Everything has its time…
during certain minutes,
when the unleashed arc of twelve
I think of my neighbors.
I think: that is my share of humanity,
my soul and its nearest figure,
my numbered flesh of the Bible,
my clay created from their clay.
And I do not say:
here is something new,
another plank, another fire log,
another gnawed bone
between the bad and the good,
another splinter scratched by reason;
but I look under the sun
and I think anew:
yes, my luck is their luck,
the same fallen tree
the broken branch
the same axe
the same strip of leather
sunken into the fur
of an utter beast.
And I tell myself:
between my neighbors and me
between their houses and mine,
sky after useless sky,
there is scarcely time for love
but often time for hate.
As so the days are passing,
against my will,
and so they waste away.
My learned ignorance
does not know that passage
of rooks and hares
nor who walks with God
and who the devil
in the via negativa
wherein a shrub
and a conceivable garden
abound with darkness
prolific science and color
leaf by leaf
in every detail
miracle and spectacle
faceless and selfless
flickering light born
absent anything else
concealed or cut short
between the stalk
and the puddle’s edge
devoid of concept
death or nature
of what I sometimes know
though I may leave
while this day lasts
the othernesss of its medlar
knife and edge
up to the imprint of seed
taste as deserved
its tenacious orange
cluster and dream
a piece of fruit
a patch of sun
in the mouth
and then I know
On the drab path that splits the garden,
along its border of rock and free will,
its chittering patch hedged with elms,
the wings and leaves in disarray
seeking an ideal bird entangled in the branches,
you disrupted the penumbra
having moved your feet toward the pit of light
that was opening my path to a red stone wall
where the figure of sky
passed over my hand rested on the wall
and released and lengthened its hours into the air
through the twelve tolls of a bronze midday.
I ask myself where one should begin
when the poem creates its own poem.
And I’ll be clear: barren is barren,
empty of doubt, empty of light,
the eyes now blinded at these heights,
the lens of instinct in shatters,
and no one still braiding
even a tenable knot of phantoms
on that mythic fringe
revealing its cycle of rust
between grass and spade.
Although over there, outside,
on the field of tangled branches,
on the lone pile of dead leaves,
if one looks carefully,
a scarlet dome is my lure. And I say,
do you remember the earlier fallacy,
the skirmish on canvas
seen from around the corner
with the edge split into the figure
of the sea,
stalks, cymbals, bees in between,
a flagpole of tatters,
the fluff of some cloud?
Or the simple dilemmas:
the hencoop without an alibi,
the stockyard devoid of mercy,
the cackles in the slaughterhouse
where the meandering feathers
flutter in their own way,
and sorrow is almost finite,
though the rainstorm holds off.
Have you seen?
How much already floats,
How much sinks toward dawn
and inward toward the noise,
my landscape in footsteps:
a bridge and behind it,
the curve of water stilled
on the wall
as stains of overflow.
Meadows, beaks, spurs
depending on what midday
squalls were to invent,
what mix of sun-iris, sun-straw
destined for a certain breeze, a certain hour;
this much life for this much simulacra
in the sphere of before
weighed down by the symptom of an
But I’m saying the way is through here:
where the horse with ribs exposed,
emaciated, paws at the ground;
where at a glance the rat props up
an original version of my copy
between one guile and another;
where a fire twists wood
like pig’s skin
curling up in the flames, dripping
some sort of thick liquid.
Although where and where is false.
It is the pig’s turn,
I speculate, to become pretext,
piggish pig with cylindrical trap,
its farm and unbreakable snout,
what guides it up to here
when on my tiptoes,
raising me over the iron gate,
an oil rainbow
melds with a hoof and something there
foretells a fortune that perhaps I had.
Imagine it, hear it, take a look,
along the improvised path,
at the edge of the poem,
the head of that meticulous animal
essentially reeking with a trace
among the false fires in the marsh,
rouses in search of whatever sense
a name, a texture,
a ritual of synonyms on that slope.
And nothing, not a bit of evidence
here nor there,
since what is this?
Look, listen: I do not know.
But perhaps if I were to say,
always speculating, that today I love
the beginning would be simpler
bound by time,
and then a reverie on scarcity
in these barrens,
centuries and not memories,
alone in the countryside,
it would be the same as a feeling,
and for an instant
at least it would be about that.
Translating the Poems of Contemporary Mexican Poet Tedi López Mills
The child of a Mexican father and a Californian mother, Tedi López Mills has navigated two languages and divergent cultural backgrounds. Though her poems do not foreground this autobiography, her poetry explores the sense of being split between two worlds, of being two entities. This an experience fueled by language as, for her, each word (“hole”) is also another (“hueco”). And within the space of that translation, her inquisitive poetry proliferates.
She lives in Mexico City, but her poems often describe rural places and fuse rural and urban imagery, shifting between a sense of travel and a sense of residency. Thus, we may be presented with images of a countryside perceived by a city dweller who is, at the same time, questioning the very boundaries of perception. These perceptions begin to blur with the speaker’s imaginings so that the mind itself becomes a new landscape through which to travel.
Reading her poetry stuns our sense of location and perception—reality and imagination—twining them so much that we may look up to see if we are here or there, seeing or being seen. Translating her work magnifies this bewilderment; at first I feel secure in my own language and then, of course, off course, this security begins to slip away. I wonder: What is that thing called again? What has the name done to the thing? Do I want the name to keep doing this? Does some other name need to begin its being?
López Mills’s work also embodies crossings as it joins a personal voice with a more distanced philosophical one, most evident in her diction. Having studied philosophy at both the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) and the Sorbonne, she manifests a philosophical search for the reality of things in her poems. This learned voice is modulated by the vernacular, as exemplified by a phrase such as “my learned ignorance.” Translating, I am faced with the questions: When do I write “inclemency”? When do I write “storm”? Will this “penumbra” be only a shadow? My translations would suffer from (and some could argue, benefit from) relying only on Germanic words at the expense of Latinate ones, but I think that doing so would dissolve her tangle of diction. I work to understand these entanglements in which the poems surge equally from daily insight and learned reasoning.
Translating her work, I step into a capacious mind, peer into landscapes both inner and outer, decipher an intricate melding of imagined and actual locations, and question whether place is ever accurately perceived, all the while venturing through these experiences with a fierce calm—a paradoxical experience I crave and to which I keep returning. Other translators are hooked as well. Now I urge you to return to her work and read “Return.”