Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (22)

Juan Gelman, from 'The Poems of Sidney West'

Lament for the Death of Parsifal Hoolig


it began to rain cows
and in light of the prevailing situation in the country
the agronomy students sowed disorder
the engineering professors proclaimed their virginity
the philosophy janitors oiled the staples of intellectual reason
the math teachers verified crying the two plus two
the language learners invented good bad words

while this was happening
a wave of nostalgia invaded the country’s beds
and the couples look at each other as strangers
and twilight was served for lunch by mothers and fathers
and the pain or the hurt slowly dressed the little ones
and the chests fell off some and the backs off others and

     to the rest nothing fell off at all
and they found God dead several times
and old men flew through the air holding tightly to their

     dried testicles
and old women hurled exclamations and felt painful

     stitches in their memory or oblivion
and various dogs approved and toasted with Armenian cognac
and they found a man dead several times

near a carnival Friday ripped from the carnival
under an invasion of autumnal insults
or over blue elephants standing on Mr. Hollow’s cheek
or close by the larks in sweet vocal challenge with summer
they found that man dead 
with his hands openly gray 
his hips disordered by the events in Chicago
remains of wind in his throat
25 cents in his pocket and its still eagle
with feathers wet from infernal rain

oh dear ones!
that rain fell years and years on the pavement of Hereby Street
without ever erasing the slightest trace of what had happened!
without dampening one of the humiliations not even one of

     the fears
of that man with hips scrambled tossed in the street
late so his terrors can mix with water and rot and end!

and so died parsifal hoolig
he closed his silent eyes
kept the custom of not protesting
was a brave dead man
and while his obituary did not appear in the New York

     Times and the Chicago Tribune paid no attention to him
he did not complain when they picked him up in a truck

     from the city
him and his melancholy look

and if someone supposes this is sad
if someone is going to stand up and say it is sad
know this is exactly what happened
nothing else happened but this
under this sky or vault of heaven


Lament for Chester Carmichael’s Bird


all the young girls sing in Melody Spring

all the young boys dance in Melody Spring

and the old women knit the old men smoke their sea foam 

      pipes in Melody Spring

all except chester carmichael dead in the fall of 1962


previously he had lost his leaves as a tree

feathers winds pieces of memory falling all around him

the last to fall was a woman or what was left of a woman

semi-gnawed chewed dry and even phosphorescent

who illuminated chester carmichael night after night

and still could not be extinguished and shines

     where the southern road begins


he is dark:

not so much because of earth and death

time reworked his face as a small angel

and now he is naked without alternative decadences furies

among smooth roots and the rest of his seasonal companions


chester carmichael was finished

he left with a spikenard in his hand accompanied by one 

      hundred thousand monkeys

who danced and sang as the young girls and boys of 

      Melody Spring

there were no sobs screams flowers over his heart

only a beautiful bird who would stare at him

and now watches over his head


oh tiny bird!

every so often it bends over chester carmichael and hears 

      what he is giving back

calm as the sun


[Final Poem] Errata


where it says “he escaped from himself as from a prison cell”

      (page such and such verse whatever)

it could say “the tiny tree grew and grew” or some other error

as long as it has rhythm

is certain or true


and so sidney west wrote these lines that will never love him

in the freshness of a dry dark well

on top of a world blinded by sun

or alone alone alone


where it says “if we were or we were/as human faces”

(page such and such verse whatever) it is as the ox that

      ploughed there

not rotted by pain or fury

disguising much of the time in solitude


ah sidney west! here ends (hopefully)

your wretched aspimos leanings

what tiny bit round this man

and what animal within


all those birds that knew how to invent ate sidney west

ponina and nino especially

greedy from their state and passion

open sweet as useless


where it says “one day the following happened”

     (page such and such verse whatever)

sadness had happened by before

and that is fatal for the poet

or it was fatal for west’s pain


hey tiny bugs horseflies brilliances greeting in the Oak’s


there they put sidney west let him sleep

where it says “let him sleep sleep sleep” (page such and such

      verse whatever)

it should say let him sleep and nothing more


and so when west with his first love

headed for sidney sailor

sidney the last in history

spun with west as a water wheel’s donkey


let him sleep and nothing more should be said

      (page such and such verse whatever)

and nothing more let him sleep and nothing more

let him sleep sleep sleep

let sidney west sleep sleep sleep


until his feets grow wings please

let sidney west sleep

until we love one another well

let him sleep sleep sleep


the father breathes it if he really wants to breath it

here they lie as before

but let him sleep sleep sleep

let sidney west sleep


where it says “curtains with birds so morning enters

      singing” (page such and such verse whatever)

sidney west should turn himself off in the morning

let him sleep sleep sleep

Translation by Katherine Hedeen and Víctor Rodríguez Núñez




SOURCE.  Juan Gelman, The Poems of Sidney West, Salt Publishing, 2009

La traducción, ¿es traición?

La poesía, ¿es traducción?

Po I-Po


Translation, is it treason?

Poetry, is it translation?

Po I-Po

From a work created by Argentine poet Juan Gelman and presented in Spanish as a presumed translation from an otherwise unknown US American visionary poet. The translation of Gelman’s “translation” into English is therefore the creation as well of the “original” poem and poet.

            Write the actual translators in this instance: “The use of translation as a tool for poetic creation that distinguishes Juan Gelman’s work, reaches its apex with The Poems of Sidney West. María del Carmen Sillato has stressed how this device, along with heteronomy and intertextuality, is ‘an expression of alterity by recognizing the other-author, the other-text, and the other-language as co-participants in the elaboration of a textual universe’. …

            “The space is even more precise and determined, always within the real or imagined United States. This territorial emplacement, beyond Argentina’s borders, constitutes a frank questioning by Juan Gelman of the nationalism and populism on the rise during the era. … What is sought here is the destruction of the self, a redefinition of the poetic ‘I’ that, like these stories’ characters, experiences a metamorphosis, de/composes to achieve the com/position of the subordinated other.”