The Mystical Rose
The first time
I became conscious of form,
I said to my mother:
"Dona Armanda has a basket in her kitchen
where she keeps tomatoes and onions"
and began fretting that even lovely things
until one day I wrote:
"It was here in this room that my father died,
here that he wound the clock
and rested his elbows
on what he thought was the windowsill
but was the threshold of death."
I understood that words grouped like that
made it possible to live without
the things they describe,
that my father was returning, indestructible.
It was as if someone had painted a picture
of Dona Armanda's basket and said:
"Now you can eat the fruit."
So, there is order in the world!
—where does it come from?
And why does order, which is joy itself,
and bathes in a different light
than the light of day,
make the soul sad?
We must protect the world from time's corrosion,
cheat time itself.
And so I kept writing: "My father died in this room ...
Night, you can come on down,
your blackness can't erase this memory."
That was my first poem.
Two O'Clock in the Afternoon in Brazil
As dearly as I love life, I love this heat,
this metaphysical clarity,
this small miracle:
even a scorching sun can't parch those silken petals,
innocent and calm as the young Maccabeans singing in their pan on the fire.
It's my own heart that suffers,
at two o'clock in the afternoon I need to pray.
Is it God calling?
His centrifugal eye exerting its pull?
Life is so short and still I haven't found a 'style,'
words like astrolabe divert me from my obligations.
The shape of a nose can possess me for weeks,
his sad way of closing his mouth.
Who do I love, after all?
Was I seduced by the Son of Man—
and now confuse you,
you vain miser,
with the one who wants me with him
moaning on his bed, his cross?
That European said he was stunned by how much sun is wasted here.
Thank you, I replied, embarrassed by Carnaval,
Afro-Brazilian drumming, my own extravagant hips.
Is Jesus Bulgarian? Afghani? Dutch?
A Brazilian He's not. He's way foreign,
with his naked, perforated body,
begging for affection, just as I do.
Like every country, we have folklore,
and songs dripping melancholy.
But how can I accept that we're going to die?
And what good does it do us to have a soul?
Meat lockers are horrible
but I'm supposed to poeticize them,
nothing is to escape redemption:
I need to pray some more, so I don't become foreign to myself.
"My God, my God, why hast Thou abandoned me?"
"Tell me who You are and who I am."
translated from the Brazilian Portuguese by Ellen Doré Watson
American Poetry Review
July / August 2012