Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (23)
Eunice Odio, from 'The Fire's Journey'
Translation from Spanish by Keith Ekiss and Sonia P. Ticas
[In the process of gathering with Javier Taboada our assemblage-in-progress of North and South American poetry “from origins to present,” scheduled for publication by University of California Press in 2021, I would like to call special attention to this masterwork by Eunice Odio (1919–1974), which is now available in a full four-volume edition from Tavern Books in Portland, Oregon. Octavio Paz’s description of Odio as “of that line of poets who invent their own mythology, like Blake, like St.-John Perse, like Ezra Pound” is a succinct assessment of that work, as brought beautifully into English by Keith Ekiss and Sonia P. Ticas. (J.R.)]
INFANCY OF THE PARENTS II
Aira (Female Air/She Air):
Today is daylight everywhere!
My foot dawned with a surrounding light.
Also my hair dawned,
from such depth,
fragrant to the veins that listen to it
Airo (Male Air/He Air)
Today is made of wheat … linen …
it is … diurnal
It confuses everything.
Today is daylight everywhere.
Salt and prophets know this already
Aira and Airo
Something I touched without seeing.
Something passed through my ear without touching.
Perhaps the wind of the Guardian.
He passes suddenly to found the dawn
more swiftly than Himself
That suits him as shadow
Think no more of the closed night
The day within the air hallelujah!
The Guardian will pass another day long before
his own speed
and he will not remain hidden
Let us sing: thus it is and thus shall it be
and we shall learn of his back in freedom,
where warm tensions gather,
and temperatures congeal,
to found the identity of the air;
his back on which the expanse begins.
Today is daylight and you possess, Aira,
a dress the color of your heart
Now that it is day play at being born,
pretend we were born small,
extend your arms to such clear presence,
and let us think about the first poplar;
then we will find it
opened and already foreseen
waiting for us
For a long time they were waking up without the knowledge
that day was upon the world;
they thought the day was as dreamed,
they thought that to awaken was to return;
that to go, was something without light, to be absent.
They thought morning meant return, that it was existence,
or a return without rest
to viscera of love that are not felt
But one time, being thus, laying about
recalling clearness without being, neither lost nor found,
that which was never contained in the secret space,
nor commemorated in the senses,
suddenly, quieted and ignited,
all facing each other, both bones against bone,
throat against throat;
by organic steps,
by swells of wet and living entrails,
they entered the primeval roundness.
They gathered up their body, their external joy,
and walking on the foot of the dawn,
they ascended to all their lineages
and spoke the word without shadow;
the word that was in their immediacy
only to grasp it,
the word that was for all
and no one had found it:
And everything fit in her, everything from the body and air,
from color and wheat;
and everything that was neither of the body nor of the air,
but of a third species without sound.
And suddenly they spoke the word knowing themselves to be the purest:
All was set in the world.
All was visible and deep on this morning
Let us depart for the threshold,
give me the hand with which you clamor to the wind
The threshold fell from my eyes-blind child-
I remained with the gaze and memory of an island
that was where I am
and it watched itself in the mirror
It sailed in the mirror
Girl, let's play!
Let’s draw the crystal that deceived me this morning,
it was a crystal that fell from branch to branch growing,
without knowledge it was watched, to be made of uncertain crystal
falling from branch to branch
Let’s play: my drawing begins in a snail.
The line beats the numbers of the sand in secret,
don’t watch it!
A 2 [which] arrived to the pearls, replacing them
with 2 different sizes from the sea;
2 from a seven we subtract in the shell:
they are five different candles
losing their leaves in the water
Waves of mint attend the air,
they gather one after another,
they float by the cool noise of velamin;
they fight for each piece of sea foam.
Step by step they trace the detailed
darkness of the wave,
and the sailor loses his torso in the lightning
The snail’s been broken
It was a small snail for such great waves.
The angels made mocked …
It is necessary to make a snail of nacre
that doesn’t fall demolished;
lighter than the wind, as great as the water
I’m tired, it’s late, let’s draw ourselves tomorrow
I to you, apple dressed
How much is an angel multiplied by 4?
Let us review the multiples of the angel
Angel multiplied by 4 … is
governor of 3,
multiplied by its own
high and indivisible multiples,
raised to inexhaustible power …
Equal to a butterfly square.
Everything is singing upwards:
The spotted she-bird on her lemon-green,
and the spotted he-bird on his little green branch
High, in the tall branch, the orange grows
The he-bird sees it
The day unravels filaments of dampened violins
The he-bird pecks them
Wild swallows on the ground begin to bear fruit
And the spotted she-bird swings on her branch
I went to the sea for oranges
a thing the sea doesn’t have
To the sea that goes, coming
Give me your hand
Your little finger isn’t my little finger
Your little finger escorts me.
I want it for sleeping,
and to go to the country of the grape
with a commanding baton;
a baton of a saffron
because your pinkie isn’t my pinkie,
nor your eyes my eyes
Nor is my suit the small suit that dresses you
You are a girl
The tree that’s in the spring,
is it a she-tree, or is it a he-tree?
Did you hear that?
The star in the tree’s
highest branch is speaking.
It jumps from the spring to the branch
and says she came between several sirens,
that came to the world on vacation
But no one knows it …
Let’s draw ourselves tomorrow
I will draw you apple.
“The word that will make the cupolas soar / and bloom on the tongue of the dead, / a new word unborn and blind, / renewing the origin of silence in the verb.” And then: “I will show touch what darkness is / and darkness will seize it” (E.O., from “The Fire's Journey I: Creation of Myself”)
(1) Eunice Odio’s work is one of the most outstanding of the previous century, although she spent most of her life — as happened to others — unrecognized and largely marginalized. Born in Costa Rica, from which she fled at twenty-eight (never to return), she settled first in Guatemala, then in New York and finally in Mexico, where she died in 1974. One of her US translators, Keith Ekiss, wrote: “Odio herself was aware of her marginalized, self-exiled position. Octavio Paz once told her that she was ‘of that line of poets who invent their own mythology, like Blake, like St. John Perse, like Ezra Pound; and they are rubbed out, because no one understands them until years or even centuries after their death.’” Although published in 1957, her masterwork The Fire’s Journey, a monumental poem with more than ten thousand lines, has now slowly been recognized and acclaimed both by critics and audience.
(2) In an excellent piece about Odio’s mythopoetics, Sharon Mesmer explains the nature and the scope of The Fire’s Journey: “[It] is a process: the process of creation by and through the Word. Odio must’ve been as preoccupied as Blake had been with the questions of ‘how?’ and ‘who?’ ‘Why?’ lies beyond language because it may forever be unknowable, inexpressible.” The main characters of The Fire’s Journey are Ion — the poet addressed by Socrates in one of Plato’s most famous dialogues — and the mythical crafter of the Ancient Greek world, Daedalus. Mesmer continues: “Odio’s Ion is a poet-god, purveying (as well as creating) sacred language to bring the world into being. Like a shaman, he will embark upon a descent/journey to restore order and bring healing.” Thus, the creation process “was indeed a projection of an artist-god,” but with the introduction/identification with Daedalus, this process passes “from creation-by-speech to creation-by-craft.” This double feature is nothing more than poiesis at its best.
(3) Eunice Odio wrote that her condition as a poet resembled: “Elijah, the prophet, who was considered ‘nothing’ and people made him suffer. And, so many times, like Christ, they kill us. It doesn’t happens nowadays? I’ve seen die more than one, not to mention César Vallejo. They all died of abandonment and spiritual pain: Vallejo is an extreme case. It seems to me that it’s like that and nothing can be changed. […] So many are drawn to this activity, believing that it’s the best and the most pleasant profession. Indeed, it’s the best profession, but far from being the most pleasant. According to the Bible, the wise ones — i.e., the poets — are ‘the salt of the earth.’ But the Bible also prophesies and teaches a lot about their fate.”