Vanity of Vanities

We present this work in honor of the 160th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Julio Arboleda Pombo
Colombian
1817 – 1862

 

Unhappy who seeks in appearance
bliss and ephemeral praise,
and changes his mind with the change
of the versatile public conscience!

The present is your only providence;
yields to the blowing of the wind that throws him
to good without faith and evil without hope;
that in erring with the world is his science.

And happy the independent male
who, free from worldly bondage,
aspires, between pain and sorrow,

to the eternal truth, not to the present one,
knowing that the world and its truths
they are only vanity of vanities!

Solitude

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 100th birthday.

Meira Delmar
Colombian
1922 – 2009

 

There’s nothing like this bliss
of feeling so alone
in mid-afternoon
and in the middle of the wheat field;
under the summer sky
and in the arms of the wind
I am one more ear of wheat.

I have nothing in my soul,not even a small sorrow,
nor an old remembrance
that would make me dream…
I only have this bliss
of being alone in the afternoon,
just with the afternoon!

A very long silence
is falling on the field,
for already the sun is leaving
and already the wind is leaving;
who would give me forever
this inexpressible bliss
of being, alone and serene,
a miracle of peace!

Translation by Nicolás Suescún

I Saw the Red Sun

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 205th birthday.

06-09 Pombo
Julio Arboleda Pombo
Colombian
1817 – 1862

I saw the red sun’s serene light
troubled and at one point its brilliant face
disappeared and the sky darkened,
with a darkness full of horror.

The stormy South winds sound angry,
their anger grows, and the storm grows,
and the shoulders of Atlas shudder
high Olympus, with a dreadful thunderclap.

But then I saw the black veil
of rain part, and by the previous light
the brilliant and clear day was restored.

And again I looked upon the sky’s ornate splendor,
and I said “Who knows if I should expect an equal
change in my fortune?”

The House

05-14 Bernal
Jenny Bernal
Colombian
b. 1987

 

Welcome to this house
your home,
here you breathe the bitter cold
of that absent breath.
Welcome to this house
of anger and tears,
indeed you can sit
where your footsteps run out
where your skin dries.
The house has changed a bit
—you’ll forgive me—
but I’ve avoided painting it
so that the cracks of time
will give it a little bit of that familiar tinge.

It is the same house, don’t be afraid,
that same one that we built some time ago,
waiting to be alone enough
to live in it.

 

Translation by Anastasia Ramjag

I Make My Way Through the Deserted City

04-26 Estrada
Lucia Estrada
Colombian
b. 1980

 

At its corners,
there’s no movement to recall
the drawn-out breathing of other days.
Not even air brings news of its dead.
I walk along the secret shore of things
and in them I see myself, in their coat of dust as if to shield them from their own fate.
I think of the men who are now sinking tepidly into sleep. To what uncertain sea do they surrender?
What wind propels their ships? To what port are they pushed?
Dark the moment when my memory tries for a phantom dialogue reflected in stone,
in the vigil of the dispossessed.
Long, silent,
like the death not uttered by these streets.

 

Translation by Olivia Lott

Ms. Bourgeois

02-16 Mattei
Olga Elena Mattei
Colombian
b. 1933

I am a bourgeois lady
and have a swollen belly.
I try to write my thoughts
despite my sore throat.

I behave the way
some others want.
In common ground, the standard lie.
But,
for human beings
it is despicable to bear
labels which say:
“Dry clean only.”
“Handle with care.”

I have been a prodigious child,
a little brat,
a bad student,
a beauty queen,
a fashion model,
and one of those
that advertise
soups or sundries.

I got myself
into this inevitable mess,
by falling in love,
then sacrificing
a handsome man,
turning him
into a husband,
a sad situation.

(Not to mention
what kind of person
I have become!)

I have committed
an inconvenient
social crime:
adding five children to the crowd.

I have failed
as a mother,
and a wife,
as a lover,
as a reader
of philosophy.

All I can do,
with sad mediocrity,
is to be
a bourgeois wife,
unforgivably inconsequential,
deaf and blind:
a useless kind
of human mind.

And that
is
why
I always
have
a swollen belly,
and sometimes I want to scream
with such anger,
that my own raging words
do irritate my throat.

Then I write poetry
which has the sound
of a bass cord
inside my core.
Because
I know the truth:
that there’s a war, and violence, and crime
each single day,
while I am at the same time
sitting here
with no fear…
For dumb,
so doomed.
For deaf
So damned.

Not knowing what to do
I choose inertia.
I look the other way.
But inside myself, I cry.
Because
I remember
the hunger,
the children in tears
watching us
with open eyes…
far away or near,
the children
as real
as I.

At exactly
the same hour
we the ladies,
the socialites
keep sitting here
blinded,
surrounded
by disposable
happiness.

I do nothing
to see
if we can move the world
against poverty and drugs,
against violence and war!

Instead
there’s this insanity,
staying still,
contented with being
just ass holes.

Poetics

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 75th birthday.

12-29 Roca
Juan Manuel Roca
Colombian
b. 1946

 

After writing on paper the word coyote
You must watch out that the meat-craving word
Does not take over the page,
Does not manage to hide
Behind the word jacaranda
To wait for the word hare to pass by
And then tear it apart.
In order to prevent it,
To sound the alarm
When the coyote stealthily
Prepares its ambush,
Some old masters
Who know the spells of language
Recommend tracing the word match
Rubbing it against the word stone
And lighting up the word fire
To scare it away.
There is no coyote or jackal, no hyena or jaguar,
No puma or wolf thar won’t flee
When fire converses with air.

 

Translation by Laura Chalar

The Condemned Man on the Pyramid

William Ospina
Colombian
b. 1954

 

Stone upon stone the earth seeks the sky.
Step by step my soles ascend to the sun.
The hot coal of life still beats in my chest
and idle now is the stone knife among these stones.

If you are all life, why do you need my heart?
If you are the great fire, why do you need my coal?

Each step of the stair erases a memory,
and how like my soul is this long shadow shattering
upon the last stones in the world.

 

Translation by Elaine Fowler Palencia and Michael Palencia-Roth

Invocation

11-14 Obeso
Candelario Obeso
Colombian
1849 – 1884

 

Oh God of mercy! Enlighten my mind a moment
Of the vast universe, you are life, you are glory, you are sun;
To each planet from your invisible Being descends
an impalpable ray – goodness, greatness, love.

Eternal that ray is the focus of mysterious light,
The fruitful fount of what always is said to emanate.
Happy the one that walks lit by God in the world,
not whipped by the terrible, searing storm.

This is what I want to sing. Between the applauses, the century’s genius
curses your name. And another tower of Babel begins.
Oh! Never in the heavens will it touch the proud head;
It leaves not doubt, rather a sad, barren pain.

What haughty and ignorant pride with sage smoke
that insults your glory and the nothing here below stand-offish?
Denied, he toils; but only to know the reach always
that the effort is in vain that attempts to sweep you up in his action.

The so fertile field to offered science returns
without you in a desert. Only the man never progressed;

In vain he shouts and endeavors in his sterile pride
Breaking your altars and erasing your name among farces.

Oh God of mercy! Enlighten my mind a moment
Of the vast universe, you are life, you are glory, you are sun;
Give to the world the prestigious sight of your ineffable Being,
And achieve, under your protection, thrust your nascent splendor.

Your divine breath dissipates the ominous storm;
Do not leave this century to its blindness and terrible ambition.
Progress, hopes… everything! Ay! All of the new in the nothingness,
If you do not avoid, it will return to bury us! What horror!

My lyre divulges that the triumphs that some receive;
Their ancient greatness false and the lie of illusion;
Here they vegetate. More what they reach for? Only shadows;
Never managing to lift themselves up from the dust.

It is an inviolable law. Those that you, in your wisdom chose,
If at the weight they succumb to your noble and excelling mission,
They will be like the lost ship in the tempestuous sea,
It is a birth that falles in the waves from the winging north.
Happy he that is pious and obedient to your law as shown
And the fool does not affir,
That the gas and the phosphorus brighten more than your eternal blaze…

 

Translation by Raina J. León