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excerpts

Eight Poems by David Huerta in English Translations
by Mark Schafer

from Before Saying Any of the Great Words: Selected Poetry
of David Huerta, 1972–2003


(Selected and Translated by Mark Schafer, forthcoming from
Copper Canyon Press)


Before Saying Any of The Great Words

We already know: First we must agree
on which they are; but let us acknowledge that they exist:

they resound in all their weight and gravity
down Nievsky’s Prospekt, in the muttering of Raskolnikov,

and Cortázar mocks them at every opportunity,
lightens them up, musses their hair, reconciles them

with the rest of the vocabulary so that they may rub benignly
against one another and liberty won’t do too much harm

with its tonnage of Greek marble
and its whiff of existentialism and its undeniable tragic greatness

to janitor, tenedor, bibelot —although the greatness of this last one is suspect, for which we have Mallarmé to blame,

there are also the short and decisive words: yes, no, now, never,
turbid love, clean death, rattled poetry,

other words that are like art for art’s sake: sandalwood,
for instance, and words like deoxyribonucleic, telescopic

and possessing an undeniably scientific elegance, a diffuse,
intense, and labyrinthine character, all at once, linked

to that other word, life, and of course there are the combinations,

your mouth, this letter, dozens of verbal objects
that are only important for inexplicable reasons,

spoken at night or during the day, said

or held in silence, in the velvety net
of memory, in the transparent and energetic fortress

of forgetting, that body or fabric from which
are also made the great words, time, so many things.


(from Lápices de antes, 1994)
English ©Mark Schafer, 2003

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Open And Close

You open the razor blade
to let the transparency trickle out.

You close the somnambulant pail of night
and a river of shadows overflows.

You open and close the liquid diaphragm of my heart —and I awake

in the lingering, ten-fold
glint of your hands.


(from La música de lo que pasa, 1997)
English © Mark Schafer, 2003

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Minor Failures


The grime on the most luminous section of the tapestry,
the flaw in the Renaissance prosody,

the oversight in Cavendish’s experiment,
the flowering striation in the mineral fixity of the underwater stone,
the Titianesque spot in the Picassan disfigurement,

the discordant lapse in a scrap of Mozart,

the citizenry’s eclipses in the sun of politics,
the clumsiness of the seducer come the midnight toast,

the few extra grams on the diver’s waist,
the myopic syntax in the melodious couplet,

the magnificent stammer of a voice, tremulous and fiery,
as it declares the independence
of a country, an individual, a cause.


(from La música de lo que pasa, 1997)
English — Mark Schafer, 2003

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Poem by Gottfried Benn


I had to go but a poem by Gottfried Benn
stopped me in my tracks as I started to leave
you can’t imagine readers what an awful poem it was

A flower fell apart in the middle of an autopsy
and the doctor who had opened the cadaver
watched as petals clogged the viscera

The doctor’s gloves also filled with petals
and tainted blood it was really something
but it was just a poem and I had to go

I don’t know if I left but the images from that poem
by Gottfried Benn—moreover not an especially
sympathetic character—did not leave stayed

Oh how those images stayed the traces
of those mangled figures is something I must
look into I know it won’t be easy but I have to do it


(from Desdoblamientos, a 17-poem special section published in Fractal, January–March 1997)
English © Mark Schafer, 2003

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Song of the Kiwi


The kiwi is man, that male animal
with his triptych of dangling genitals:

he doesn’t sing, he doesn’t fly, he has no wings.

He doesn’t get pregnant. He has no breasts.
He lacks a fresh vagina.

The kiwi lives far away, down under:
New Zealand, Australia.

He is the opposite of the kangaroo,
female animal with a voracious fertility,
muscular and graceful.

The kiwi hears the song
of the powerful kangaroo
and the earth beneath his feeble legs
begins to shine and throb.

Then, the kiwi himself begins to sing.


(From La olla, 2003)
English © Mark Schafer, 2003

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Sweet Angel


I appear in the saliva of the angel, facing my illusory sheets of paper—flapping loose in the
      whiteness of dawn
and about to immerse themselves in the inky second hand, written or wroten, adorned with
      drunken deletions,
like a groomed lawn in the mountain of my body, like the lukewarm drug of the Unicorn
       who opens its eyes amid the residues, amid the interstices, amid what is happening.


I appear on the angel’s waist, black sheets of paper in my mouth and in the disastrous angles of
       my hair a coin of blood,
horror of explanations and “certain moments,” flames of felt I saw one burning afternoon in Montealbán packed full of dark people with dark words on their lips, spoken under a
       demolished sky.


…Everything is dark, I happen by what is happening wearing a damp hat and with dormant
       letters on the bewildered roof of my mouth,
I dream of what is happening and imprints of death sow nocturnal creases on my unsuspecting
       hands,
I assume the stance of the statues of the Cyclades and see my feet floating in the night, my feet
       like dual instruments of sober expectations and dark ramblings,
dark, everything is dark, I won’t whisper in your ear: ecce gubernator, bewildered under the
       falling rain for where should I go, now, forever, with a deaf stone lodged in the somnolence
       of my chest,
with a cold paving stone in the way I circulate,
with this underlined nocturnal book and the dismembered body of Palinurus hoisted like a
       lantern in the drift of conversation.
You will say once or twice that I digress, fail to explain things, as if appearing in the hair of the
       angel were not enough,
as if the Unicorn could not appear in the communal soup, dazzling and perfect, numerous and
       named,
in just the same drunken way I appear, moi même and malgré tout!, in the zone of the angel, in
       the alcohol of the angel, in the blazing corner of the mouth of the angel,
laughter every day and saying once again “everything is dark,” etcetera, goddamit,
writing, writing, writing, these formidable things before my eyes, and desperately opening my
       mouth throughout it all,
and “everything is dark,” all around us it collapses with a clamor of tattoos and tearing, and to
       look is to be turned into light,
But the light trickles in tatters, covered in stains, “Everything is dark” and the laughter in the
       hallways crosses death
like light itself, the Monster of Light, entering the gash of a knife and the retina’s woods sways
       back and forth: …
—we never change, lined up, hair combed, animals with their spoonful of blue language, their
       fragile ration,
their city shut down in the unruly depths of their eyes!


I appear in the basement of the angel like a collated drop, hear my cough in the air,
       women come and go talking of Michelangelo, I turn forty or perhaps forty-three,
I will read books and burn brittle leaves, gone are my enthusiasm and my vigor, sunken in the
       pleats of relativity,
now I see, looking up,
the venomous laughter of the angel concealing everything with the word dark, with the word my,
       with my passport and the shadow of my hair,
with the rubbish of a few paragraphs dedicated to oblivion, with the formula etcetera, with my
        eyes plucked out in the middle of the dream,
with this rain in which someone, perhaps, darkly, hears marvelous noises, in a process of
       transformation.


(from Versión, 1978)
English © Mark Schafer, 2003

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[Fragment from “Puerta de vidrio” (Part III of Incurable)]


I approached the glass door as if I myself were a fiction.
I touched its steady glaze, leaned my forehead against the sparkle of its suspended water.
My notebook was by my side, closed in delirium. And I was afraid that I might lose my balance
from the effects of the drug the glass door inserted in my baffled head,
in my hair lying beneath the spring influence that I despised.
I approached the glass door to see myself, as if I might be able to perceive in that
       transparent innocence
the deep-rooted materials that formed me for time.
I recognized nothing but the guided cleanliness of time, its studied deceptions. I withdrew
       feeling fresh fear and knowing
that if I am anyone at all, I should dedicate myself to strength alone.


Sparks sprung from your neck like sawdust from a decapitated doll.
Chained to the wall you were thousands, thousands of men. And the policeman who beat you
was himself and another—you, perhaps. You raised your arms to protect the beach of your torso
       and turned your head
to see if your comrades had fled, opened your mouth to say something and saw
the policeman’s open mouth and inside, a calendar, a pencil, and an arrest warrant.
For an instant you knew they were going to kill you, but then you decided to wait another
       fraction of a second as you were beaten
and to call on the fierce joy that had brought you this far. You closed your hand to feel the
       earthly, marble strength of your fist
and returned the last blow, lodged your fist in the officer’s silent jaw and
jumped over yourself in order to hide wherever you could.
Wherever you could appeared before your eyes, drugged by the hellish pain of your bleeding
       neck in the form
of a door, a door, a glass door to which, led there without further questions
by your crowd instinct and the fierce joy that had brought you this far, beneath the rain of blows,
       that even led
your punished hand that at that moment pushed the door and deposited you into the safety of an
       unknown building,
while outside the city writhed like a tortured animal.
For the first time in the vertigo of that afternoon you inhaled your reconciled life and knew
       that you were
accompanying yourself, as they say. You looked at the placid translucence of the glass door and
       what your eyes beheld
was just another fantasy for the vertigo of this afternoon: your comrades lifted you by the
       armpits,
pushed you through the confusion, trying in vain to staunch the still-fresh blood
that ran down your neck, deaf and truer than your life.


There was a man standing before a glass door. He was alone.
His head was like the mist that, out in the garden, caressed the Roman busts
and flanked the fountains and the paths—the air was a slow, whitish, penetrating gauze.
The glass door rested like a gravestone before the man’s dreamy eyes,
but at the same time its languages grazed that misty head.
The languages of the door were also dreamy and misty,
had the consistency of a drenched handkerchief
and opened like ghosts in the swimming pool that was hidden behind the man’s forehead.
Fresh impressions were in the man’s eyes: of the garden, the flowering paths, the melody of the
       fountains, the leafy presence of the trees, and the harmonious singing of the birds.
But despite all this the only thing he seemed to care about was the glass door, were
the misty, dreamy languages of the door that stood before him like a frozen theater,
      hyperconscious and instinctual.
The glass of the door knew that behind the man’s forehead was a swimming pool,
and it loved this word and what it designated because the door, after its “glassy” fashion,
recognized itself in that which lay behind the man’s forehead and in the word that touched it
       there, in that world.
That word was a language in the mist, was a dream amid the fountains and the flowering paths,
and it entwined effortlessly with the harmony of the birds.
It was a language of life with scowls of death and mist, and was “glassy” as well.
The door was writing a long and misty sentence on the man.
The door was questioning the man without questioning him, and the man
had always known that his main goal in life
was to answer that misty questioning that perhaps was not actually a questioning.
The glass door asked the man over and over again in the misty rhythm of a dream
things he didn’t know the answer to but that left an aftertaste of wine and burning on his tongue.
They were questions from a lost civilization, questions about train schedules in the Great City,
questions about the Same and the Many, questions about philosophy and questions about chain
       smoking.
Those questions entered like steel feathers, without any resistance at all,
right into the man’s head, skimming the pool like a thirsty bird full of sexual fury
—and this way of entering, deposited in the man a smell of murdered strands of hair and
a prolonged cry made only of eyes and ravaged pages.
The man would not know how to answer the questions posed by the glass door and nevertheless
       he once
had known the slim and blood-red mystery of his emotions when posed with those questions and
       that door, all of it
deposited in the man in a “glassy” and misty fashion. Like a dream amid the flowering paths and
the harmonious singing of the birds.
The door is not what they say it is. It neither opens nor closes according to the methods or
       morals of the day,
impious and automatic methods, as in a hollow dream, cold as a cold theater.
For the door that questions the man offers no chance of entering or exiting, of closing or
       opening,
for it surrounds the man and is a feeling of the world placed in the understandable solitude of his
       heart. The door is not
the infinitive that sets the mistaken machines of habit into motion nor is it a “significant” power.
It is a might of the world. The door is a misty feeling that surrounds the man as he dreams, a
       delicate and funereal “passion”
that burns in the man’s eyes and writes on the silken door of fire that is the world, right here and
       now.

(from Incurable, 1987)
English © Mark Schafer, 2003

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Toward the Surface
for Eduardo Clavé


      The surface is dark. From every shadow that encircles and surrounds it with the pressure of black dahlias against green window panes, palates emerge to taste the light of the world. Issuing from every umbral mouth that presses against the surface with the passion of inflamed lips, a multitude of tongues pronounces reality and savors the seasonings that take the form of accidents and facts, of data and chilly encyclopedias.
       The surface is taut and dark, far darker and more complicated than the depths of the wells or the self-styled profundity of philosophy. The surface is cold, blue, removed in its arctic suit of armor—and indifferent, although at times we hold it close to the hot tip of our nose.
       The heat of the surface is usually a lost kingdom: summer slid away and then gone, weak undulations rising over the hoods of cars. Then night comes and gives the cold back to the surface: car chassis are again themselves, subject to the dictates of the surface that was heating up and cooling down, denatured.
       The surface is cold and dark like ice in the polar night. But its coldness is not that of frozen lakes, rather, of the lifeless hides in the morgue or the stained mirrors we confuse with the cosmos in a bathroom in the dim light, in the exhaustion of physical suffering and of diverse spiritual afflictions.
       The surface lacks history and when words cover it they say nothing, are mute scraps mistaken for nicks or stains. The surface erases wrinkles and blemishes, smoothes out ridges, tames the shaggy savagery of the convolutions and toothed corners in the undefended gullet of the days rushing by. The surface’s lack of history makes it responsive to the experience of death: its territory could be pain, the curved shouts of the rending of emotions and its abundance magnetized on the nervous systems.
       The darkness of the surface inhabits the sad flesh of animals and people and the bundles of malignant gifts ruled by interest and usury. Nevertheless, the darkness of the surface has a nutritious, tremendously fertile quality: an indecipherable morning shore that reveals itself with disconcerting generosity to the gaze of life. The loving surface is a concentrated sheet of fire whose epidermis is always about to explode into taut cubes and the popping sparks of contact.
       The surface folds back on itself, fringed with affliction and bearing silhouettes of gargoyles, phoenixes, manticores—a scaly structure of scrolls and filigree intersected by sunflowers, circles, and solarized ovals. But the surface itself is dark in appearance. Darker even than the cramped corners in which are cooked the afternoons of the crime and the incendiary sunsets of the thwarted heart: lies, adulteries, murders, swindles. Darker than all that is the surface and its arrangements of disgrace and dejection.
       Reflections climb the walls at night and seep like monstrous liquids through clefts in bodies and tomes. Reflections glide across the surface yet their luminous water barely distracts it. For the surface is dark, tangled in its thick ink, in its clotted blood, in the grim alchemy of its humors. No reflection can consider itself noon in the sunset face of the impassive surface.
       Reflections surround every shard of world, resound on the darkness of the surface. Every one of the kingdom’s syllables and the tip of every breeze in the magic of appearances drops its baggage and surrenders its bounty of matter and soul onto the lips of the surface, eternity’s unseasonal implement. Every splinter and every tiny ocean returns to the surface of the forest and the height of storms to become water and wood, timber and stream: every substance, every silhouette of presences specializes and multiplies over the surface of the world. Every moment flickers over the darkness of the surface and fills time, floods every instant, pierces the blank faces of the reflections. The surface peels back ideas like sheets of the primordial monster’s immaculate scales.
       The surface makes a pact with the images and perfects them with a touch of two-dimensionality that painting, drawing, film, and photography find pleasing. The surface, at its edges submerges the delirium of sources: dream of origins, affectionate deception of the plains of the womb, mistaken grandeur of uteruses and fountainheads. The surface denies origins and stretches beyond genealogies, pure energy of being, in the full amplitude of its being-there, maximum extension.
       The surface proclaims disseminations: every seed sprouts there, dies there, scatters and comes back to life with a delight born of long vigils and the squandering of the body at twilight.
       The surface snatches the bitter corpuscles of resurrection from the mirrors and plunges sweet and sour versions of the afterworld and the binnacle of ghosts into the reservoirs, poor fictions of deserted houses and promises of another life never kept. The surface trades in grotesque tales of the tomb and the operating room: the shriveled skin of these cadavers allows a glimpse of a swollen and tormented surface playing the panting game that every surface plays.
       The surface transforms flight into a smooth phenomenon. A flight of eagles or greedy kestrels becomes a quicksilver lentil: the surface, its caress articulated and radiant, lacking cracks, lacking edges. Flight is domesticated and enters the earthly and worried smoothness of the surface.
       But nothing enters, nothing enters this, the surface and its empires of neutrality and polish, its sluggish dominions and its jurisdictions of frugal deception. The surface also evokes a sense of vertigo, of voracious velocities: the cumulus of incidents passes as does the nimbus of encounters and failed meetings whetted to an edge on the parietal stillness of the surface—and all that happens with the crack of a whip, with a gunshot, with a lighting up of melted eyes and a deafening thunder of electromagnetic pulses.
       Words brush against it and there is hardly anything like them for “brushing against it,” for hands tend to possess the brutality of a harsh animal that actually bites and harms the surface. Words are the perfect breeze for these intrepid seas.
       Then the manifold breeze of words blows against the surface. The words that allude to the surface or that speak of it, the words that swarm over both the solar and the lunar face of the surface.
       The sky is a surface: all landscape painters know this. An organ too—the machinery of feelings, according to Constable. On the sky are written the manetekelperes of meterorology, are drawn the signs and symptoms from the Paracelsic clinic. The sky of the surface is deep like an incision: the scarring deception of the eyes and its complicities. The sky is a constant return: a prism with no exits that is a transparent blue labyrinth, a fast uroborous, a circle in which the horizon might drown and journeys might end. The sky rounds its arid surface with a scroll of rain: a talisman from the dew, an enormous diamond from the storms and their ferocity.
       The surface is a mouthful of world that spreads to every lip that kisses it.
       So: kissing the surface, so dying or waking with those slivers of cold in one’s mouth, those negative fevers, those rejections of ending and closure that nevertheless endlessly begin again. So: leaving a signal of the surface and continuing beyond it, inward or outward. The great wall of china of the surface does not allow one to enter or exit: everything always returns—from the surface, toward it.
       Toward the surface shine the eyes that weave themselves into it with a hope of salvation, a faith of resurrected icons, of speleological lazaruses of death and burials. Toward the surface head so many images, murmurings that blackened the walls of flight, testimonies of abandonment, and breaking of assorted organisms. Toward the surface, walking like a nomad off-course, the poem that longed to be written and could not get beyond the alveoli of silence, advances, shattered in fullness, luminous to the point of blinding, and filled with an appetite for the surface that it will never see or touch unless it boasts the afflicted gifts of the shipwreck: the only thing that can take it on a definitive trip toward the surface.


(from Hacia la superficie, 2002)
English © Mark Schafer, 2003