Two poems from 'Contra Natura,' newly translated by Anthony Seidman
like a tympanum separates me from the rest / of things / the perfect equilibrium of the living / with dead bodies’ memory (R.H.)
Writes his translator, Anthony Seidman: “Rodolfo Hinostroza [Peru, 1941–2016] is recognized as a bridge between such earlier poets as Vallejo and contemporary Peruvian poets. Indeed, his most acclaimed collection of poetry, Contra natura (1971) [from which the poems here are excerpted] made an impression as indelible as Vallejo’s Trilce.
The poems in Contra Natura unleash auguries, assemblies of voices across epochs and languages, a parliament of the shades and the living, yet the poet’s presences always remain, an Imagination, an Emanation from the Imaginer, the Mage, the Images dissolving from Imperial Rome to the battlefields of 1960s Vietnam, the logic of the stars, the poetry of Dryden and Shakespeare, the counterculture, impossible Utopias, Eros, wild and young vagabonds in love with poetry, all of that forming a radiant bouquet that sparkles and dissipates in the unending and dark liquidity of the cosmos. This Poet, too, sees a World in a Grain of Sand, and intuits the constellations within himself and the one he touches.” (“Some Thoughts on Rodolfo Hinostroza,” in Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, June 15, 2018)
And Charles Bernstein: “An essential work of the poetics of the Americas, a gift to English.”
Dialogue Between a Prisoner and Deaf Man
Does the bare-throated bellbird reach us? Does the dream
line up the dead and the resurrected along some sticky walls?
The woman smelled of linen.
Say, do you hear that noise? It’s as if they were bringing a prisoner, and that
squeaking of chains is the only thing that separates us from the
The woman smelled.
And voilà, here come
some false sandals in motion, and they speak to us of Europes
we will never glimpse, and now of pagodas; those footprints
suggest the sandals had trod across red earth, and just where is that
red earth, George?
A desert, no doubt, something sun-scorched. The sun. Remember it?
There’s a sun outside!
/He says there’s no outside/
The woman smelled of woman.
“Clang, clang,” coins ringing against the tin plate, you hear it?
Don’t doze off! You want
even more sleep? George? Whatever, that idiot clang clang
that imagination that continues extinguishing, those words that
do not wish to come out
they leave us closer to reality.
Reality, I write your name.
The woman is that noise. The
universe is that noise, eh, Captain? The rusty spheres
emit that noise, Saturn rotates above Scorpio and frazzles nerves;
there’s a sea as well, and rain, and sometimes they are tossed to and
fro, I mean to say it rains on the sea, lightning bolts strike, urging one on
like a madman. Captain?
The clamps hold some bones, the cold corridors
hide barricades of amontillado.
The tit perches atop the apple tree’s branches
The woman smelled of sandalwood.
Have you heard that story
the one about the man who falls into a cask and starts to drown,
at first he’s terrified, and he tries to escape,
and then he grasps that he has returned to his mother’s womb?
became pure once again, George.
Catatonics roam about downtown. A
mass of students and decent folk are throwing stones
But the simple ones follow, exclaiming, praying:
“It’s the Saints, the Saints, don’t you hear them Mommy?”
She was pulling off her dress over
her head. / But why do you speak about her!?
She pushed you with both of her hands
to throw you inside of the cask.
But she smelled of sandalwood and of onion soup.
That shadow was a bird, a butterfly,
the dream of that dream? Wake up, George!
Pull yourself together. The round arc of the sun
can’t be seen from here. Impossible to make out the time of day. That
dirty word, Time. Speak, George. You once knew a thing about numbers,
in a song: “Two times one equals two / two times two equals four / two
times three equals six.”
Reality? Is it necessary to steal stakes and drive them
into a reality that’s coming apart?
/He says there’s no outside/
I would kill you, George. But no.
I, too, have slept for many years,
Intermittently. Perhaps I’m asleep now, and you
are the one who’s awake.
Oh! Then, yes indeed, I would kill you. Captain.
No noise. The tinkle bird doesn’t sound like tinkle doesn’t sound.
The senses rot, they rot. Tomorrow, it will be touch,
the beautiful eyes of quartz. George? You there?
Let me hear your voice,
a vocalic, anything,
that never goes quiet.
all eyes you entered my tent
covered with flowers / oh olfactory animal /
thus the color that attracts the small beasts
thus the peacock’s headpiece
and I remembered: kinetic desire
stasis in the contemplation of a body
ancient repetition thus the butterfly and the coleopteran beetle
& in your sex / the sea / thrimethylamide
& in your breasts colored fauns frolicked
eyes of fish: I saw you and I discovered it
un coup de cheveux and I tumble to the ground
& before I had been inside of you and see: a liquid universe
tides inside of yours
our bodies imitating the sea’s movement
The Fish and The Moon
above, a putrid sky jusqu’au bout
yet the stars
rudder / anchor / astrolabe
& far beyond there in the no man’s land of orgasm
the fish dreams
amoeboid undifferentiated liquid form
in suo esse perseverare conatur
not sex not the metallic odor of the sky
abominable love beautiful hatred
Swim, gamete of mine! Ascend the liquid river
towards the origin
the calcárida and the salamander
:so that I may open my tent
and a great wave of thighs may rescue an entire life lost.
& they sent you to my tent
& I was a goat shepherd
sick of violence as well
& I gazed silently at the stars / hindered
and thus I saw you come:
not female that murders the male not the one breeding dogs
not l’héritage of the spider not the disputes and nonsense of the prey
this is how you played touching your body
dark eyes / ancient aromas: myrrh and sodomy
at last I could say: I am the loneliest of animals
un coup de cheveux and I tumble to the ground.
& everything could be different in nature
grazing on herbs and roots
we had to imitate the great carnivores
your body is prey / the hunter will be the Director of the CIA
anamorphosis not metamorphosis
Vegetarians & The Salvation Army & Hippies
won’t stop all the wars
the task consists in repairing what happened eons ago
daughter of Bethulia: prayer
my hair is long like yours
the peace and beauty of this world have spread over me
successive timeless hommages to the daybreak of life
& I saw the hatchet in your tunic
but I attempted to recover in one night /Thalassa oh Thalassa/
an entire life lost.
[From R. Hinostroza, Contra Natura, Cardboard House Press, 2022, ISBN 978-1945720253]