket with their transistors and shouting, but only for a few minutes. Then the beach would go back to being a strip of sand away from it all, far away from my high school, my parents’ loud bickering and insults, and my own awkwardness at talking to people my age, especially guys. Only every now and then small groups of tourists would arrive at the island, probably following the advice of a particularly gifted book writer who had described the abandoned residences and the road into town strewn with fruit peel as ‘picturesque landscapes’. Those days it was better to stay indoors, away from the awkward looks and the sympathetic smiles (gringos tend to start a conversation with anyone who will listen). However, at the house I couldn’t resist the temptation of staring into the mirror at my acne scars and incipient breasts, which not only were ugly but sometimes also hurt. Then, almost immediately, I would remember the mean remarks at school and the way I blushed uncontrollably in the presence of someone of the opposite sex and the door to True Solitude would slowly fade away.

Almost every day, early in the morning, I would wait for the boat at the pier and consult the faint smell of seafood and pollution to see how the day would turn out. Staring at the sea for long periods of time made me nauseous. I inevitably thought of my biology classes and the amphibious hands of the teacher as she explained the cycle of life, and of all those fish breeding in a warm and salty broth near me. Were Clara and Toño intending to reproduce one day? Some nights I would find them kissing at the entrance of the house, with its view of the moon drowning in the water. But I didn’t think they’d go that far, and if by some chance they did, I’d stop calling Clara’s boyfriend ‘uncle’. The only way I could save myself and not be like them was to focus on the search for my paradise. “I need to forget about everything”—I would tell myself—”to let the landscape of this island erase all my memories of the city.” However, True Solitude came hidden in a boat, and did not reveal itself until several days after its arrival on our beach.

Michelle came to Santa Helena along with the fishermen and the fruit baskets in one of those noisy boats. I saw her from a distance, well before the boat came ashore. I knew immediately that my project would face obstacles. She did not seem to be here to sunbathe; rather, she looked a girl my age, possibly an unpleasant high-school blonde arriving on the island in a tiny dress; but the worst thing was the huge suitcase sitting beside her bare feet, which to me seemed as definitive as an anchor. Michelle waited for all the merchandise to be unloaded, for the ladies to extract their transistors from the fruit and tune them, for the men to whip their octopus on the planks again and again before placing her ten scarlet toenails on the swollen wood of our pier.

With her arrogant blue eyes she scanned the landscape: the house, the roof that Clara and Toño were hammering, the wrecked palapa (palm leaf hut), the remains of a chair on the sand and a mangy chicken—which had most likely escaped from town—walking among the fruit peels. Then, with the same indifference, she looked at me and the towel with cartoon animals hanging over my shoulder. Without a word, not even a gesture, she dragged her suitcase towards one of the huge houses up on the cliff. She didn’t appear again for the rest of the day, so after a few hours I almost dared to pretend that nobody had arrived. However, it worried me that there might be more people at her house. I didn’t think that the new arrival was the type to spend her holidays alone and the idea of being surrounded by her siblings or cousins was frankly unbearable. Terrified, I thought that they might not have arrived yet, but that briefly the island would be full of girls playing beach-volleyball in swimming suits. At the house I didn’t ask anything. Denying Michelle’s arrival was a silent ritual in order to avoid any type of connection.

One evening, while I was trying very hard to resume my search in a corner, Clara came into the dining room wearing a freshly unpacked red apron and carrying a wooden tray full of oysters.

“They’re oysters,” she said, “I bought them in town this morning. We went there for a stroll while you were at the pier. By the way, have you seen anyone at the beach?”

“No, no one,” I answered, surprised, trying to conceal the truth, but Clara continued:

“In town I heard that a few days ago the daughter of Mrs. Neuville—the lady who lives in the house on top of the cliff—arrived from France; her name is Michelle or something like that. The lady is very ill and that is why she spends most of the year here. I met her when I came to do the paperwork for the house.”

I didn’t say anything more; instead, I worked on the slippery slime inside the oyster’s shell with my fork. Soon, the wind in the palm leaves picked up and the conversation found its way back to the same old topic:

“Knock in a few more nails and we’re done,” Toño said. “Soon we’ll spend our time like you: lying on a beach towel, watching the sky.”

The calm didn’t last for long. Over the sound of the wind I heard a repeated, rather desperate knocking on the living-room window, but I kept quiet. The knocking persisted, getting louder, until they noticed it too in the background of their chatting and went to check. Apparently, my premonition was right and talking about the intruder had summoned her. Outside the window, Michelle’s hair was a big palapa flapping in the wind. Clara opened the door and in her progressive teacher’s tone invited the stranger to dinner:

“We are having oysters, wouldn’t you like some?”

The girl responded in very proper Spanish, with only the traces of a nasal accent.

“No. Thank you. Actually, I came to ask you for a favour.”

Clara sat down again, with the chair’s backrest between her legs and an overly expectant look on her face. “Well, we’re listening.”

Another one of her ‘progressive teacher’ attitudes that the French girl didn’t seem to notice because at that moment her blue eyes were fixed on me with blatant hostility, the same I was feeling towards her for being in the house. Clara repeated her last sentence.

“I would like to climb up on your roof,” Michelle replied.

This time, no come-back from the teacher could hide our bewilderment. “Are you sure?” asked Toño, coming to the rescue. “I don’t think it will be much fun.”

“I’m not looking for fun,” she said, almost taking offence. “Your roof is the only place in this island where someone’s trying to fix up the rottenness.”

There was a silence during which Clara and Toño looked inquiringly at one another, without taking me into account, and after some tacit agreement between them, they gave Michelle permission to go onto the roof for a while as long as I went with her.

I resolved to be unfriendly, not to say a word unless I was questioned. I climbed up onto the roof of the house and as soon as I was up there I pulled up the ladder. It took the French girl twice as long to climb up the walls. At no point did she ask for help or ask me to lower the ladder. When she finally sat down on one of the roof’s edge she pulled two cigarettes out from her skirt.

“Do you smoke?” she said with antagonistic friendliness.

I shook my head.

“Why not?” she asked, still smiling.

“I don’t want lung cancer.”

Michelle granted me a few minutes of silence, but then she struck back:

“What an attitude! I bet you don’t have any friends.”

This time it was me who remained silent for a while. “Do you have many?” I asked.

“Yes, and I also have a boyfriend. His name is Philippe. When he arrives I’ll introduce him to you.”

I felt a knot form in my stomach. I didn’t want to meet anyone, especially another horrible frog. If either of them started strolling on the beach, my holiday project was doomed to drastic failure. But I didn’t say anything and let Michelle talk while the second cigarette burned itself out. I lowered the ladder and announced that it was time for us both to go home.

I didn’t see her again for several days, but it was hard for me to resume my search for True Solitude. Michelle had the kind of voice that goes on echoing in your head. Without realising, I started asking myself questions about her: How old was she? How did she meet Philippe? One evening, while opening cans in the kitchen, I asked Clara whether she knew the house where the French people lived.

“Is it pretty?”

“Yes, but it’s too modern for my taste,” she answered while looking around with pride at our damp walls. “I prefer La Casa de los Naranjos. Have you seen the girl again? You haven’t? She probably doesn’t get out much at all, poor thing, with her mother so ill.”

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked, surprised. I had forgotten about her mother’s illness.

“I’m not sure, but I think it’s something serious, like lung cancer.”

I finished setting the table but I couldn’t touch my dinner. Before Clara and Toño went out to look at the moon, an evening ritual, I went to my room and stayed there for a while. I was trying to fall asleep and stayed there for hours, trying to get to sleep until I heard the knocking on the window.

“Can you come out for a second?” asked Michelle from the other side of the window.

I thought that her boyfriend must have arrived on the afternoon boat and she wanted to introduce him, so I curled up in the blankets and pretended to be fast asleep. But then I had a better look and saw she was alone.

“Do you want to go up on the roof?” I asked.

“Yes, but I haven’t asked for permission.”

“No problem, it’s almost ready,” I said. “Anyway, it’s too late to disturb them now. In the evening, Toño and Clara become unbearable. You must know about that.”

We climbed up. The moon looked like a bundle of luminous clouds and the sea was rougher than ever. When we sat the wooden planks made a long creaking noise that ended with a crack.

“Why did they bring you here?” asked Michelle, pulling her knees towards her chest. Her scarlet nails were ten mouths smiling at me from her bare feet.

“No one brought me here. I came because I wanted to be by myself.”

“Don’t you ever speak to anyone? Not even at school?”

“I hate school. I stay in the classroom on my breaks. Sometimes I get out a book and keep an eye out so no one disturbs me.”

“And of course, nobody comes,” she said.

“How would you know?”

“It’s the same everywhere, people realise that deep down you’re dying to talk to them and they become standoffish. Just like you with me the other night.”

“That’s not true,” I said, turning my head.

“But I bet your parents want to talk to you and want you to participate in their conversations; typical, they realise that you’re not interested. Families only talk about what they’re going through at the time. Luckily, here my mother hardly talks at all.”

“What does she talk about?” I asked.

“Nothing much, or death. And your family?”

“About True Solitude; but I don’t think that’s what they’re going through. When is your boyfriend coming?”

“Philippe? He’s not coming. I said it to impress you. In fact, he’s not even my boyfriend any more; he broke up with me when he found out I was leaving for a long time. He says that in Mexico you catch weird diseases.”

“Then you shouldn’t have come.”

The roof cracked again, so we decided to climb down straight away. Also, it was getting late.

“I need to go home. My mother gets insomnia almost every night and she wants me to be with her,” she said before putting the ladder back in its place. “I think she’s afraid.”

“And you are not?” I asked almost hesitantly while I was helping her climb down.

“Yes, but it’s different. When your mother is afraid it’s almost like she’s suddenly stopped feeding you, like she stopped breast-feeding you. Do you know what I mean?”

I didn’t have the faintest idea but I chose not to reply.

“Come around whenever you want,” I told her when we came to the door. She looked sad and I felt like giving her a hug but I didn’t dare.

A couple of days later it clouded over, so I spent the morning indoors without going to the pier or to the palapa. For the first time since we left to go on our holidays I wasn’t thinking at all about True Solitude.

In the afternoon it started to rain. It was an irritating drizzle swirling about in the wind. Worried, Clara called Toño to come have a look at the drops on the window.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “The roof will hold up, no problem.”

“It’s not about that,” she explained. “The only thing left in the kitchen is a box of savoury biscuits. We have to go into town and buy some food. If this turns into a storm it could last all week.”

“I can’t stand those biscuits,” said Toño.

I thought it would be a good time to look for Michelle but before I could mount the expedition they left without saying goodbye. I was a bit scared of being left alone there with a storm brewing and the possibility that Clara and Toño might not be able to make it back. “If it had been my parents, they would have taken me along,” I thought angrily before collapsing onto the cushions in the living room. There was not a light to be seen outside. I tried to turn the radio on but the storm had cut the power. This was the perfect moment to find what I had been searching for all my holidays: with the thunder, the house in semi-darkness, and the rain intensifying. I wasn’t thinking about anything apart from my surroundings, but just as I reached the threshold of paradise, it terrified me.

I ran to my bedroom looking for something to cover myself with so I could catch up with them in town. I didn’t even manage to open the door before the part of the roof that covered my room collapsed. It wasn’t a drizzle falling on my bed and my clothes but a downpour now. Absurdly, I tried to rescue a sweater that up until then had remained in my luggage; but I only managed to get the clothes I was wearing drenched. I then came back to what was still the inside of the house and I covered myself with Clara’s bathrobe. That’s when I saw Michelle’s silhouette at the door. Just from the expression on her face I could tell what she was going through. I took her to the living-room, where it was still warm, and made her sit by my side on one of the floor cushions.

“My mother died this morning,” she said, and didn’t say another word for the rest of the night.

I knew that the longest embrace would have been enough. I couldn’t find anything to say but I didn’t want her to interpret my silence as she had done those other times when I refused to reply to her on the roof. I opened the robe and exposed my left breast, pointed like the breast of a skinny mongrel, and let her come to me. She took it in her mouth—a cold, narrow mouth, the mouth of a fish—and tried to suck from it all the strength she needed to rid herself of fear. For hours and hours her tears moistened the part of my body I hated the most.

Only crumbs were left in the box of salty biscuits when Clara and Toño got back. They had heard the news in town, so as soon as they came in they both gave Michelle—who wasn’t crying any longer—a hug and a pat on the back. The storm didn’t last for days, but the next morning it was still raining. In the morning Toño went into town to make a phone call to Mexico City. From what he said when he came back I knew that he had called the embassy and that there would be someone waiting for Michelle at the harbour that evening. To fill in the time at the house the three of us  packed clothing and tried to rescue some stuff from my bedroom. Clara made tea at least fifteen times and between us we used up all the camomile tea bags and Michelle’s last cigarettes.

The French girl left Santa Helena in much the same way as she had arrived: she climbed up onto the pier on her own with bare feet among the bustling vendors. We went back soon after that with all the things we had brought for the house. Toño and Clara never finished repairing the roof of my room. At no point in that summer did I enter True Solitude, that undesirable paradise, but I saw it from up close in Michelle’s blue eyes while on the other side of the pier the boat that would take her to the harbour was drawing away; I saw it for a few minutes until the boat was nothing more than a speck in the sea and I continued seeing it for years after that whenever I remembered Santa Helena. Now, amongst the hustle and bustle of aunts and teaspoons, with everyone yelling desperately without hope, I can sometimes see it in certain faces but I keep quiet because when those subjects come up at the dinner table in my family it is best if no one knows they’ve been found out.

* * * * *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

nettel

GUADALUPE NETTEL is the author of Juegos de artificio (1993), Les jours fossiles (2003), El huésped (2006), Pétalos y otras historias incómodas (2008), El cuerpo en que nací (2011), and El matrimonio de los peces rojos (2013). For several years she has collaborated with a number of French- and Spanish-language magazines and literary supplements such as Lateral, Letras Libres, Paréntesis, La Jornada Semanal, L’atelier du roman, and L’inconvénient. Recently she earned a doctorate in literature from the University of Paris. She was the recipient of the Premio Herralde, third place, for El huésped, and the 2008 Premio Antonin Artaud and the 2007 Gilbert Owen Short Story Prize in Mexico for Pétalos. She has won the Radio France Internationale Prix de la Meilleure Nouvelle en Langue Française prize for non-French-speaking countries.

In June 2013 Granta named Guadalupe Nettel in their Best Untranslated Writers series. A novel and a collection of stories will be published in English in 2014 by Seven Stories Press in New York.

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

ELVIRA QUINTANA is a professional translator and interpreter. Her interest in World Literature has led her to explore contemporary Latin American Literature in order to bring a taste of it to the English speaking world. Elvira has a B.A. in Translation and Interpreting completed with Distinction that earned her the Arts Dean’s Medal for academic achievement at the University of Western Sydney. Elvira was born in Mexico where she pursued a law degree for two years; she completed the third year in France. Elvira has lived, studied and worked in Canada, France, Germany, and New Zealand and has found a permanent home in Sydney in the beautiful country of Australia. Elvira is currently travelling through Latin America with the aim of continuing her learning and unfolding the many cultures this region has to offer. To contact Elvira Quintana: quintana.eqr@gmail.com.

‘The Other Side of the Pier’ © Guadalupe Nettel, 2008. Originally published in Spanish by Editorial Anagrama S.A.. Used by permission. From the collection Pétalos, y otras historias incómodas. This English translation first published in Contrappasso Magazine #3, August 2013. Copyright © 2013 Guadalupe Nettel & Elvira Quintana. All rights reserved.

from issue #3: Poetry by Sergio Badilla Castillo, translated by Roger Hickin and the Author (II)

Photo (CC) Tarja Mitrovic @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Tarja Mitrovic @ Flickr

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Read the original Spanish, then the English translation in blue

*

Las ascuas de una nebulosa

Este es el centro de la galaxia que he construido con mis manos
con sus puntos cardinales alterados después de mis colapsos.
Aquí estoy entonces como una tormenta diminuta
a la hora cuando se estanca el caos bajo mis rodillas
mientras camino aún borracho por mi habitación
y cubro mis heridas en esta oscuridad celeste que me aterra
con estos hábitos de monje hermoso.
Qué remolinos arrastran viejas penas en la larga noche
y así y todo duermo con la cabeza curvada
en las nieblas de Batavia hacia el oriente.
Aquí no hay montes sólo basura atestada en los containers
animales ciegos que permutan sus encéfalos
cada madrugada sin luz entre las nubes
hombres despiertos a la espera de un autobús que ronronea
al alba como asmático.
Este es el centro de la galaxia que he construido con mis manos
y me dispongo ahora a tomar una taza de café junto a mi gato
tal si estuviera en una esquina de Drottningatan o entre los juncos
del Danubio.
Un guerrero olmeca intenta un sacrificio
revolcándose en las ascuas de una nebulosa.
No disparen contra mi hermano que fue un amigo tardío de Borges.
Las separaciones duelen como la llaga que deja una flecha
en el pecho de un colibrí
siempre hay alguien que ama y me asedia con sus besos
aunque suelo amar en los balcones y luego mis colmillos
desgarran dulcemente la presa.
Preferiría estar este domingo en casa de mis padres
escuchando rancheras
o en medio del Sahara con los Tuareg donde todos los perdidos son extraños.
Estuve en Hanoi camino al mar de la China
y vi unas princesas equivocadas lavando sus ropas en el río.
Este es el centro de la galaxia que he construido con mis manos
En este domicilio habitan ratones centenarios que escaparon
de una biblioteca sintiéndose jaguares
No será fácil reconstruir el Paraíso en una sola habitación
con la ayuda de Darwin.
Alguien tendrá que hacerse cargo de mi madre enferma
y quizá zapatee junto a tu puerta con los gitanos de una caravana de saltimbanquis.

The embers of a nebula

This is the centre of the galaxy I built with my own hands.
Since my breakdowns its cardinal points have altered.
So here I am like a tiny storm
chaos grinding to a halt beneath my knees
while I walk about my room still drunk
and in this frightening celestial darkness
wrap my wounds in the robes of a beautiful monk.
The long nights are a maelstrom of sorrows
but I manage to sleep with a twisted neck
in the Batavian mists out east.
No mountains here only containers crammed with trash
sightless creatures swapping brains
early mornings without light among the clouds
men who awaken to wait for a bus that purrs
asthmatically in the dawn.
This is the center of the galaxy I built with my own hands.
I’m about to have a coffee with my cat
as if this were a corner of Drottningatan
or somewhere by the reed beds of the Danube.
An Olmec warrior attempts a sacrifice
and rolls about on the embers of a nebula.
Do not shoot at my brother who was lately a friend of Borges.
Separations hurt like arrow wounds
in the breast of a hummingbird
there is always someone who loves and besieges me with kisses
though I tend to make love on balconies
then rend my prey with gentle fangs.
This Sunday I’d rather be at my parents’ house
listening to rancheras
or deep in the Sahara with the Tuareg where all the lost are strangers.
In Hanoi once en route to the China Sea
I saw some misguided princesses washing their clothes in the river.
This is the centre of the galaxy I built with my own hands.
Hundred-year-old mice convinced they’re jaguars
fled from a library and live at this address.
To remake Paradise with the help of Darwin
won’t be easy in a single room.
Somebody will have to care for my sick mother
and with a caravan of gypsy acrobats
perhaps I’ll tap my feet before your door.

Una calle de Upplands Väsby

                                                                 A Ricardo Donoso

En el suburbio donde vive Ricardo
los copos de nieve se derrumban como ciegos en la calle desierta.
Un fantasma toca su violín bajo el puente de la estación
con plenitud maestra.
Soy yo el que se equivoca de época de y de trenes
con estas maletas que pesan una tonelada.
Perdónenme señoras si dije algo impropio
porque es mi boca la que no calla en un imponderable silencio.
Busco a un hijo que ser extravió en su memoria
y dejó de llamarme padre
aunque la sangre es ligadura y las
distancias separan en la inmensidad de la estepa.
Me equivoco otra vez y tropiezo con una vieja sombra
entonces las congojas se desorientan
en el repaso aquiescente
y escuecen con la obviedad de una garra.
El caos se extingue cuando encuentra su equilibrio
al final del laberinto.
Me comporto con una rata que cava
su madriguera en la densa niebla.
Soy yo – insisto – el que se equivoca de época y de trenes
con estas maletas que pesan una tonelada.
Por eso hablo ahora con la impaciencia de un orate
que sujeta con sus dedos una aureola abandonada.

Suecia. Diciembre 2012

A street in Upplands Väsby

                                                        for Ricardo Donoso

In the suburb where Ricardo lives
snowflakes fall blindly in the deserted street.
A phantom violinist under the station bridge
plays with masterly intensity.
I’m the one who gets his epoch and his trains wrong
with these suitcases that weigh a ton.
Forgive me ladies if I’ve said something improper
my mouth just won’t stay shut in imponderable silence.
I’m looking for a son who got lost in his memory
and ceased to call me father
despite blood ties and
distances that divide in the steppe’s immensity.
I get things wrong again and bump into an old shadow
then in the course of stoic retrospection
erratic anxieties prick
predictably as claws.
Chaos expires when at the labyrinth’s end
it comes to equilibrium.
I behave like a rat who digs
his hole in thick fog.
I’m the one – I repeat – who gets his epoch and his trains wrong
with these suitcases that weigh a ton.
And now I speak with the impatience of a lunatic
whose fingers clutch a disused halo.

Sweden. December 2012

* * *

ABOUT THE POET AND THE TRANSLATOR

Sergio Badilla Castillo was born in Valparaíso, Chile in 1947. He studied journalism at the University of Chile and worked in various media from 1969 until 1973, when, after the Pinochet coup, he was forced into exile, first to Argentina, then to Romania, and finally in 1976 to Sweden. There he took a degree in social anthropology at Stockholm University and worked as a culture journalist on Swedish radio, travelling throughout Europe and North Africa, until returning to Chile in 1993. His publications from this period include Más debajo de mi rama (1980), La morada del Signo (1982), Cantonírico (1983), Reverberaciones de piedras acuáticas (1985) and Terrenales (1989). Publications in Chile include Saga Nórdic (1996), La Mirada Temerosa del Bastardo (2003), Poemas Transreales y Algunos Evangelios (2005), Ciudad Transreal (2009), Ok Atacama (2010). Badilla lives in Santiago where he contines to write and teach. His work has appeared with English translations in two chapbooks, La cabeza de la Medusa / The Medusa’s head (2012) and Espectros y Sombras / Ghosts and shadows (2013), and in French translations by Patricio Sánchez in Ville assiégée (2010).

Roger Hickin is a New Zealand poet, visual artist, book designer and publisher.  Although he has written and translated poetry and since the late 1960s, for many years his main preoccupation was with sculpture and painting. In the early 2000s poetry began to demand more attention. His Waiting for the Transport (Kilmog Press, Dunedin) and The Situation & other poems (the initial Cold Hub Press chapbook), both appeared in 2009. Roger is the director of Cold Hub Press –  www.coldhubpress.co.nz – which publishes New Zealand poetry as well as international poetry in several languages, including So we lost paradise, a bilingual selected poems of Chilean poet Juan Cameron, and two chapbooks of poems by Sergio Badilla Castillo (in collaboration with the author).

Special: Roger Hickin on Sergio Badilla Castillo (Issue #3)

Photo (CC) Alexander Torrenegra @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Alexander Torrenegra @ Flickr

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Issue 3 of Contrappasso features a selection of work by Chilean poet Sergio Badilla Castillo, translated by New Zealand poet, artist and publisher Roger Hickin in collaboration with the author. Roger has written this short description of Badilla’s work especially for this blog, as a guide to his main themes and many variations.

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Sergio Badilla Castillo (b. Valparaíso, Chile, 1947) is a poet who, to borrow Ben Belitt’s words about Pablo Neruda, “makes a discipline of . . . [his] excesses”. Such was Badilla’s talent as a young man, he was hailed as Neruda’s heir apparent, and like Neruda’s his poetry is mercurial, oneiric, protean, torrential. Like his literary forebear too, Badilla is a nomad (his real father was a sailor), a pirate whose poems are studded with vivid images and graphic incidents ransacked from the accumulated wealth of world history and culture. On a deeper level, he is a latter-day shaman who throws himself into perilous journeys to report back on the chaos at the heart of things, transmuting his observations and experiences, jostling and blending reality and myth, certainty and uncertainty, beauty and horror, in hallucinatory, “transreal” poems that disrupt the linear coherence of past, present and future, encompassing multiple dimensions and temporalities in a single parachronic glance, whose aim is ultimately the “uchronic” (cf. “utopian”) release from the tyranny of time as the salt-grain of the lyric “I” disperses with all else into the waters of eternity.

Two bi-lingual chapbooks of Badilla’s poems––La cabeza de la Medusa / The Medusa’s head  and Espectros y Sombras / Ghosts and shadows, with translations by Roger Hickin and the author––have recently been published in New Zealand by Cold Hub Press, www.coldhubpress.co.nz

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Roger Hickin is a New Zealand poet, visual artist, book designer and publisher.  Although he has written and translated poetry and since the late 1960s, for many years his main preoccupation was with sculpture and painting. In the early 2000s poetry began to demand more attention. His Waiting for the Transport (Kilmog Press, Dunedin) and The Situation & other poems (the initial Cold Hub Press chapbook), both appeared in 2009. Roger is the director of Cold Hub Press –  www.coldhubpress.co.nz – which publishes New Zealand poetry as well as international poetry in several languages, including So we lost paradise, a bilingual selected poems of Chilean poet Juan Cameron, and two chapbooks of poems by Sergio Badilla Castillo (in collaboration with the author).

from Issue #3: Poetry by Sergio Badilla Castillo, translated by Roger Hickin and the author (I)

Photo (CC) Max Pfandl @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Max Pfandl @ Flickr

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Read the original Spanish, then the English translation in blue

*

La noche es peligrosa en el Cairo

Me pregunto que hará Mahfuz
en su habitación (a estas horas) cuando no relumbra el sol
en sus ojos tristes.
Unos viejos barbiluengos juegan a las damas
injertados en los cuadros del tablero en el café Horiya.
Cuatro extranjeros blondos (¿alemanes?) flirtean
con unos adolescentes de tez obscura en la mesilla vecina.
Uno ríe y pide un cigarrillo a un cuarentón bronceado
que también ríe.
Es febrero del 2002 y el cosmos cuántico está allí mismo en Giza
en una tormenta de arena en el Sakkara
virtualmente en el lugar de mi nacimiento y de mi muerte.
La máscara dorada de un joven faraón me desconsuela
porque era escaso su saber sobre el hechizo de Amón
que hilvana el tiempo.
Qué hora es en este instante en El Missaha Square
cuando hipan los camellos a un costado de Cheops y la Esfinge
y los creyentes se arrodillan para alcanzar a Dios en sus plegarias.
Mohammed –el guía– se expresa en un español cáustico.
¡Qué importan las tonalidades cervantescas en medio del páramo!
La noche es peligrosa en Shubra Al Khaymah
y desvarío con las sombras
mientras los proxenetas despojan de sus ajuares a las odaliscas del templo.
¡Alá Uajbar! ¡Alá Uajbar! suenan plañideros los altavoces
desde un alminar de la Mezquita Azul.
Una vacuidad ante un Dios ausente o transitoriamente sordo.
Un pastor irreverente aventura su rebaño en medio del tráfico
entre bocinazos y gritos.
Hace frío a estas horas en la ciudad del Nilo verde.
Los muertos moran en la Citadel en un sólo condominio con los vivos.
¡Alá Uajbar! ¡Alá Uajbar! rebota el clamor de los devotos
en la Mezquita Azul desde el mismo minarete.
Vuelvo a preguntarme entonces––  qué hará Mahfuz
en su habitación (a estas horas) cuando no resplandece el sol
en sus ojos tristes.

Night is dangerous in Cairo

I wonder what Mahfouz is doing
in his room (so late) without the sun’s dazzle
in his sad eyes.
A few greybeards play checkers
planted at the boards in the Café Horiya.
At the next table four blonde foreigners (Germans?) flirt
with some dark-skinned adolescents.
One laughs and cadges a cigarette
from a tanned forty-something guy who’s laughing too.
It’s February 2002 and the quantum cosmos is right here in Giza
in a sand storm in Sakkara
in effect at the place of my birth and death.
The golden mask of a young pharaoh distresses me
so thin was his knowledge of Amon’s sorcery
which stitches time together.
What hour is it just now in El Missaha Square
as camels cough alongside Cheops and the Sphinx
and believers kneel to supplicate their God.
Mohammed –the guide– expresses himself in caustic Spanish.
Who cares about Cervantian nuances in the midst of a wasteland!
Night is dangerous in Shubra Al Khaymah
and I babble with the shades
as pimps strip the temple’s odalisques of their trousseaus.
Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! is the loudspeakers’ plaintive wail
from a minaret of the Blue Mosque.
Emptiness before a God either absent or temporarily deaf.
In the thick of traffic an irreverent shepherd risks his flock
among shouts and blasting horns.
It’s cold now in the city of the green Nile.
In a single condominium in the Citadel the dead dwell with the living.
Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! The clamour of the faithful
echoes in the Blue Mosque from the same minaret.
Again I wonder what Mahfouz is doing
in his room (so late) without the sun’s radiance
in his sad eyes.

* * *

Año del reptil

No recuerdo cuantos hijos tuve
ni cuantos infantes perdí en esa guerra.
Si la luz perdura entonces soy una sombra que no existe.
Estamos a fines de mayo en el año de la lagartija
cuando el otoño me enciende la mirada
al tropezar con la turgencia de tus pechos sarracenos.
Las cenizas caen de la noche luego de desertar del fuego
mientras deambulo como un fugitivo por estas calles de Agnefit.
El infinito es una matriz en incansable ensanchamiento
como el hijo que navega silencioso en tus abismos.
No recuerdo cuando hijos tuve
ni cuantos infantes perdí en esa guerra.
Allí / por qué callarlo /  se asomaba el paria manilargo
con su morral repleto de serpientes y parábolas
y entre las murallas un francotirador
apuntaba su rifle buscando mi cabeza
con escrupulosa precisión
para que no escuchara sus pasos.
Si las sombras murmuran entonces soy un fuego que se extingue.

Year of the reptile

I‘ve forgotten how many children were mine
how many infants I lost in that war.
If the light persists I’m a shadow without reality.
We’re at the end of May in the year of the lizard
and autumn inflames my gaze as it collides
with your lavish Saracen breasts.
Ash has abandoned the fire and falls from the night
as I wander, fugitive, these streets of Agnefit.
Infinity is a relentlessly expanding matrix
like the child who sails silent in your depths.
I’ve forgotten how many children were mine
how many infants I lost in that war.
Over there / why keep quiet about it / the lewd-fingered pariah would turn up
with his bagful of snakes and parables
and within the walls a sniper
taking care to make no sound
aimed his rifle at my head.
If the shadows whisper then I‘m a dying fire.

* * *

ABOUT THE POET AND THE TRANSLATOR

Sergio Badilla Castillo was born in Valparaíso, Chile in 1947. He studied journalism at the University of Chile and worked in various media from 1969 until 1973, when, after the Pinochet coup, he was forced into exile, first to Argentina, then to Romania, and finally in 1976 to Sweden. There he took a degree in social anthropology at Stockholm University and worked as a culture journalist on Swedish radio, travelling throughout Europe and North Africa, until returning to Chile in 1993. His publications from this period include Más debajo de mi rama (1980), La morada del Signo (1982), Cantonírico (1983), Reverberaciones de piedras acuáticas (1985) and Terrenales (1989). Publications in Chile include Saga Nórdic (1996), La Mirada Temerosa del Bastardo (2003), Poemas Transreales y Algunos Evangelios (2005), Ciudad Transreal (2009), Ok Atacama (2010). Badilla lives in Santiago where he contines to write and teach. His work has appeared with English translations in two chapbooks, La cabeza de la Medusa / The Medusa’s head (2012) and Espectros y Sombras / Ghosts and shadows (2013), and in French translations by Patricio Sánchez in Ville assiégée (2010).

Roger Hickin is a New Zealand poet, visual artist, book designer and publisher.  Although he has written and translated poetry and since the late 1960s, for many years his main preoccupation was with sculpture and painting. In the early 2000s poetry began to demand more attention. His Waiting for the Transport (Kilmog Press, Dunedin) and The Situation & other poems (the initial Cold Hub Press chapbook), both appeared in 2009. Roger is the director of Cold Hub Press –  www.coldhubpress.co.nz – which publishes New Zealand poetry as well as international poetry in several languages, including So we lost paradise, a bilingual selected poems of Chilean poet Juan Cameron, and two chapbooks of poems by Sergio Badilla Castillo (in collaboration with the author).

from Issue #3: Poetry by Luke Whitington (II)

Photo (CC) Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious @ Flickr

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The last valley of oil

We brake on the rise, the cloud of dust behind
Envelopes us in a gritty tide, below
The roads rampage up and over and across
Pinning down the land, the trees

Herded on to traffic islands, the landscape
Becoming incomprehensible, truncated
Configurations cut off at cross sections of rolling dust.
A haze sweeps and forgets its way, here, elsewhere, everywhere.

The valley is a murdered garden, a butchered kingdom
Of palms, the sky is furtive, hiding behind veils of mist
Or rolling east like tumbleweed, For Sale signs slide

Or lean or topple, now all bought and sold. Telegraph wires
Dip and rise, dip and rise in emigration toward the light.
Scarecrow antennas, poles criss-crossed like crucifixions

Leap on to nowhere, the desolation so unreal
You ask yourself was God in on this deal?
Time half way up the driveways withers into unclear surfaces.

The view will not confess, lines of cypresses swerve
To avoid any intersection, the conversation between man, sky and light
Has ended in blank befuddlement. California here has finally stopped its dreaming.

As you drive on the light barely glows, drags across your car bonnet
Gaunt trees stand all together in unrelated families
Type and gender orphaned, palm with conifer

Tea tree or eucalyptus paired with dust-reddened cypress, foxgloves trespass edges

Of roads and whisky grass rides high along the loping ridges.
The land of God’s acres and orchards lies spent. The fences fall or run amok
The gates grow rusted runners in the dirt. The rhododendrons

Have spread low with flowering weeds, the wars of roses with the Joneses
Are all over. We continue to drive in timeless silence, through a mistaken land.
Perhaps we had taken a wrong turn or swung through a chance gate, blown open

After years of rot, broken locks and rust. Somehow the scraggy trees look ashamed
Caught with their foliage down, slumped above lakes of black gold
And the rigs with their weighted arms pump as if to God’s command

And the only motion of being is to suck into the sea of oil
Slowly rising with the clang of turning ballast
Pumped into pipes heading west, towards the dark refineries edging the sea.

*

Postcard from Latvia

Folding your napkin in a Latvian seaside hotel
The waiter attendant, waiting for you to go
The same with the sea, a waiting wintry grey

Carelessly cresting to somewhere you do not choose to know.
In honour of the bronze thirties décor you chose
A three-piece suit to wear and a Windsor knot to eat with, alone

In the huge dining room, a high-ceilinged temple to occasional throat-cleared silence.

The gold chandeliers glowed a garish tribute to midday.
Surprisingly the fish (a flounder) was delicious. The music, however – a dirge of Russian
Origin was listless as autumn leaves on the hard stones of socialism.

You ate your peach without a knife or fork
After Prufrock no longer thought to be so courageous
And you thought of your youngest daughter, bored and married and
Pregnant, far too soon, in snow-cocooned New York…

God – how the wind here moans against those quivering hotel windows
Lost like the sounds of gulls dissolving in the fog
Or guard dogs or poets forgotten in Siberian prisons
Or your mind rebelling against ever fitting in …
You wonder what an old girlfriend is doing now

The one who taught you Italian in Trastevere down there in Rome…
And wore a black velvet bustier and suspenders like a natural skin to bed
The first time you met her, and who wouldn’t stand for any sex
Totally naked, described it as like having to digest cold toast

Unbuttered, together with hotel punnets of frozen jam
And a paper napkin for luck, which you had always delighted in sending back
Untouched in tribute to her, especially when left to dine alone in grandiloquent hotels
Empty and solemnly lit as this one, time pinned under the glaze of winter time…

Where the cutlery would unquietly tinkle away to itself.
Where you came avoiding distractions to try again to write
And ended up being distracted most of the time
By big-toed attempts of staff to be silent, the wry
Ongoing reflections of your several lives and lost wives
And daughters finally gone to live their lives behind windows elsewhere.

* * *

ABOUT THE POET 

Luke Whitington lived in Italy for nearly twenty years, restoring Medieval structures in Umbria and Tuscany. He continued this work in Ireland, restoring the Norman castle of Portlick at Lough Ree. He founded the multimedia gallery Pleasants Factory in Dublin, which supported artists and writers for seven years. Luke’s poems have been published widely in Ireland, including in The Irish Independent, The Westmeath Independent and Poets In Cahoots. In Australia, his poetry has appeared three times in the Henry Kendall Award anthology and in Overland, Quadrant, The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, Melaleuca and the Five Bells anthology. He has read poetry written for art in galleries at Cessnock, Bowral, Pearl Beach and the Charles Cecil Atelier Art School in Florence. He founded the Jean Cecily Drake-Brockman Poetry Prize and divides his time between the Central Coast, Canberra, Ireland and Renaissance Italy.

from Issue #3: Poetry by Luke Whitington (I)

Photo (CC) Ralph Hockens @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Ralph Hockens @ Flickr

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Central Park and Columbus Avenue

Infinitely warm in your hand is the memory
Of her fingers entangled with yours
Wandering in the park painted with snow, windows
Like lit up altars, floating in all four flanking views

The moonlit paths teasing your eyes into the dark into the light
Through foliage shifting ahead, beneath rising oblongs inlaid with gold
Christmas time zipping up granite buildings into the blanketing sky.

She smiled around her turned-up collar, her body
Plumply buttoned with a warmth that pulsed through
Her fingers dovetailed into yours, promising more, the tepid hollow of air

Enclosed between your palms, a tryst not to be dislodged.
The snow skedaddled away from your feet
As you swung through the pinpricked tapestry of twilight

Pausing to kiss, both stroking the bark of the old sycamore tree
Where somebody, Joe, had carved a heart for Mary
The wound now healed, a ripple of growth over the scar.

You sat for a while in your moonlit profiles on the bench
In unconscious harmony with the sacred tree, you were
Her stranger, she was the strange New Yorker, both of you nameless

And watchful aliens, pausing halfway through the trails of trees.
You had met at Szabo’s check-out counter; she with her tea, Twinings Earl Grey,
You with your shortbread biscuits. “Is it time for tea?” you suggested cheekily.

She took you literally and by the waist, and together arm in arm you walked
Into the streets under the stars, now both foreigners in love with the sky
In love with the golden outlines of passing strollers, their plumes of breath, no plans

To make, only the vague idea to walk gladly together for the length of a block
Before saying goodbye in front of her building, a looming
Stone village in the sky. After a hug before the foyer doors, she decided in life’s favour

And you ascended, smiles conspiratorial in the mirror-walled lift, up past
The carpeted floors of nobody-talking-to-anyone-else floors
Except perhaps for a blue-rinse lady with a manicured pink dog
Until with a click and a buffeted shudder you were walking
Inside, across her shining metres of parquet-patterned floor.

The park was a better backdrop for being with a mysterious stranger
She had said, pulling me out on to the terrace
Where we hugged, cosy in our warm wonderful strangeness
Under the same moon that patiently waited, had glazed the park to gold for us.

In the morning buoyed by bouts of love and tenderness
I slipped on my jeans and shirt to go down for milk and coffee.
After shopping I found my way back to the foyer
A harvest of things in both hands as I walked into the lift then soundlessly
Ascending I remembered I had forgotten to remember
Her door number and her floor and her name I had never asked for.

* * *

ABOUT THE POET 

Luke Whitington lived in Italy for nearly twenty years, restoring Medieval structures in Umbria and Tuscany. He continued this work in Ireland, restoring the Norman castle of Portlick at Lough Ree. He founded the multimedia gallery Pleasants Factory in Dublin, which supported artists and writers for seven years. Luke’s poems have been published widely in Ireland, including in The Irish Independent, The Westmeath Independent and Poets In Cahoots. In Australia, his poetry has appeared three times in the Henry Kendall Award anthology and in Overland, Quadrant, The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, Melaleuca and the Five Bells anthology. He has read poetry written for art in galleries at Cessnock, Bowral, Pearl Beach and the Charles Cecil Atelier Art School in Florence. He founded the Jean Cecily Drake-Brockman Poetry Prize and divides his time between the Central Coast, Canberra, Ireland and Renaissance Italy.

from issue #3: ‘Songwomen’ by Clinton Walker

Editor’s note: Clinton Walker is a Sydney writer, an art school drop-out and recovering rock critic, who John Clare has called “our best chronicler of Australian grass-roots culture.” Since his 1981 debut Inner City Sound, he has published another eight books on Australian music and popular culture. His now-out-of-print book Buried Country (2000), the secret history of Aboriginal hillbilly music, was widely hailed and made into a documentary film with accompanying soundtrack CD. Now, with Buried Country due to come out again in a new edition through US publisher Verse Chorus Press in 2014, Walker is also completing the book that was always meant to be not so much a sequel or prequel or even companion piece to Buried Country as its sister volume, about black women in Australian music. This book marks Walker’s return to the art he gave up over thirty years ago to concentrate on writing.

Contrappasso #3 features a number of raw illustrations from this new work in progress. They make up just a small proportion of the gallery of further-artworked portraits that will make up the book, which is also due to be published by Verse Chorus in 2014. Here are a few examples (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that some images here represent people who have passed away) :

“Sarah”, stringband musician, Wynnum near Brisbane, c. 1900

“Sarah”, stringband musician, Wynnum near Brisbane, c. 1900

Heathermae Reading, club singer, Sydney, 1970s—2000s

Heathermae Reading, club singer, Sydney, 1970s—2000s

Kylie Auldist, soul singer, the Bamboos, Melbourne, 2000s

Kylie Auldist, soul singer, the Bamboos, Melbourne, 2000s

Fannie Numbulwar, Borroloola Songwoman, NT, 2012

Fannie Numbulwar, Borroloola Songwoman, NT, 2012