Between what I see and what I say,
between what I say and what I keep silent,
between what I keep silent and what I dream,
between what I dream and what I forget:
- Octavio Paz from, To Speak: To Act
The Poems of Octavio Paz is a compilation of works by the Mexican poet that lived from 1914 – 1998, edited and translated by Eliot Weinberger. It is a book, like many, I mostly read standing in a kitchen while I transformed the random ingredients found in a client’s refrigerator into a beautiful meal. Broccoli con muddica (Sicilian cauliflower pasta with toasted bread crumbs – I love the Sicilian word muddica) and a perfectly pretty pink rhubarb compote slipped in between the verse, my wooden spoon periodically pausing to allow a sigh, letting the words oxygenate my blood.
Cold rapid hands
draw back one by one
the bandages of dark
I open my eyes
I am living
at the center
of a wound still fresh
In his poem A Draft of Shadows Paz has a beautiful line: To see the world is to spell it. I am an abysmal speller and this may in fact explain my skewed and incorrect perspective of the world. Now I know. The little dictionary I carry with me has been asked far too much, it simply is not up to the task of correcting all I see. Oh well, at least I can successfully correct for salt.
I love that Paz constantly refers to the mechanics of his art. The punctuation, the spelling and the syllables. He and I are mesmerized by the forms and functions. It’s not just the meaning of the words – it is the ingredients – the words, the commas, the syllables! Sílabas: se enlazan y se desenlazan (Syllables twine and untwine).
I am in a room abandoned by language
You are in another identical room
Or we both are
on a street your glance has depopulated
imperceptibly comes apart
decayed beneath our feet
I am stopped in the middle of this
From Trowbridge Street
His poems are nearly always dedicated to someone, either someone he presumably knew or was inspired by, including the translator of the book which is marvelous to consider. There must be something very different in a collaborative translation, even if the author has no depth of fluency, the auditory and visual aspects can be experienced and molded.
Many of his poems are very long. I’m a little scared of very long poems, but when they capture – it’s awe. Blanco is one such. It is wonderful in many ways, its length is what gives a melody to the usual beat of poetry. By the forth or fifth page reader and writer are harmonizing, and its resonance is deep.
In The Book of Disquiet, Fernando Pessoa said (roughly) that poetry expressed everything- in a language that no one speaks. I love that idea: a language no one speaks. We are all bilingual! So what if it is a language of one? Through poetry one can originate a language of their own soul or, as reader, become sole translator to another’s. I’ve always wanted to be a translator. That’s grand.
In between yours and mine, you and me, is an entire lexicon, grammar, and comprehension. If only someone could speak me. I speak Paz, but of course, it isn’t Paz when I speak it- between us there is yet another.
Words are inexact
and say inexact things.
But saying this or that,
they say us.
From Letter of Testimony
* Title comes from the extraordinary poem – Blanco.
for Lasse Söderberg
The world leaps
in front of thought
in front of sound
the world leaps like a horse
in front of the wind
like a sulfur bull
in front of the night
it’s lost in the streets of my skull
the tracks of the beast are everywhere
the scarlet tattoo on the face of the tree
the ice tattoo on the tower’s forehead
the electric tattoo on the sex of the church
its claws in your neck
its paws on your belly
the violet sign
the sunflower that turns towards the target
toward the scream toward the bored
the sunflower that turns like a flayed sigh
the signature of the nameless across your skin
everywhere the blinding scream
the black swell that covers thought
the angry bell that clangs in my head
the bell of blood in my chest
the image that laughs at the top of the tower
the word that explodes words
the image that burns all the bridges
the woman who vanished in the middle of a kiss
the derelict who killed her children
the idiot the liar the incestuous daughter
the persecuted doe
the prophetic beggarwoman
the girl who in the middle of my life
wakes me and says remember