The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Fiction from Mexico City

Jaime Sabines in Translation

 In this section, Canadian poet Colin Carberry presents his masterful translations of Jaime Sabines Gutiérrez, Mexico’s most influential modern poet. Sabines was born in Chiapas in 1926. His first collection, Horal, appeared in 1950 and met with widespread critical acclaim. Several of his later titles are considered classics, and his poetry continues to be anthologized and widely translated. He received numerous literary awards and honours over the course of his career, including the City of Mexico Prize, the National Prize for Literature, and the Belisario Domínguez Medal of Honour. Often regarded as one of the world’s major poets of the twentieth century, he died in Mexico City in March 1999.

En Los Ojos Abiertos de Los Muertos

 

¡qué fulgor extraño, qué humedad ligera!

Tapiz de aire en la pupila inmóvil,

velo de sombra, luz tierna.

En los ojos de los amantes muertos

el amor vela.

Los ojos son como una puerta

infranqueable, codiciada, entreabierta.

¡Por qué la muerte prolonga a los amantes,

los encierra en un mutismo como de tierra?

¿Qué es el misterio de esa luz que llora

en el agua del ojo, en esa enferma

superficie de vidrio que tiembla?

Ángeles custodios les recogen la cabeza.

Murieron en su mirada,

murieron de sus propias venas.

Los ojos parecen piedras

dejadas en el rostro por una mano ciega.

El misterio los lleva.

¿Qué magia, qué dulzura

en el sarcófago de aire que los encierra?

 

 

IN THE OPEN EYES OF THE DEAD

there is a strange, lustrous sheen!

Film of air in the motionless pupil,

shadowy veil, tender light.

Love keeps vigil in the open eyes

of dead lovers.

The eyes are like a coveted,

impenetrable, half-open door.

Why does death defer lovers, entomb

them in a place of silence like the earth?    

What is it about the weeping light

in the water of the eye—in that wasting

meniscus of trembling glass?

Guardian angels took them to their breasts;

in their gaze, they breathed their last,

died of their own veins.

Those eyes are like stones

left by a blind hand on the face.

Mystery spirits them away.

Ah, the beguiling sweetness

in the casket of the air that entombs them!

La Procesión del Entierro

LA PROCESIÓN DEL ENTIERRO en las calles de la ciudad es ominosamente patética. Detrás del carro que lleva el cadáver, va el autobús, o los autobuses negros, con los dolientes, familiares y amigos. Las dos o tres personas llorosas, a quienes de verdad les duele, son ultrajadas por los cláxones vecinos, por los gritos de los voceadores, por las risas de los transeúntes, por la terrible indiferencia del mundo. La carroza avanza, se detiene, acelera de nuevo, y uno piensa que hasta los muertos tienen que respetar las señales del tránsito. Es un entierro urbano, decente y expedito.

No tiene la solemnidad ni la ternura del entierro en provincia. Una vez vi a un campesino llevando sobre los hombros una caja pequeña y blanca. Era una niña, tal vez su hija. Detrás del él no iba nadie, ni siquiera una de esas vecinas que se echan el rebozo sobre la cara y se ponen serias, como si pensaran en la muerte. El campesino iba solo, a media calle, apretado el sombrero con una de las manos sobre la caja blanca. Al llegar al centro de la población iban cuatro carros detrás del él, cuatro carros de desconocidos que no se habían atrevido a pasarlo.

Es claro que no quiero que me entierren. Pero si algún día ha de ser, prefiero que me entierren en el sótano de la casa, a ir muerto por esas calles de Dios sin que nadie se dé cuenta de mí. Porque si amo profundamente esta maravillosa indiferencia del mundo hacia mi vida, deseo también fervorosamente que mi cadáver sea respetado.

***

THE FUNERAL PROCESSION in the city streets is ominously pathetic. Behind the car that bears the corpse comes the bus, or the black buses, filled with mourners, relatives, and friends. The two or three people crying, those for whom it truly hurts, are disgusted by the honking of passing cars, the shouts of the street hawkers, the laughter of the transients, the terrible indifference of the world. The hearse advances, idles, moves off again, and one begins to think that even the dead will have to respect the traffic signals. It’s an urban funeral, decent and expedient. 

It has neither the solemnity nor the tenderness of a country funeral. I once saw a farmer walking with a little white coffin on his shoulders. It was a girl, his daughter perhaps. There was no one behind him, not even one of those neighbors who would cover her face with a shawl and act serious, as though she were brooding on death. He walked alone, in the middle of the street, holding his with the same hand that gripped the white box. Walking through the centre of the village, four cars trailed him, four cars full of strangers who hadn’t dared to overtake him.

For sure I don’t want to be buried. But if one day it should happen, I would rather be buried in the cellar of my house than traipse dead through these streets of God without anyone paying any heed to me. Because if I deeply love this wonderful indifference of the world to my existence, I also fervently desire that my corpse be respected.     

Pensándolo Bien

 

Me dicen que debo hacer ejercicios para adelgazar,

que alrededor de los 50 son muy peligrosos la grasa y el cigarro,

que hay que conservar la figura

y dar la batalla al tiempo, a la vejez.

 

Expertos bien intencionados y médicos amigos

me recomiendan dietas y sistemas

para prolongar la vida unos años más.

 

Lo agradezco de todo corazón, pero me río

de tan vanas recetas y tan escaso afán.

(La muerte también ríe de todas estas cosas.)

 

La única recomendación que considero seriamente

es la de buscar mujer joven para la cama

porque a estas alturas

la juventud sólo puede llegarnos por contagio

 

 

THINKING IT OVER

 They tell me I should exercise to lose some weight,

that round 50’s when the fat and cigarettes do the damage,

that you have to stay in good shape,

and wage the struggle against time, and old age.

 

Well-intentioned experts and doctor friends

push dieting regimens designed

to squeeze a few more years out of life.

 

I’m grateful to them all, but I have to laugh

at all such ultimately futile attempts.

(Death, too, gets a kick out of all this stuff.)

 

The only recommendation I take to heart

is to find a young woman for my bed,

because at this late stage

youth can only hope to reach us second hand.

 

Canonicemos a Las Putas

 

CANONICEMOS A LAS PUTAS. Santoral del sábado: Bety, Lola, Margot, vírgenes perpetuas, reconstruidas, mártires provisorias llenas de gracia, manantiales de generosidad.

Das el placer, oh puta redentora del mundo, y nada pides a cambio sino unas monedas miserables. No exiges ser amada, respetada, atendida, ni imitas a las esposas con los lloriqueos, las reconvenciones y los celos. No obligas a nadie a la despedida ni a la reconciliación; no chupas la sangre ni el tiempo; eres limpia de culpa; recibes en tu seno a los pecadores, escuchas las palabras y los sueños, sonríes y besas. Eres paciente, experta, atribulada, sabia, sin rencor.

No engañas a nadie, eres honesta, íntegra, perfecta; anticipas tu precio, te enseñas; no discriminas a los viejos, a los criminales, a los tontos, a los de otro color; soportas las agresiones del orgullo, las asechanzas de los enfermos; alivias a los impotentes, estimulas a los tímidos, complaces a los hartos, encuentras la fórmula de los desencantados. Eres la confidente del borracho, el refugio del perseguido, el lecho del que no tiene reposo.

Has educado tu boca y tus manos, tus músculos y tu piel, tus vísceras y tu alma. Sabes vestir y desvestirte, acostarte, moverte. Eres precisa en el ritmo, exacta en el gemido, dócil a las maneras del amor.

Eres la libertad y el equilibrio; no sujetas ni detienes a nadie; no sometes a los recuerdos ni a la espera. Eres pura presencia, fluidez, perpetuidad.

En el lugar en que oficias a la verdad y a la belleza de la vida, ya sea el burdel elegante, la casa discreta o el camastro de la pobreza, eres lo mismo que una lámpara y un vaso de agua y un pan.

Oh puta amiga, amante, amada, recodo de este día de siempre, te reconozco, te canonizo a un lado de los hipócritas y los perversos, te doy todo mi dinero, te corono con hojas de yerba y me dispongo a aprender de ti todo el tiempo.

 ***

 

LET’S CANONIZE THE WHORES. Saturday night saints’ calendar: Bety, Lola, Margot, perpetual, reconstructed virgins, temporary martyrs full of grace, wellsprings of generosity.

 You give pleasure, O world redeeming whore, and ask nothing in return but a couple of measly coins. You don’t demand to be loved, respected, attended to; you don’t go on like the wives with their whingeing, scolding and jealous fits. You force no one to make up or to bid you goodbye; you suck neither blood nor time; you are beyond reproach; you take the sinners to your breast, you listen to their words and dreams, you laugh and you kiss. You are patient, expert, long-suffering, wise, and free of resentment.

 You deceive no one: you are honest, upright, and perfect. You name your price and you reveal yourself. You don’t discriminate against the old, criminals, fools, or those of another colour. You suffer the assaults of pride, the snares of the sick; you soothe the impotent, stimulate the shy, gratify the satiated; conjure up the cure for the disenchanted. You are the drunkard’s confidante, refuge of the persecuted, rest bed of he who cannot find repose.  

 You have educated your hands, mouth and muscles, your skin, your guts and your soul. You know how to dress and to undress; you lie down, and you move. You are precise in your rhythm, exact in your moan, docile in the ways of love.

 You are freedom itself, and balance; you don’t dominate or detain anyone; you don’t get sentimental nor do you wait for anyone. You are pure presence, fluidity, perpetuity.

 In the place in which you minister the truth and beauty of life, be it an elegant brothel, a discreet house or the makeshift beds of the poor, you are the same as a lamp or a glass of water or a slice of bread.

 O whore of mine, lover, beloved, this and every day’s safe haven, I recognize you, I canonize you to one side of the hypocrites and the perverts, I give you all my money, I crown you with leaves of grass and I intend to learn from you for ever more.

About the translator: Colin Carberry

Colin Carberry was born in Toronto and raised in Ireland. He is the author of the poetry collections The Crossing (Bearing Press, 1998), The Green Table (Exile, 2003) and Ceasefire in Purgatory (Luna, 2007), and is the translator of Love Poems (Biblioasis, 2011), along with an earlier volume of Sabines's verse. His own poetry has been translated into many languages and widely anthologized. Colin has read from his work on radio and television, and at book fairs, literary festivals and universities, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Serbia, and the United States. He works and writes in Linares, N.L., Mexico.