“Before internet we used to read books”

Biblioteca Municipal Ricardo Palma, Miraflores – Lima

This week I gave out the poem ‘Secreto de Familia’ by Blanca Varela – and my translation ‘Family Secret’ – from her first collection Ese Puerto Existe (1959).

Born in Lima in 1926, Varela is a Peruvian national treasure. Here is a child reading out her poem ‘Fútbol’ (in spanish):

The poem I chose to give out, ‘Secreto de Familia’ (a bit darker than the football one…), was a difficult one to translate because, like the poem last week, it doesn’t have any punctuation. Varela also cleverly uses phrases that could be interpreted in different ways. The last line was especially difficult – I looked at what some other translators of the poem had done, but it didn’t seem right to me. In the end I decided to imagine what I would say if it was my poem.

I also learned some fun new words like ‘legaña’, which means rheum aka sleep/sleepy dust/eye-goo (I found a forum where people discuss what it is called in lots of different languages).


While handing out the poem I met Rocío, who was on her way back from a job interview as an english teacher. She told me all about falling in love with her English teacher when she was in her 20s (but then he had to go back to Scotland).

She had vaguely heard of Blanca Varela, and when I asked if she liked poetry she said: “yes, I love books. You know, before internet we used to read books”

Blanca Varela and Fernando de Szyszlo.
(Paris, 1949)


Secreto de Familia

soñé con un perro
con un perro desollado
cantaba su cuerpo su cuerpo rojo silbaba
pregunté al otro
al que apaga la luz al carnicero
qué ha sucedido
por qué estamos a oscuras

es un sueño estás sola
no hay otro
la luz no existe
tú eres el perro tú eres la flor que ladra
afila dulcemente tu lengua
tu dulce negra lengua de cuatro patas

la piel del hombre se quema con el sueño
arde desaparece la piel humana
sólo la roja pulpa del can es limpia
la verdadera luz habita su legaña
tú eres el perro
tú eres el desollado can de cada noche
sueño contigo misma y basta.


(Listen to Blanca Varela read out her own poem here)



Family Secret

I dreamed about a dog
a dog with no skin
its body was singing its red body whistling
I asked the other
the one who turns off the light the butcher
what’s happened
why are we in the dark

it is a dream you are alone
there is no other
the light doesn’t exist
you are the dog you are the barking flower
sweetly sharpen your tongue
your sweet black four-legged tongue

the man’s skin burns in the dream
the burnt human skin disappears
only the red pulp of the canine is clean
the real light lives in the sleep of its eyes
you are the dog
you are the skinned dog of every night
I dream the same as you and that’s enough.



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