From The Lorca Variations
Lorca was the first poet I ever translated—a ballad or romance called “Preciosa y el Aire,” worked out but never published, when I was still in my teens back in the later 1940s. The translation of Lorca’s Suites—presented elsewhere in these pages—came some fifty years later, but was submerged in a large collected Lorca translated by a variety of hands. While I had been commissioned to translate the Suites and did so gladly, I felt a great frustration in not being able to publish my translations independently, thus diluting whatever sense I had that I was doing a kind of homage to Lorca. With that I began to compose a series of poems of my own (“variations”) that draw systematically on vocabulary, especially nouns and adjectives, from my translations of the Suites (later from Poet in New York as well) but rearrange them in a variety of ways. The methods used resemble chance operations but with a margin of flexibility, with total freedom in the case of verbs and adverbs, with occasional addresses to Lorca himself imbedded in them. The result isn’t translation or imitation in any narrow sense, but yet another way of making poetry—and for me at least, a way of coming full circle into a discovery that began with Lorca and for which he has stood with certain others as a guide and constant fellow-traveler.
The complete Lorca Variations was published by New Directions in 1993 and is still in print.
The Lorca Variations (XI)
The men had green feet that vaulted them into the open where they could flaunt their secrets. Lace brushed lightly against their nostrils as the apple tree loomed over Newton with its fruits. It is so Saxon to bind gnomes with string, to watch your echoes drifting off in secret, your lost companions jangling irons in the wind. Not every boy has such sad eyebrows, nor would every corner spare an inch for death. In the woods the moon showed Newton where the truth lies. Following his nose he slammed into a meteor named Newton. He mistook it for a science that was white—like beech trees or like beards—but once he caught it in his mirror, saw it turn blue again. At length it looked like every other star or lake.
Every wise man considers himself another Newton: a philosopher musing beside trees & water, going for a walk or coming from a walk, pulling genies out of waves & sky (with which sigh makes a perfect rhyme). Their corneas are focused on infinity & disregard the lowly cricket just as Newton did. And just as Newton knew the wind or Wordsworth knew a certain word to be the night’s reflection, so apples floating on a wave of crickets make a synthesis more powerful than stars. Philosophers should play guitars, then, reaching for those apple branches where the moon’s a lowly apple. Pyramids adorned with owls express a kind of harmony, & stars are dots & are a proof of death more powerful than worms. What if the river strikes a pose? the cedar will show a face that brings it home.
There isn’t a clue that the fruit into which Adam bit was an apple & not his lady’s breast. Above them Pegasus kept flying past, all in the name of science. The Virgin handed him a second apple, which Adam turned into a questioning of history. Deep in its core the Virgin saw souls rise & fall: a symbol Newton later found inside a pomegranate. Only a child can play with apples & touch beauty. Newton & Adam both were satisfied with Eve’s reply, the first she gave when she woke up in chains, her innocence laid by. Paris in the other tale held up an orange.
The Lorca Variations XV
If death once had a face
the water from this water jet
has wiped it out,
the August air has left no trace of it,
like other fountains
or other faces from your home town
that the sunlight & the water jet
drive from your room.
Things leave our eyes no boundaries here
other than dreams, no dreams
still precious to your heart,
its carved interior shot through with corners,
into which a grapevine grows,
fed by the water jet your fingers
once turned on, made it a place of clouds,
the perfect death’s head still inside it,
& that a water jet wipes out.
In the garden our hearts have turned blue.
A maid opens the water jet, lets water & roses spill out.
A century passes.
Pianos circle the earth, dark swords slice arteries.
No dust on your windows, just blood.
In the garden four gay caballeros trade swords.
A cloud breaks apart & starts quaking.
The Lorca Variations XXI
To write through Lorca, to come back on Lorca’s wings, to return to where you’re feeling empty, like dying sweetly after love, to where a rose has left you wounded, the shadow of your childhood like a flower inside your heart, where Lorca’s road trails off into a garden, in which the morning star drops colors onto a faded dress, like paint.
To come back on Lorca’s wings, who sees his origin in water, sees his soul die in a dream, transform into a corazón forever, sees a shadow overwhelm the flower in his heart & cry goodbye, until his soul returns to him, a muddy spot from which a butterfly arises, shivering, a gust of wind in motion through his heart.
To see his origin in water, in the dawn, a feeble sight, the motion of her corazón, of Lorca’s wings in water, making love down at the oxbow, hearing the nightingales, a love as sweet as perfume, goodbyes & reminiscences turned into songs, a girl & a muchacho turning & returning through the spray.
To return with Lorca only yesterday, to walk along the sea, under the stars, to see the forests becoming green forever, green with love, the shadow of our childhood like a flower, crying adios! while marching single file up to a crossroads, reciting the songs we made, white muslin shaking, trailing along the byways, the glitter that drops down from Lorca’s wings, words that we write through Lorca.