Rodolfo Hinostroza

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

               unreal world.

                        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

            to howl

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?

                                                That man

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.                     



Contra Natura



                        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

wandering man


                           rudder / anchor / astrolabe

& far beyond there in the no man’s land of orgasm

                                                                     the fish dreams



            amoeboid undifferentiated liquid form

flawless attraction

                                                                     in suo esse perseverare conatur

Spinoza dixit

                       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 

                                                  lonely soul

& 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


blood’s complicity

             this is how you played touching your body

                                                                                    like this

dark eyes / ancient aromas: myrrh and sodomy

                / cunilingum

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

               and NATO

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

our bodies

successive timeless hommages to the daybreak of life

lonely soul

                        & 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]