In twenty years I’ll write your poem
and sing of you with lines so strong
they’ll force flowers open, and bees,
confused, will forget to make honey.
In twenty years: how can I wait
that long for the right poem?
You better take what I have now,
a quick song, erratic, hoarse,
made of the moment’s trash
and feverish voices that dash
this out of tune bass
down to the ground.
I lie down on the floor like a man wiped out.
It’s dark, a night without stars, I’m completely empty.
I forget that I’m a poet, that I am not alone,
I have to accept this, build on it, how I don’t know,
but I have to, I have to, I have to.
Crawling through the wreckage, I come closer.
I don’t want to but I need to touch human skin,
feel the coolness, see the color, see the silence,
meet my new friend and pour myself into him.
Because he is someone else. The discovery
still stuns me. Blind, I can see. I tear out my eyes and see.
Stare through walls and see. Across an ocean of blood I see.
Perfect, pitiless, serene, shattered,
he is someone else. Those are different teeth. A different smile.
A different word, dripping.
amazing that he
fit on a quick note,
“Meet you at the corner,”
and by the next mail
he was sailing down the Amazon,
wearing a vest of music
and hovering, among
songs, in the fine mist
of the Seven Steps,
in the mountains of Minas,
in mangrove swamps, on rubber plantations,
in all the different
and beyond them, too,
in places no one knows,
the countries we aspire to,
but true, absolute,
where João can finally keep
the open rose of the people . . .
Has the rose of the people lost its petals
or is it still closed shyly like it was at dawn?
Is a child’s cry from the crib an annunciation,
a call for help, an expression of hope
Maybe it’s just a midnap moan, who knows.
But a better ear listens, the artist breathes in
and a rose blossoms, a secret passes on,
the poet said it would,
the poet, in the shadows, said it would.
Closer, and a light. Closer, and paintings,
more paintings. Portinari was here, he left
his mark. So too were Cézanne and Picasso,
primitives, singers, people who don’t fool around,
the howl of the northeast, fetishes, religions,
animals . . . Here they all came together,
formerly 108. Often my thoughts
flew here. Back came the word
awaited in doubt like thorns.
I never came here myself. But how the floor
greets our feet with the kiss of its smoothness!
All the breezes of memory steady the house
and push it along,
as it picks up friends from Minas and
friends from Pernambuco and Pará, as it gathers up,
packs away, and protects all the handshakes
Those coming in and going out pass each other in immense corridors,
peace on the staircase,
calm in the windows,
and she sails like a slow bird, a postcard, a cloud full of rain.
The houses anchored below wave goodbye:
No, stay . . .
tied to his home, available to a few scattered
Suddenly the beard stops growing. Telegrams
break off. No one answers
the phone. Silence
in Lopes Chavez.
Now I know we’ve been cut off cold.
I can’t pretend to be overwhelmed by grief, I’m not
some derelict wandering around hopeless on a beach.
Many look for
on the aura hidden by the city’s breathing.
It’s a portrait, only a picture,
you saw it once in a newspaper,
the day spoiled like a fruit,
a sliding veil, a frozen grin,
the desire to say nothing. Above all, it’s an awkward pause,
and beyond all, vinegar.
But your powerful shade casts off and moves on.
It sails down the river, floating through tunnels
where the ancients carved funerary inscriptions,
it glides over salt water, leaving only your words
(we’re better than death, and the palm tree soars)
words glowing like garnets dearer than diamonds.
— Carlos Drummond de Andrade (from A Rosa do Povo, 1945)
translated from the Portuguese by Ron Horning
(in current issue of Vanitas ed. Vincent Katz)