Cheryl Clark Vermeulen translating Tedi López Mills

Neighbors; Speculations; Midday; Return


Everything has its time…
– Ecclesiastes

Certain days,
during certain minutes,
when the unleashed arc of twelve                  
first strikes,                                                     
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
pure apparition
faceless and selfless                                         
flickering light born
absent symbol             
absent anything else
concealed or cut short
between the stalk                                                                               
and the puddle’s edge
devoid of concept                   
death or nature                                               
within reach                           
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                                             
as desire
its tenacious orange 
cluster and dream
I repeat
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,                         
so intrinsic, 
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.              
Or this?
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
blurrily outlined
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,
imagine it,
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,                                   
that depends:
along the improvised path,                                                     
at the edge of the poem,                                                         
the head of that meticulous animal                             
improper, elusive,
essentially reeking with a trace                                               
            of blood
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,
enumerated 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.

Translator's Note

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.”

Cheryl Clark Vermeulen

Cheryl Clark Vermeulen earned an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop after working in non-profit organizations. Her chapbook is called Dead-Eye Spring (Cy Gist Press). Her poems and translations appear in Caketrain, Split Rock Review, TWO LINES Online, Solstice Literary Magazine, DIAGRAM, Thermos Mag, EOAGH, Inertia Magazine, eXchanges, Jubilat, Third Coast, admit2, Dispatx, Propeller Quarterly, among others, and the anthology Connecting Lines: New Poetry from Mexico. She was a finalist for a Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Artist Fellowship. She is an Assistant Professor in Liberal Arts at Massachusetts College of Art and Design and the Poetry Editor of the journal Pangyrus.

Tedi López Mills

Tedi López Mills, born in Mexico City in 1959, is a poet, essayist, translator, and editor. In 1998, she received the first poetry grant awarded by the Octavio Paz Foundation. From 1994 to 1999, she was Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal La Gaceta. Her poetry books include Segunda persona (Efraín Huerta National Literature Prize), Glosas, Horas and Luz por aire y agua, Un jardín, cinco noches (y otros poemas), Contracorriente (José Fuentes Mares National Prize for Literature), Parafrasear and Muerte en la rúa Augusta (Xavier Villaurrutia Award).