Brett Alan Sanders & Maria Rosa Lojo

Making Introductions

 

Essay:

Upon Translating the Prose-Poetry of Maria Rosa Lojo 
 

Prose Poems:

 

The Noticeboard
Lines
Knocking at the Doors of Heaven
Qualities of Winter
The Structure of Houses
Apertures

 

 

Brett Alan Sanders

Upon Translating the Prose-Poetry of Maria Rosa Lojo

 


MARIA ROSA LOJO was born in 1954, in Buenos Aires, of immigrant parents from Galicia (her father fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War). The author of three books of poetry, Lojo is best known for her historical narratives, among them the widely acclaimed novel The Passion of Nomads (La pasion de los nomades, 1994, Atlantida) and the recent collection of short stories Singular Loves From Our History (Amores insolitos de nuestra historia, 2001, Alfaguara). But, first of all, she is a poet: one with a fabulist's sensibility and a satirist's eye for detail. Both qualities are prominent in the six prose poems that follow from Esperando la manana verde (Awaiting the Green Morning, 1998, Francotirador). Consider, for instance, "Knocking at the Doors of Heaven", in which a tired old woman climbs and descends from a tree that seems part Tower of Babel and part Jack's Beanstalk, though with nothing of the latter's rewards. Or, these images in "The Noticeboard", mutely witnessing Argentina's ongoing historical trauma: "voices in tatters, the mutilated faces of political candidates," images that evoke the same long sorrow of feminine captivity, separation, and loss that informs all her writing.

In "The Structure of Houses", my work benefits from a knowledge of Lojo's own history. For "la abuela" I translate "Grandmother", capitalized and without the ambiguous definite article, since the allusion here-according to Lojo herself-is to her own grandmother. Similarly, in reference to Lojo's brother, I chose "vanished" instead of "disappeared" for "desaparecido," to avoid claiming a political association that might not be there: his status among her country's disappeared is not due to any generals' "dirty war," but to drugs.

Often, of course, in order to capture the full sense of an image, the translation requires something more than a standard equivalent. The choice in such cases is more art than science; my labor in such dilemmas both stimulating and deeply pleasurable. And I owe much gratitude to Lojo herself for entrusting me with her beautiful words; and likewise to our mutual friend Eva Gillies, without whose unsparing critiques these translations would be much inferior to what they are.--Tell City, Indiana, November 30, 2003

 



Maria Rosa Lojo

The Noticeboard


THE NOTICEBOARD HAS been hanging for many years on the first floor of the high-rise. It covers the windows and the empty rooms; it covers the lights of the automobiles and the speed of beings that are losing legs and arms, shoes and watches, as darkness hides the streets and patios where the dead have walked.
     On the noticeboard there are voices in tatters, the mutilated faces of political candidates, advertisements for a soap that removes all stains, the shadow of a few vacations to the mountain where sea level is barely a submerged memory of winter.
     In the morning the sun will age the colors and dry out the layers of paper that have merged into one, compact and inconspicuous like the stone. Someone will try in vain to read the first words, until once more the night puts its shine on the noticeboard and flattens it like a dance floor, trodden down by invisible steps.

(Translated from the Spanish by Brett Alan Sanders)

 



Maria Rosa Lojo

Lines


IN ONE OF the lines of your hand there is a bridge that flows into the sea; in another, a truncated balustrade that opens onto the garden onto nowhere. Between the garden and the sea, that city where you are.
     There the heavens keep the tranquil custom of the sun and of the rains and a nocturnal roof protects you from the implacable stars. But someone kills and someone dies, trains stop in the middle of their journey and unknown visitors poke through the garbage of big white houses, before, in light of day, the world becomes clear.
     When you go to lie down you close your hand as if crushing glass, while the whole city crumbles into the sea, and your shadow dangles from the dark balustrade, dreaming of somewhere to live.

(Translated from the Spanish by Brett Alan Sanders)

 



Maria Rosa Lojo

Knocking at the Doors of Heaven

              "Knock, knock, knocking at Heaven's door. . ."
                   -Eric Clapton

KNOCKING AT THE doors of Heaven to borrow a cup of sugar, half a lemon, some wine, the needed spoonfuls of oil.
     Knocking at the doors of heaven, neighbor to tempests, raising little platters of supplication with a list of small favors that a Hand refuses to grant. And the cultured voice answers, "He is not at home, He has gone out, I cannot give you anything in His name, come back tomorrow morning, at that hour you will find Him, very early, before dawn." She climbs down, humiliated and enraged, breaking the branches of the tree she has climbed, maybe some of them won't grow back and the ladder will get shorter. She throws herself on the ground, crumpling the paper in her hands with the empty cup. She has never arrived early enough to find Him in, she never will. He knows that the suppliant's greed knows no bounds, that the sugar and the wine and the oil trickle through the hollow of desire and that all favors will burn vainly in stills of transmutation.
     But she will knock again at the doors of Heaven asking for a cup of sugar to deceive the mouth of death, a dark wine to enclose time within the feast of the body, some salt of memory to record the air of days that have gone away-while she climbs, clumsy and obstinate, up the broken tree, growing old, in her nightgown and winter slippers, to knock at the door of Him who withholds His secrets.

(Translated from the Spanish by Brett Alan Sanders)

 



Maria Rosa Lojo

Qualities of Winter


WINTER IS ROUND like a walnut and hollow like a crystal planet where furious winds blow. But in its torrid center boil the fruits of sea and earth and the fugitives of tempests come together.
     Winter is a house that in its trunks keeps memories of the most ancient love, the warmth of a lap, a voice predating the word-all enclosing the sleeper in their ball of silk.
     The bodies of winter become linked in profound kinships, weave into each other like blankets to provide shelter, light up like candles in order to guide whoever stumbles in his silence, seeking an embrace.

(Translated from the Spanish by Brett Alan Sanders)

 



Maria Rosa Lojo

The Structure of Houses


WITHIN A THIMBLE there was a sewing room where Grandmother would embroider roses when she, as a child, had to stay on the shadow side of light so as not to be led astray by the noises of the world. Within a photo of the father there was a young man who returned to the mountains crossing fields burnt by war, and there were bodies finished off by firing squad rotting at the bottom of his eyes.
     Behind an old glove there was a vanished brother, in an empty pill bottle madness lay in wait; from the chipped plates a family ate, seated around an oak table; within a chest the mother kept letters from men who had courted her, and with the letters, hope and privation and pens advancing slowly over the rough paper of past lives.
     In your history there were histories impossible to clean up, and closed rooms that would never open, because the structures of houses are interminable and concentric Chinese puzzles (boxes within boxes within boxes)--and mysterious in the same way.

(Translated from the Spanish by Brett Alan Sanders)

 



Maria Rosa Lojo

Apertures


THE HOUSES OF summer are opening with a blast of fragrant wood, as if they were new. A rustling of bread flies out of windows that are upended toward the day, and restrained dawns overrun their borders into the water that flows beneath the doors.
     Mouths that talk and hands that grasp and eyes that adhere to the light are opening. Delayed communications and codices of foreign voices are opening. Exploratory doubt and the contradiction that makes things crash in order to leap and give birth to their flashes of light are opening.
     Streets overflow and glisten like strips of mercury and feet wean themselves from their straitened riverbeds. Hidden secrets lose their ambiguous attraction and the gift of languages sets heads on fire in order that they articulate scorned loves, so that all that is opaque now become transparent.

(Translated from the Spanish by Brett Alan Sanders)

 


 
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