Translation by Nathan Xavier Osorio

Excerpts from Claudia Hernández de Valle-Arizpe’s Hemicránea (Ediciones Sin Nombre, 1998)

La Desesperación

Sobre la tierra mojada se descomponen señales:
el temblor del agua, las fauces del mango en mi bastón:
su marfil traído de África
en un ir y venir de trenes imprecisos.

La oscuridad me devuelve el rostro de mi padre
cuando descifra los ruidos que llegan de un circo.
A mí nadie pudo retratarme bajo el tiempo
en que hablaba con los pájaros
en una lengua a que no era suya ni mía.

La luz de la madrugada es como el cuerpo
de la enfermera. Me gusta tocarla con guantes
Ninguna otra piel recubre mis dedos
al momento de hundirse en las vísceras
del pescado que desmenuzo para la cena.
En mis sienes y en la línea
que divide los hemisferios del cráneo
destilan veneno sus rosas espirales.
Podar con ungüento la carne, como se podan
las palabras en el arbusto del lenguaje.

 *

Como hacer el retrato de una mujer
con el sombrero en un bolsillo
y el pañuelo en la cabeza.
Comencé a pintar sus orquídeas nocturnas,
los bloques de hielo sobre su corazón,
su cuerpo de torre ennegrecida.
Septiembre es Patras, Constantinopla.
Noviembre es tifoidea, malaria, muerte.
Todo el mal de los viajes y de la ausencia
crece, bajo llave, en sus ojos
Dejo correr el agua sobre los trazos grises
de la humedad que avanza por su cara:
Virginia es un lugar leja no que no conozco.

*

En el vientre de un edificio en ruinas
             donde la música es una sola nota aguda,
                          mi hemisferio izquierdo
                                        te abre sus cerrojos.

De igual manera son vencidas las flores por la luz:
toda boca anémona
al desgajarse.

 

Desperation

On wet earth, signs decompose:
the quivering of water,
the jaws on the handle of my cane:
its marble brought from Africa
on the coming and going of imprecise trains.

The darkness returns me to my father’s expression
as he deciphers the sounds that a circus brings.
No one could portray me in the time
he spoke with the birds
in a language that wasn’t his or mine.

Dawn’s light is like the body
of the nurse. I like to touch her with gloves.
No other skin covers my fingers
the moment they sink into the viscera
of the fish I pick apart for dinner.
In my temples and in the line
that divides the hemispheres of my skull
rosy spirals distill venom.
Ointment shaves off the flesh, like how we trim
words from the shrub of language.

*

How to paint the portrait of a woman
with a hat in her pocket
and a scarf on her head.
I began by painting her nocturnal orchids,
the blocks of ice on her heart,
the blackened tower of her body.
September is Patras, Constantinople.
November is typhoid, malaria, death.
All the evil of traveling and of absence
grows, locked, in her eyes.
I let the water run over the grey traces
of humidity that move across her face:
Virginia is a distant place I do not know.

*

In the belly of a building in ruins
          where the music is a single high note,
                        my left hemisphere
                           unhinges its latch.

In the same way flowers are defeated by light:
every mouth is an anemone
upon being torn out.

 

Claudia Hernández de Valle-Arizpe is an award winning essayist and poet from Mexico. In 1997, she obtained the Efraín Huerta National Poetry Prize for her book Deshielo, and in 2015, she won the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Premio Internacional for her collection, A salvo de la destrucción.

Nathan Xavier Osorio is the son of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrants. He has taught classes on the intersections of creative writing, translation, and political activism at Barnard College, the New School, and Columbia University, where he received his MFA in poetry and literary translation. In 2017 and 2018, he was a semifinalist for the Discovery / Boston Review Poetry Contest and his chapbook The Last Town Before the Mojave was a finalist for the 2016 Atlas Review Chapbook Contest. In addition to writing and teaching, Nathan currently works as a community organizer partnering with parent leaders to improve educational experiences of Latino, immigrant, and indigenous families in the South Bronx. His writing and translations can be found at Mexico City Lit, the Offing, and Boston Review's Poems for Political Disaster.