Ricardo Cázares

New poems from 'So to Speak,' with translator’s note

Translated from Spanish by Joe Imwalle


(the rest

begins with brambles


                        mulberry trees sprouting

      at the base of the cypress


                   and I suppose it was late

                   for tall grass it is late                     yes

                        tomorrow        while you pass the fir trees

                        on the way to the station

                                    tomorrow it rains

                                    on a fruit stall in the market


(so I went to the end of the avenue

following the signs that in the end

did not say what you were looking for


            yes        says life

            in theory in



                                    will be


                                    be more daring in pursuit…

a cookie

      a sign from the fortune

                           in the won-ton


it will make you feel young again and

loved, more

loved in the future

         where chores and joys

      were postponed


(not said in the past perfect tense

of someone living in Henan Province


and that tomorrow

we walked to Sarlat


                        and it was good

it does us good

                  that path




piles of paper

cigarette butts


boxes with memories

from another life


picture frames

blotches from chores

on the wooden deck



the knob that winds a mechanism

to make time sing


            “we die alone, lie alone

                                    (nor be in bodies lost)”



objects that may

one of these days

on their own

become useful to someone


though “There are no impervious skins or membranes in

nature, no ‘outlines’. Nothing is ever quite isolate.”


in the plaza

the municipal authority recently

ordered the planting

of a new path

of poplars


all afternoon

gusts of wet wind


you called at three

to see if I ate

if we finished


while watching the poplar saplings


I told you a story

about my mother


they tell me

that verses on a wall

that were facing the Jordan

have been erased




on her father’s map

his house is a nameless

green smudge


there are specks of very fine dust

on the map from nineteen thirty-six


there’s a pair of tiny fragile legs

a trace of chitin


on the map

his house is a pistachio-colored blotch

where you can’t see the houses


his house is a field traversed

by a jagged line that ends

without touching the cobalt blue ink of the Atlantic


his house is a green smudge

dotted with yellow specks


on this spot a butterfly died


on this spot someone ate a cookie


on the map there are plains


on the map there’s no implication of grasslands


in his house every flower

every moth

is made of a saffron dust


in his house he remembers the summer

in which the wind splattered the green stain

of his father’s house


a nameless house

except one line that says Presas

then fades out without disrupting the sea


the map doesn’t mention

the name of his father


the map is a green stain

on the table lined with grooves


upon waking

the butterfly flutters over a river


and is confused by light from the window




TRANSLATORS NOTE. I first read Es un decir, Ricardo Cázares’s seventy-five-page serial poem, in the fall of 2019. Soon thereafter, time became a confusing thing to measure — and it was good to have a project with which to shelter in place.


The art of translation requires an eye for detail while maintaining a bird’s-eye view: I’d get caught up on a single word choice, then pull back and reread from the start for context. At the same time, translation requires acceptance that there’s always more out of reach. The speaker of these poems seems to be in a similar state of near and far — often in a liminal space on the verge of a greater understanding.


The book weaves together quotes of poets ranging from Arnaut Daniel, an Occitan troubadour of the twelfth century, to Basil Bunting, who in turn looks to thirteenth century Japan for the poet turned hermit, Komo no Chomei. Wallace Stevens is there, as well as Ezra Pound. Cázares is a translator too. He’s the first with a complete Spanish translation of Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems, as well as Robert Creeley’s Pieces and several others. Olson and Creeley’s attention to ear and breath is present throughout as the lines shift across the page.


While the book first appeared in Mexico in 2013, I believe its just as timely now. The poems mirror a world that feels both intimate and international, too big and too small. These are open poems that reject tying the endings with a bow. The text slips easily from sound to sound and present to future to past and back again. The effect can be trance-inducing. I tried to carry this over into English.


I hope readers find enough in this excerpt to seek out more or return for multiple readings. The text welcomes meaning-making from those who engage. And those who do so may find that the poetic moment is at hand in their own lives, ringing across time in all directions.


[N.B. A posting of fragments from Cázares’s earlier book titled < > appeared previously on Poems and Poetics.]