“Everyone needs a poem”

Sheffield Central Library & ALL FM 96.9

This week I had playwright and co-editor Will Berrington on the radio to talk about the poem ‘Una Piadosa’/’A Pious Woman’ by Gabriela Mistral, translated by Randall Couch in Madwomen/Locas Mujeres (University of Chicago, 2009).


Then we took a train to eastward to visit our friend Samuel, see the sights of Sheffield, and hand out poems outside the Central Library. Will took quite a forceful approach and gave his poems out quickly. He said “people just seemed a bit surprised,” and that one man said no and went into the library, but then came back and said he’d thought about it and actually did want one. I stood a few metres away from Will and met a nice man who told me “everyone needs a poem,” and when I told him the Spanish original was on the back he said “Gracias”. Meanwhile, Samuel had wandered off and we found him in the middle of Tudor Square.

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A Pious Woman

I want to see the man of the lighthouse,
I want to go to the rocky point,
taste the wave in his mouth,
see the abyss in his eyes.
I want to reach him, if he’s living,
old man of salt and brine.

They say he looks only eastward
—walled up while still alive—
I want to cut him off from his waves
so in place of the abyss he’ll see him.

He knows all about the night
that’s now my bed and my road:
knows undertows, octopuses, sponges,
knows a cry that ends all knowing.

His faithful, battered chest
is spat on by the tides,
he’s whistled at by gulls
and white as any wound,
and so still, so mute and absent,
he seems as yet unborn.

But I go to the lighthouse tower,
climbing the knife-edged track,
for the man who’s going to tell me
the earthly and the divine.
One in each arm, I bring him
a jug of milk, a sip of wine…

And he keeps listening to seas
that love nothing but themselves.
But maybe now he listens to nothing,
stalled in forgetfulness and salt.

*

Una Piadosa

Quiero ver al hombre del faro,
quiero ir a la peña del risco,
probar en su boca la ola,
ver en sus ojos el abismo.
Yo quiero alcanzar, si vive,
al viejo salobre y salino.

Dicen que sólo mira al Este
—emparedado que está vivo—
y quiero, cortando sus olas
que me mire en vez del abismo.

Todo se sabe de la noche
que ahora es mi lecho y camino:
sabe resacas, pulpos, esponjas,
sabe un grito que mata el sentido.

Está escupido de marea
su pecho fiel y con castigo;
está silbado de gaviotas
y tan albo como el herido
¡y de inmóvil, y mudo y ausente,
ya no parece ni nacido!

Pero voy a la torre del faro,
subiéndome ruta de filos
por el hombre que va a contarme
lo terrestre y lo divino,
y en brazo y brazo le llevo
jarro de leche, sorbo de vino…

Y él sigue escuchando mares
que no aman sino a sí mismos.
Pero tal vez ya nada escuche,
de haber parado en sal y olvido.


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