Interpreting Borges

For this translation of Borges, I decided to start with the fact that the original poem (Un Ciego) is a classical Shakespearian sonnet.  The decision to respect the form of the original poem when translating leads to a new poem that, while preserving the essential themes and sense of the original, adds and subtracts details for the sake of the form.  I call this kind of translating  “interpreting” to emphasize that a poem arises from the process that is both the original poem and a new poem in and of itself.

 

The Blind Man
by
Jorge Luis Borges
(interpreted by Guy Conner)

I try imagining my face
Reflected in that mirror there.
Would I see an old man with a trace
Of weary rage, or perhaps despair?
Slowly does my hand explore
My features – not so old in fact.
The vision comes to me once more
Of you as I knew you in our youth.
I agree with Milton when he says
That blindness is a state of mind.
Vision deals with surfaces,
I see images of a deeper kind.
But still, if I could see my face,
I’d know myself and knowing, know my place.

A little taste of Borges

For a change of pace, how about a little Borges?

The Nightmare
Jorge Luis Borges
(trans. Guy Conner)

I dream of an ancient king,
His crown of iron, his look of death,
There are no faces like that nowadays,
You sense his firm blade will obey him, loyal, like a dog

I do not from where he comes – Northumbria or Norway;
I only know that he comes to us from the North,
Close cut red whiskers everywhere;
Never have I seen the like;
Such empty eyes.

From what strange looking-glass,
From what wild sea-faring adventure,
Has this man, this gray and grizzled man,
Burst forth to oppress me with his bitterness?

I know that was a dream, and I treat it as a dream.
Day becomes Night;
I don’t know where it has been.

 

Acceptance

It was only to be expected, I guess.  When I was young, I felt affronted by the prospect of death; as I age, death seems , while still frightening, increasingly natural.

Death’s Blue-Eyed Boy

My father was certain
What would happen.”Like snuffing out a candle,” he’d say.
“Like turning out all the lights in the world at once.”

I have a different take on death:
I think I’ll pass
Into an alternate universe
Where I’ll get another chance
To do it right.

 

The Cage

The following verse is from 1969.  As is the case with many of the pieces I wrote at that time, I have no memory of composing it.   It seemed to spring, fully-written, into my mind.   I think is is a reflection of my state of mind at that time, which was that the loneliness I felt was a hopeless condition.

 

The Cage

The floor is made of matted straw —
Enough to make his blisters raw,
Enough to make a catch-as-can
Pallet for a weary man.
At each new  dimming of the light,
Begins a wakeful-watching night.
He gazes at the distant stars,
Checkered through the criss-cross bars.
His face seems old, or maybe tired,
The spark of youth long since expired.
He’s dressed in ragged, khaki shorts —
Large holes expose his nether parts.

Tonight, a woman with a pin
Tries to pick-lock her way in.
From her, a sharp, triumphant shout —
And, suddenly the gate swings out
The man runs out, and pulls up short,
A sudden wrenching at his heart,
He’d better take it stage-by-stage,
His only home has been a cage.

He squints at his new and larger room,
And makes out nothing in the gloom,
Nothing but a dreary night,
Somehow the outside isn’t right.
Is he free?  Or trapped? Or who can tell?
He looks back at  his former cell,
And slowly, seeming satisfied,
The woman locks herself inside.

 

The Next Phase of My Life

I’m in the mood for a short poem today:

The Next Phase of my Life
a haiku

My body feels like a sponge;
Void of all content,
Alert, and primed to absorb.

Why I Love Darkness

A short while ago,  I promised deeper poems.  What follows is a second poem about my mother and what it was like when alcohol took over her life.   It is also about my relationship with my father, but more on that later…

 

Why I Love Darkness

Memories
Are not backlit;
Like fretful flies,
They dodge and flit,
Before they settle in the mind.

Memories
Are not a choice;
Like poetry,
They give a voice
To wounds that fester and endure.

1960:
Standing on the lawn that morning,
The grass I mowed and left behind,
The little swathes I failed to cut.

Our living room:
My father sleeping by the fire.
Ten o’clock, a ringing phone,
Stunned surprise.

The kitchen, by the phone:
My father’s eyes,
Beggar’s eyes.
Get dressed, he says;
Just go next door.

Our neighbor’s house:
My mother, barely clothed,
Sitting on the neighbor’s chair,
Chatting like a party host.

Our front lawn:
Supporting her,
Her feet as useless
As her brain.
Falling halfway,
Coming up covered
With brownish blades.

In the hallway:
My father standing silently,
My mother comatose,
My sister crying softly.

Our living room:
The dirty rug.
The dying fire.
The ashtray with its sickly smell.
I stand alone.
After a while,
I go round
And pull down every shade.