place your bets gentlemen slap those greenbacks downlet the money flow let the blood flow let the tequila flowdon’t chicken out on me now don’t get cold feet on me nowdon’t duck and run on me now lay your cold cash downthere’s no place for fear hereremember no pain no gainremember life is just a gameremember if not now whenremember we’re all here on borrowed timestep right up gentlemen step right upbecause we’re all going to dieand the heat its snout agapeand its gluttony and pantingand the morning stretching out defenselessand on the other side rainbehind the hillsbehind the mountainsgreat sheaves of green raincrumbling like the skin of sinkholesdrowning in this heatlightning bolts of dovesand the sun with its even whiter striationstumbling down with its mantle of waspsand bumblebees and fliesunperturbed magnificent dazzlingcircled by black gracklesand the people fanning themselvesand the sweat trickling downand the clothes getting drenchedand my panties are wetand my sex stickyand in the dirty market bathroomI touch myself and come and pee on myselfand the boundless frenetic heatand Our Blessed Lady of Guadalupeand her offerings wiltingand the cuetlaxóchitl flowers getting scaldedand the spikenards losing their erectionsand the heat dropping its petalsand the nectar spilling overand the flowers hot and hornyand the drunken petalsclinging to the stem clinginguntil they can’t hang on any longerand die
“Migrations (excerpt)” from MIGRATIONS: by Gloria Gervitz.
Published by New York Review Books on November 2, 2021.
Copyright © 2021 by Mark Schafer.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Gloria Gervitz (1943–2022) was a poet and translator born in Mexico City into an Eastern European Jewish immigrant family. She was awarded the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry in 2019. Her main body of work is Migraciones, a single poem that evolved organically over forty-four years. Gervitz translated works of poetry by Samuel Beckett, Kenneth Rexroth, Lorine Niedecker, Susan Howe, and Rita Dove into Spanish.
Mark Schafer is an award-winning translator and visual artist and a Senior Lecturer in Spanish at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He has translated the work of authors from around the Spanish-speaking world, including David Huerta, Belén Gopegui, Virgilio Piñera, Alberto Ruy Sánchez, and Gloria Gervitz. Schafer is a founding member of the Boston Area Literary Translators Group. He lives in Roxbury, MA, the traditional and unceded territory of the Massachusett and Wampanoag Peoples. He can be reached through his website, www.beforesaying.com.
"It is difficult to think of a poetic project like that of Gervitz. Ezra Pound’s Cantos or Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems come to mind, but perhaps no other modern author has consistently devoted the totality of their work to one single volume, patiently rewritten throughout the years, losing and gaining verses, and constantly mutating. . . . The search for a language able to slide through different meanings in the same line [is] at the center of Gervitz’s poetic project. . . Readers of Migrations find the trace of a life devoted to writing and rewriting—it is a mutating work, written with an ink that aspires to the flowing and dissolvent nature of running water."
—Mauro G. Lazarovich, Harvard Review Online
"Migrations presents the unmistakable, majestic voice of Gloria Gervitz, one of the most powerful and original voices of contemporary Jewish Latin American literature, in all its fullness, and Mark Schafer’s translation does it justice. Mystical, at times wrenching, it is a poem of ancestral as well as modern voices, a poem that should be read slowly as if reading a prayer."
"Gloria Gervitz’s Migrations, co-written by death, co-written by eros, is one of the great poems of the twenty-first century. Mark Schafer, her extraordinary English-language translator, has managed to keep hold of this poem through all its bucking, its multiplying, its relentless champing at the bit. Gervitz is a wonder, true, but so is Schafer."