to Alberto Girri

I don’t know if you’ve managed to compose your verses
with that meticulous tapestry of errant leaves that used to bring order to hollows and reliefs,
tidy ideograms on this stripped-down dawn;
nor do I know if in the past few months you spoke to me
with that frozen tinkle of glass, with the murmur of wicker,
or the hurried beat of the heart in the dark;
and perhaps that agate’s circular gaze was your gaze,
which from water in the air unfolds itself, expands itself, amplifies itself
beyond stone, beyond resplendence, beyond the world.
Impossible to know. I’m not able to embrace that which exceeds me and includes you;
I cannot suddenly decipher unfamiliar signs.
Because you’ve now totally broken through the region of deliriums and emanations,
where the jungle and the stalkers of the jungle are jumbled together,
and days are stained with the color of what no longer is, and will not be,
and between a body and its shadow the wind overturns twenty centuries of history
and in one hand and the other the seeds of uncertainty multiply,
and around one foot and the other the serpents of contradiction tie themselves into knots.
Because such is the proof and such are the intrigues of the dissembler—
inaccessible reality.
Not in vain did you strip the petals off the wrapping of sleep and wakefulness,
word by word, absence by presence,
down to the last petal, to the motionless trembling of silence.
Did you perhaps examine—feeling, poking through the weaves of the poem—
both the reverse and front sides of destiny,
the knots of mistakes, the illusory embroidery,
without encountering that pure transparency that allows a look at the other side?
Your strength was in inhabiting the house of countless labyrinths in the Kingdom of No,
testing the entrances, stalking the exits,
lying in wait for infectious visions, insects and perils and mice.
It was a house that swung back and forth, in continuous equilibrium,
just on the edge of immensity;
and there you lived in alertness, rehearsing for absence, set loose from yourself—
your first person singular each time always further off,
always closer to some other you—,
being the hunter that simultaneously finds his prey and calls off the chase,
and the bird that tries to send memories of the earth into exile through the beating of its wings.
You are already part of everything in another realm, the Kingdom of Permanence and Unity,
you are in the eternal present that flees, that is consumed and doesn’t end,
and you will at last be able to be both the name and the one named.
But I know that almost half a century of friendship, constancy, emotions and shelter
is not enough for me to find that a small footprint,
a suspended spark, a floating perfume,
are—in the middle of the anonymous universal choir, the present moment—
your way of dictating to me the most just, the most beautiful and the most truthful,
like before, like always, with a gesture, with a talisman, with a tear.
And if that were so, how to respond?
Out of my parted lips, from my grief and my ignorance I can only beg:
“Lord, make your son be like the most uncontaminated of all your mirrors
and show him things as he would want them to be,
just as they are.”


[translated by Guillermo Castro and Ron Drummond]

Olga Orozco is one of the major 20th-century South American writers. She is the author of 20 books of poetry that span more than 50 years. Born in Toay, Argentina in 1920, Orozco won more than a dozen national, regional, and municipal prizes for her poetry. Her poetry has been translated into 15 languages, anthologized in hundreds of books, been the subject of two books of criticism and dozens of scholarly articles. Orozco died in 1999.

Guillermo Castro is a poet and translator. His work has appeared in, Barrow Street, WV, Cover, Excursus, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Poetry (Alpha Books, 2001), the anthologies Poetry Nation (Vehicle Press, 1998), and Two Hearts’ Desire (St. Martin’s, 1997).

Ron Drummond was a founding editor of the literary journal Barrow Street. His poetry has appeared in Northwest Review, Borderlands, Columbia Review, Global City Review, California Quarterly, Poetry New York, Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, Bardsong, and other publications.

At Guernica, we’ve spent the last 15 years producing uncompromising journalism.

More than 80% of our finances come from readers like you. And we’re constantly working to produce a magazine that deserves you—a magazine that is a platform for ideas fostering justice, equality, and civic action.

If you value Guernica’s role in this era of obfuscation, please donate.

Help us stay in the fight by giving here.