By J. H. Santos Barros
Nailing a nail, washing dishes, cutting the grass
is costly. But nothing ever cost me as much
as loading up a poem with the most difficult things.
The making out of the other side of literature the world’s knots.
And to untie them. To remake them simply
I attended masses, moved over oceans and through jungles-
were they the sheer forests of desire or the cellars of very tall buildings.
I never prayed for you or for me because God was not there,
but in all the places I found poetry
and I took to composing poems and making love like someone who immolates himself
and who doesn’t plague himself with the neighbors’ melancholy in seeing me catch the bus
or in returning from the bureaucratized life which is the profession
of maintaining files of old-age
for those who are going to die in a little while.
Nailing a nail is costly, boy is it costly! And even more costly
must be eight daily hours of brutal routine in the factories of madness:
(this I tell you, worker for whom I neither cry nor pray nor
do I disparage you to the point of singing of the glories of your tomorrow which does not exist,
because I know that you know how to be your own Work).
But handling that line is also costly. To me
it’s not so much the explorative pain that hurts but the line that
explodes sadly behind and in front and diagonally
in the poem. Now that I begin to write my own death,
my lines smack of the summers of the childhood that was not
they smack of the humidity of the cold tables where I saw
the autumnal poets I do not know faking their tears
and receiving from the ladies, by way of a handkerchief,
the notice in lace of their condemnation to death.
It’s true: everything bores when there are no longer songs
tricking the harshness of the voice that first sang them
when one, like Ruy Belo, dies from making poems.
Let them bring me songs!
Let them tell me the “sea” is still “Portuguese”
the Lord protects “hearts” that are elevated to the “highest”
jungles serve the world as lungs and there are no holes
in the places where I planted bombs and they killed me
and I saw “death with a smile on its lips”!
There is bone chill in these fingers and February’s poem does not bring them warmth.
(from The Sea Within, selection, introduction, and notes by Onésimo T. Almeida, translations by George Monteiro [Providence: Gávea-Brown, 1983])
George Monteiro is Professor Emeritus of English and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Brown University, and he continues as Adjunct Professor of Portuguese Studies at the same university. He served as Fulbright lecturer in American Literature in Brazil– Sao Paulo and Bahia–Ecuador and Argentina; and as Visiting Professor in UFMG in Belo Horizonte. In 2007 he served as Helio and Amelia Pedroso / Luso-American Foundation Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Among his recent books are Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge of Courage, Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature, The Presence of Pessoa, The Presence of Camões, and Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop and Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Among his translations are Iberian Poems by Miguel Torga, A Man Smiles at Death with Half a Face by José Rodrigues Miguéis, Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems by Fernando Pessoa, and In Crete, with the Minotaur, and Other Poems by Jorge de Sena. He has also published two collections of poems, The Coffee Exchange and Double Weaver’s Knot.
Foto: Jorge Blayer Góis