Saturday, February 7, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 31.5 (Jorge Luis Borges)


La cifra
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Borges, Jorge Luis
La cifra


I bought this at the Yale bookstore, where in the basement they have an amazing collection of foreign language books for sale. I don't think there is anything else like it in this country. I bought it four or five years ago. Returning from the Orono conference on Poetry of the 40's, I stopped off in Gloucester, where I stayed for a day or two with Gerrit Lansing. I arrived just in time to see the procession of the statue of St. Peter through the streets of Gloucester at the culmination of the festival in his name. Gerrit played the piano and several gloucester poets, including Patrick Doud stopped over for food and drinks. Next day I drove to New Haven to visit Richard Deming and Nancy Kuhl. Richard gave me a tour of the Yale campus, where he teaches, including the Beineke Library, where Nancy is the curator for American Poetry.

We ate at a really good Eritrean restaurant (think gourmet Ethiopian food and you'll get the idea). I also remember we first went to a Turkish restaurant, at which every single dish contained eggplant, which I hate, so we left.

La cifra ("The Limit") is a collection of poems by Borges. I translated the seventeen haiku below, one of which ended up being an epigraph for the first poem in my last book.

SEVENTEEN HAIKU

1

The afternoon and the mountain
Have told me something.
I have lost it already.

2

The vast night
Is nothing now
But a perfume.

3

Is it or is it not
The dream that I forgot
Before the dawn?

4

The cords are silent.
The music knew
What I feel.

5

Today the almond trees
In the orchard fail to cheer me.
They are your memory.

6

Darkly
Books, sheets, keys
Follow my luck.

7

Since that day
I haven’t moved the pieces
On the board.

8

The aurora arrives
In the desert.
Somebody knows it.

9

The idle sword
Dreams of its battles.
I dream of something else.

10

The man is dead.
His beard doesn’t know it.
His fingernails are growing.

11

This is the hand
That once touched
Your hair.

12

Beneath the eave
The mirror copies nothing
More than the moon.

13

Beneath the moon
The lengthening shadow
Is all alone.

14

Is that light going out
An empire
Or a firefly?

15

She too watches
The new moon.
From another door.

16

A trilling from afar.
The nightingale doesn’t know
It consoles you.

17

The aged hand keeps on
Sketching verses
To forgetfulness.


Diecisiete haiku

1

Algo me han dicho

la tarde y la montaña.

Ya lo he perdido.

2

La vasta noche

no es ahora otra cosa

que una fragancia.

3

¿Es o no es

el sueño que olvidé

antes del alba?

4

Callan las cuerdas.

La música sabía

lo que yo siento.

5

Hoy no me alegran

los almendros del huerto.

Son tu recuerdo.

6

Oscuramente

libros, láminas, llaves

siguen mi suerte.

7

Desde aquel día

no he movido las piezas

en el tablero.

8

En el desierto

acontece la aurora.

Alguien lo sabe.

9

La ociosa espada

sueña con sus batallas.

Otro es mi sueño.

10

El hombre ha muerto.

La barba no lo sabe.

Crecen las uñas.

11

Ésta es la mano

que alguna vez tocaba

tu cabellera.

12

Bajo el alero

el espejo no copia

más que la luna.

13

Bajo la luna

la sombra que se alarga

es una sola.

14

¿Es un imperio

esa luz que se apaga

o una luciérnaga?

15

La luna nueva

ella también
la mira
desde otro puerto.

16

Lejos un trino.

El ruiseñor no sabe

que te consuela.

17

La vieja mano

sigue trazando versos

para el olvido.

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