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Unthinkable Tenderness: Selected Poems - Juan Gelman, Joan Lindgren
I made pistachio-apricot butter today,
and wished you were here,
some of you.
But that’s just me.*

That cannot be a poem, because it occurred to me while finishing another Juan Gelman, who’s not me, although he used several pseudonyms.

I’ve become quite taken with Juan Gelman—his incredible personal story, his poems, his anger morphed into beauty and forgiveness. I’m less taken with this translator than I was with Hardie St. Martin. To Joan Lindgren’s credit: she provides many more poems, and it isn’t that her translations are bad (how would I know?), it’s just of the poems common to both this volume and [b:Dark Times Filled with Light|15712878|Dark Times Filled with Light|Juan Gelman|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1345431382s/15712878.jpg|21380682], I preferred those in the later volume.

An excerpt from St. Martin’s translation of Exergue (the entirety may be seen here.
translation is something inhuman: no language or face lets itself be translated, you have to leave one beauty intact and supply another to go with it: their lost unity lies ahead.
While Lindgren’s translation reads:
to translate is inhuman—no language or face allows itself to be translated. we must leave this beauty intact and add yet another beauty to accompany it. their lost unity lies ahead.
Or take St. Martin’s translation of The Prisoner:
gazelle / you’re far away /
yet you’re closer to my bones than even I am /
the world may think I’m a free man
yet each word from you is my mistress /
and though I may walk upright in everyone’s eyes
i am the prisoner of my loneliness for you /
without father or mother / without water or bread /
i walk naked in the sun of your absence /
While in Lindgren’s version:
gazelle / though you be distant /
you are nearer to my bones than I myself /
and though the world believe me a free man /
any word from your lips is my mistress /
and though I walk erect in the eyes of all /
I am prisoner of my loneliness for you /
fatherless / motherless / without bread or water /
naked in the sun of your distance /
It’s not that they’re so dramatically different, it’s that Lindgren’s conformance to convention (e.g. capitalization of “I” or a “/” at the end of every line in the latter poems) when Gelman, apparently, didn’t, that lends to her versions an element of distance, renders them less intimate. Then, again, I could be blowin’ smoke and just simply prefer St. Martin’s translation over Lindgren’s, and it’s due merely to my own personal wierdnesses. Hopefully, you’ll read one or another or both, and decide for yourselves.

In any case, the poem I most wanted to share is a long one, so, check it out:

a child buries his hand in his fever and pulls out stars that he tosses into the air/ and nobody sees /
nor do I see them /
I see only a feverish child with his eyes closed who sees /
small pet animals passing through the sky / grazing in his trembling /
I don’t see these little animals /
I see the child who sees little animals /
and ask myself why this is happening today /
would something else happen yesterday? / would he pull out much pain
from his soul yesterday? / I know only that the child has a fever /
his soul is closed and he’ll bury it
in the ashes left when he burned up /
but is it so? / his soul buried in the ashes of himself? / a tree
outside the window is looking at the sun /
there is sun /
outside the window there is a tree in the street /
and now a child with his hand in his pants pocket comes down the street /
he is happy and pulls his hand from his pocket /
opens his hand and lets go the fevers that nobody sees /
nor do I see them /
I see only palm open to the light /
and he / what does he see? /
does he see the oxen that are pulling the sun? /
what do I know /
I don’t know what the boy with his hand in his pants pockets sees /
or the feverish child who sees the bones of the atlantic
and the bones of all the oceans churning in his heart /
I see nothing / know nothing /
not even the day I was born /
I know the date but I don’t know the day I was born /
is that the day I die for the umpteenth time? /
the day when all the dead come back
to die again with me? / or I with them? /
in this loveliest open light? /
and what does the boy do with the light in the palm of his hand? /
while the others work to make money outside of the light? /
closed away from the light that cannot be seen without an inner light? /
without a painful love within? /
here they come now the letters you never wrote me /
son / you / who are so much born of this light /
your letters have those fevers of which I know nothing /
of which I will always know nothing /
your letters are like little birds that fly about with your quietness /
stars you tossed into the air that nobody sees /
I don’t see them nor does this uncertain pain of mine /
you were thinking about a cleaner life than this one /
a life that could be washed clean /
hung out to dry in the sun of your kindness /
a life full of faces like journeys /
where are those faces? / those journeys? /
life is naked like a sea without shores /
and cannot bring life back /
bring it to your crib /
nor carry it forward /
I am less real than the table where I eat /
I eat to be real like the tree outside the window /
now there’s a boy standing by it /
he takes his hand from his pants pocket /
opens his palm to the light /
and thinks that death is death /
and no more than that /
I liked this one a little less than my first Gelman experience, but I liked it quite a lot, and I hope you do as well. 4.5 stars, rounded down for that reason only. This volume contains selections from 10 other volumes which I’d very much like to acquire and read soon. Letter to My Mother and Epilogue: An Open Letter to My Grandson or Granddaughter are worth the price of admission (at the time of his writing that open letter, he didn’t know whether the child of his murdered son was male of female). Check Gelman out; he’s considered to be in the Nobel running. Let me know if I’m correct in my appreciation or a just a sentimental softie, or both. I can take it.

*the pistachio-apricot butter is easy to make: grind one cup of pistachios to a fine meal, before adding two cups of chopped apricots and a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (my suggestion: pistachios salted AFTER the shelling and a scant, very scant, tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, but, hey, that’s just me)