Jerome Rothenberg: Three Variations on Octavio Paz’s “Blanco”

For the 100th anniversary of Octavio Paz’s birth

BLANCO 1 : A VARIATION IN SEVEN SEGMENTS FOR OCTAVIO PAZ

1. white as the land looks | the vultures | white also | circle above | each one a soul | glows white | on horizon | or on page

2. the land is the land | it is white | thunderheads cover it | drumbeats | joining the land | & the sky

3. sky receptive to thunder | drumbeats to sky | white to colors | faces to eyes | sand turning white | like the sky

4. green is also | a color | like flesh | stung by thorns | my body | or yours | sparks a rage | like a drumbeat | violent | mineral | white

5. uproots trees | marks the land | like a body | shattered by lightning | the word | once proclaimed | white turns yellow

6. those who beat | on a waterdrum | spines tightly pressed | to a wall | & the drumbeat | spreads violet ash | on the sky | a sun glowing white

7. language | a desert | pink everywhere | seeds in your mouth | like white crows | & more drumbeats | a flute | turns everything white

21.i.10

BLANCO 2: A VARIATION IN FIVE SEGMENTS FOR OCTAVIO PAZ

1. A clarity | of all the senses | lingers | leaving on the mouth & face | a white precipitation | sculptures crystal-thin | blank space | translucid whirlpools

2. Is it a pilgrimage | that brings us | dancing in a ring | into a forest | where our thoughts | are white | the only signs | our steps | that break the silence

3. Green would be better | a slim defile | through which we pass | an archipelago | the shadow of a syllable | a white reflection

4. Is it red | or is it blue | this dazzlement | that blinds us | numbers | dancing in the void | like things | a final clarity | no longer white

5. Thoughts fade | winds cease | forgetfulness erases truth | there is a deeper music in the words we speak | yellow isn’t white | & amethyst | is just a color

24.i.10

BLANCO 3: A VARIATION IN NINE SEGMENTS FOR OCTAVIO PAZ

1. Presentiment & penumbra | hide the river | where the sand | still white | buries a palm | a pike emerging | skewers our vowels | as we speak

2. Blood fills the mouth | the chest counts anxious minutes | as the dead might | undulations | of a copper lamp | high overhead | casting a shadow

3. Transparency in daylight | where a river | seeks a river | poles apart | the consonants feel heavy | water vanishes | the drought starts up

4. The Spanish centuries | remain anonymous | against my forehead | silt obscures a castle | coal burns yellow | patience ends | a white confusion | covers all

5. What does the vase hold? | blood & bones | not flowers | the sad reality of words | a language of atonement | silences & syllables | white as this dust

6. No further clarity | than this | no histories or hieroglyphs | to guide us | dunes & water all around | conspiracies of light | absent survivors

7. White bones | appeasement hard to find | or patience | when we climb the ladder | mineshafts open up | below | a red hand beckons

8. His source is Mexico | his language set apart from | all the others | white on white

9. pulsebeat quickens | on the playing card he holds | a foliage unfolds for him | a language no one reads | a river rife with whitecaps | rolling by

25.i.10

[NOTE. The preceding poems were commisioned & prepared for "Trans-Poetic Exchange: A Colloquium on Haroldo de Campos and Octavio Paz's poem 'Blanco'" at Stanford University, January 29-30, 2010. An invitation toward what de Campos called "transcreation" and I call "othering," the method employed here is one I've used in The Lorca Variations & elsewhere, drawing all nouns from translations of Paz’s own writing & moving on therefrom.  Printed originally in the blogger version of Poems and Poetics. (J.R.)]