Nocturne

Oliverio Girondo
Translated from the Spanish by Rachel Galvin & Harris Feinsod

        Cool glass, when leaning forehead against window. Late-night lights go out, leaving us even lonelier. Spiderwebs woven by wires over rooftops. Hollow trot of passing nags touches us for no reason.
        What does the howl of these cats in heat call to mind, and what can the scraps of paper be plotting as they slither onto empty patios?
        The time of night when old furniture seizes the chance to shed its lies, when pipes make strangulated cries, as though suffocating inside the walls.
        Now and then we think, when flipping the electric light switch, of the fright the shadows must feel, and we’d like to warn them so they have time to curl up in the corners. And now and then there is something sinister about the telephone-pole crosses over the rooftops, and one wants to slink along the walls like a cat or a thief.
        Nights when we wish for a hand to caress our lower back, when we suddenly realize that no tenderness compares to stroking something as it sleeps.
        Silence!—voiceless cricket that hops in our ear. Leaky faucet song!—the only cricket that fits the city.

Buenos Aires, November 1921.

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Oliverio Girondo (Argentina, 1891-1967) was one of the most important Latin American poets of the twentieth century. He published seven volumes of poetry, including Twenty Poems to Be Read on the Streetcar. He was at the center of an Argentine vanguard called the Grupo Florida, which included Jorge Luis Borges, Macedonio Fernández, Xul Solar, and Norah Lange, whom he married.

Rachel Galvin is an award-winning poet, translator, and scholar. Her books include two collections of poetry, Pulleys & Locomotion and Elevated Threat Level; a work of criticism, News of War: Civilian Poetry 1936-1945; and Hitting the Streets, a translation from the French of Raymond Queneau. She is a co-founder of the Outranspo, an international creative translation collective, and assistant professor at the University of Chicago.

Harris Feinsod is associate professor of English and Comparative Literature at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Poetry of the Americas: From Good Neighbors to Countercultures (Oxford, hardcover 2017, paperback 2019), and the co-translator, with Rachel Galvin, of Oliverio Girondo’s Decals: Complete Early Poems (Open Letter, 2018). He directs Open Door Archive, a digital archive for little magazines of the Americas. As a 2019-2020 fellow of the National Humanities Center, he is at work on a literary history entitled “Into Steam: The Global Imaginaries of Maritime Modernism.” Related work appears in American Literary HistoryEnglish Language NotesModernism/modernity, and n+1.

Today’s poem has subsequently appeared in a recent book of Girondo translations, entitled Decals: Complete Early Poems (Open Letter, 2018).

Jan/Feb 2018

Gambier, Ohio

Kenyon College

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David H. Lynn

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