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

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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).

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