Spanish Poems by Jorge Ortega
I have entered the labyrinth and I have exited thence, wounded by skepticism. I moistened my ears with gurgling springs that let themselves be listened to from great distances, and I refreshed my eyes with the aura of unseen glazes, and I erred by naming things which were nameless. From the exactitude of certain pitches, I have rediscovered the innate conjurations of pigmentation. The tracery of maps and forms —angles, volutes, straight lines of Cyclopean heights— disposed their pointer of dazzling mica in my pupil. In a pink corner, the waterfall confided in me, its algebra of occult music, its graceful tresses of silvery and fleeting logarithms. Without a camera, I have arrived at the country of I-Was-Here, yet not even language can click and capture the instant forever. It’s the untranslatable palimpsest of what is perceived, the laziness of the footnote, that un-language implying access to the case and to reserving one’s rights to testify; the insufficiency of an etching, the uselessness of the vocabulary that runs in vain towards the sparkling peplos of a nymph in gardens more beautiful than what was imagined. Taking my own risk, I crossed the entryway’s arch, and I have returned, bogged in the boundless silence of the disconsolate.
Unawares, we cross the threshold,
until reaching the center.
What did we know about borders?
We enter the desert like
like leaving water
and entering dryness once again.
“Excuse the mess”,
thought one of the two.
And you smiled before the vacancy that opened
like a vast parenthesis,
before the awkward
of our trusting step.
We have yet to discern
if being within the circle
is to be inside the center
or if the center
The breeze galloping across your brow
frees us from inquiries.
Durability of Materials
L’Art est long et le Temps est court.
The stone was here
before my birth, before
the birth of my father
and his father, my grandfather
and ten generations preceding,
and all the living beings
that people this planet
until this closing moment.
I can only kneel,
venerate the moisture
growing stronger as I sniff
its odor: a chunk of forest,
that ancient moisture
emanating from caves
sunken deep in time.
We will depart
and the stone
will remain in the plaza, erect,
atop the pile of its own bones
which do not crumble
Consistence of the world:
regard the mute corrosion
of flesh, so unlike the solidity
of millennia-laden textures; look,
the wasting envelopment,
the brittle bones sustaining
a tattered coat;
the stem which we ultimately are,
unlike the quarry or basalt
chilled by the alchemy of centuries.
Man is not older than stone,
nor does he reach as far
what he has erected with his living pulse.
He endures less than his creations.
Question of Perspective
You are no wiser than the bush
just because you’re on this side. The bush
that gazes at you seated before the course of what’s unforeseeable,
behind a window
full of movement.
Along the path that leads to Rome,
starting from the bareness of a promontory,
the bush films the passing of barbarian hosts,
the globe’s rotation along its edges that
arrange and rearrange themselves
like the geometry
inside a kaleidescope.
Everything will happen in front of its leaves
without it needing to give the slightest rustle.
Tribes, inventions, alliances,
Hearsay of a crucifixion
in an desolate lot belonging to no one,
near the desert.
While you crumble
sweeping through the districts
or bustling about borders
the bush examines
the escape and retreat
of one who toils at treading the paths,
seeking some grail.
Without attempting to do so,
it has inscribed on its permeable branches
the world’s cathedral,
and its slight foliage stores
the secrets of the caravans,
the secrets that men share,
to which the wind listens, sharing them
with the shrubs where it pours itself at last
Perhaps the suggestion you pursue
reposes within the sap, the sleep of the just.
Approach, and ask.
One must recount what occurs
not in the upper registers of language
and its crust of foam
but on the lower registers where
the flame bends
or the root shudders.
One must turn the cone upside
down and denounce what’s settled at rock-bottom,
summon the roar of the sands
that a deep sea current
Take a deep breath, then dive.
Ascend and tell what you have seen,
in order to relieve those waiting
by the mirror of the surface.
Much ink has smeared,
yet we’re still on tenterhooks.
So. Cast a little more light on your predicament,
raise your lantern before the abyss
as you seek a key among the rocks.
Flowered War *
I await you
in the warmth that inseminates the air
boiling atop the sacrificial flames of desire
of one who slips a sun beneath his tongue.
Your name migrates, reaching my ears
like the rustle from immense trees stirred
by the evening breeze;
although the foliage proclaims you, no one
comprehends this lingua-franca for the chosen…
yet my mind understands. In a few hours,
we will meet on some corner
of the citadel walls that intuit
the sum total of places you procure.
One need not agree on details;
to leave suffices, as to put key in ignition…
threads of premonition must guide
you blindly through nocturnal fjords
until lips may light upon a place
whose vestige I am at this very moment,
before something may come, ignite, and consume us.
* An allusion to Aztec ceremonial wars enacted in order to capture sacrificial victims.
(Translated by Anthony Seidman)
Jorge Ortega (b. 1972, Mexicali) is one of Mexico’s most celebrated contemporary poets. He studied Hispanic Philology at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, where he earned his doctorate. His recent collection, Devoción por la piedra, won Mexico’s highly coveted poetry prize named in honor of Jaime Sabines, the Premio Internacional de Poesía Jaime Sabines of 2010. Other titles include Ajedrez de polvo (tsé-tsé, 2003), Estado del tiempo (Hiperión, 2005) and Guía de forasteros (Bonobos, 2014). His work has been included in numerous anthologies in Mexico and the United States, including Across the Line. The Poetry of Baja California (Junction Press, 2002). His poetry and translations of such poets as Hart Crane have appeared in such journals as Letras Libres, The Bitter Oleander, The Black Herald Review, Crítica, Structo and World Literature Today.
Anthony Seidman is a poet and translator residing in Los Angeles. His work has been included in such journals as Chiron Review, Nimrod, World Literature Today, The Black Herald Review, Ambit, Cardinal Points, among other publications. He has a new collection of poetry entitled A Sleepless Man Sits Up In Bed (Eyewear, 2016). With David Shook, he is the co-translator of Confetti-Ash: Selected Poems by Salvador Novo (The Bitter Oleander Press, 2015).