p. leminski

in english


Translations from
14 Brazilian Poets

New American Writing #18, USA, 2000

... Of the generation of Caetano Veloso, Torquato Neto and Duda Machado, Paulo Leminski began as a Concretist, but was to write a monumental work of Joycean character, Catatau (1975), after which he broke with Concretist values and would influence younger poets to do likewise. Alfredo Bosi writes: "A name apart which evokes a radiant presence, not only poetical, but cultural, is that of Leminski, who died young, in 1989. His trajectory brought to light the fractures of the whole post-68 avant-garde. Leminski tried to create not only a writing but a poetic anthropology by which his stake in the situation and in the ultramodern technologies of communication did not inhibit the appeal of a 'utopic community'." ...


Régis Bonvicino
Tr. Jennifer Sarah Frota & Paul Hoover


My cut-off head
Thrown in your window
Moon-lit night
Window open

Hits the wall
Loses some teeth
Falls to the bed
Heavy with thought

Maybe it's scary
Maybe you'll blink
Seeing by moon
The color of my eyes

Maybe you'll think
It's just your alarm clock
On the nightstand

Not to scare you
Only to ask kindlier treatment
For my sudden head

(Tr. Charles Bernstein and Régis Bonvicino)

life is the cows you put in the river to attract piranhas while the herd wades through (Tr. Jennifer Sarah Frota)
in the street without resistance they call me i regain existence (Tr. Jennifer Sarah Frota)
i never wanted to be a fine customer asking for this and that red wine thank you hasta la vista i wanted to bust in my two feet on the pecs of the porters to say to the mirror "shut-up" and to the clock "drop your hands" (Tr. Jennifer Sarah Frota)



B efore the Chaos, the Earth, the Tartar, and Eros, before the powers that pulsate in the Origins, tenebrous potencies of the primordial abyss, before the ten thousand open valves would give birth to Giants, Titans and Cyclops, before the war between the monsters of the night and the lucid force of the day, before all, son of a river and of a water nymph, Narcissus, son of Naiad, was lying prone and was looking at himself in the trembling mirror of the spring, Narcissus looking at Narcissus, beauty looking at itself, blind, deaf and dumb to the appeals of Echo, the passionate nymph, calling Narcissus, Narcissus, the spring water repeats the face of Narcissus, reflexes of Narcissus in the echoes of the nymph, water in the water, like light in light, light inside of water.

This legend is the rock of Sisyphus, the rock that Sisyphus rolls to the top of the mountain, and the rock rolls back, always rolls back, pains of Hercules, works of Daedalus, labyrinth, remember that you are rock, Sisyphus, and every rock into dust will be transformed, and out of that dust several legends will be edified.
And out of Narcissus, the prophecy of the wizard Tiresias, will be happy as long as he does not see his own image, the voice of Echo between the trees, Narcissus' face above the blade of the waters.
Narcissus' gaze falls on the water like Icarus from the heights, and Icarus falls in the water, a sound of purple that tears itself, Poseidon!, and sinks in a coral chorale of mermaids.
Instants before Icarus flew, next to his father, two seagulls above the Aegean sea, flew with wax wings created by Daedalus, the labyrinth's architect, inventor of the automatons, father of new things.
They flew, father and son, escaping from Crete, from the rage of the king who had imprisoned them in the labyrinth constructed by Daedalus.
Minos had discovered, his architect, the incomparable artisan, was an accomplice in the monstrous love between queen Pasiphae and the white bull that Poseidon, lord of the oceans, had caused to emerge from the waves of the sea. And it was that queen Pasiphae who burnt with passion for the white bull and wanted to be penetrated by him. Daedalus built a perfect simulacrum of a cow. Pasiphae entered, the bull approached, and in this manner the cursed coitus between the queen and the great beast was consummated.
From this monstrosity, the Minotaur was born, hybrid with the body of a man and head of a bull, around whom Daedalus constructed the labyrinth, monstrous house for a monstrous being.
Narcissus' gaze turns, dizzy with so much beauty, Sisyphus' rock, Icarus' fall, and once more falls on the water, wheels generating wheels.
The water begins to turn red, blood in the water, blood of Icarus, blood of the sky, Uranus, son of the earth, brother of Cyclops, Uranus, castrated by Cronus, Time, his son, the heavens castrated by Time, the free movements of the stars measured by an hourglass and clepsydra, the parricide primordial, crepuscule of the gods.
In the water, now blood, float the penis and the testicles of Uranus, cut by the scythe that Tethys, the earth, gave to the son Cronus to mutilate the father.
From these cut testicles, she was born, Aphrodite, emerging from the sea foam, beauty, joy, passion, delight, Echo calling Narcissus, Narcissus, Pasiphae trespassed upon by the bull, Narcissus in love with Narcissus, happy while he does not see his own image.
Now Narcissus' gaze sees Theseus, it is Theseus, the hero thirsty for blood, who enters the labyrinth, the bronze sword in one hand, in the other, Ariadne's thread, the thread that serves as guide between the free-standing meanderings of the construction that Daedalus' ingenuity rolled and unrolled. A thousand lighted eyes, Theseus ventures within the labyrinth, the short Mycenaean bronze sword in his right hand, vibrating like a penis, princess Ariadne's skein coiled around his left arm, increasingly inside, the darkness more dense, the smell of manure increasingly strong, Theseus ventures in the direction of the center of his heart, at a crossroads, the hero hesitates, then hears the most frightful bellowing that human ears have ever heard.
Narcissus covers his ears, and lets his gaze float above the monotonous waters.
All falls silent. Narcissus no longer hears, not the lowing of the minotaur, nor the echoes of the nymph, Narcissus, Narcissus, Narcissus, minotaur, minos, taurus.
Theseus ventures, heart without fear, and the voice of the nymph Echo repeats itself among the corners of the labyrinth, shattering itself against the lowing of the Minotaur.
The hero steps forward and places himself before the monster, in a combat position.
Theseus looks, then, looks for the first time, and sees it. And cannot believe. The Minotaur has his face. Theseus and the Minotaur are the same person.
Barely has time to jump to the side, when the beast attacks.
The Minotaur leans on the wall and throws himself over Theseus.
The sword sinks in the throat, the blood pours, the monster vacillates and collapses at the hero's feet.
Theseus raises the sword, and plunges it into the heart of the labyrinth's lord.
As he dies, the Minotaur cries like a child, finally curls himself like a fetus, and becomes calm in death's definitive.
Theseus cleans the sword on his mantle and leaves, with a death on his soul the size of the night.
In the mirror of water, Narcissus recognizes her, the one with the serpent hair, Medusa, the one who transforms into stone all who fix upon her. Eye on the water, Narcissus is not in danger, and Medusa passes by, armed with the force to see and be seen. Next time, who knows.
It begins to get cold, the evening's wind extinguishes the daylight, the shadows come from underneath the leaves, the stones, the heart of the woods.
Narcissus' face goes dark in the water, where soon the stars shine.
From afar, the voice of Echo, Narcissus, Narcissus, repeats as if bleeding.
On the water, the stars, the Great Bear, the signs, the constellations, the blind lights where man's arbitration judges to see forms, profiles, silhouettes, forms from this world projected on the celestial blue where the bluest blue from the stars pulsates, the spot where the blue of the sky hurts the most.
Aquarius, the water carrier, Ganymede, the one loved by Jupiter, the sign of the clairvoyant and the visionary, sign of Tiresias, happy while he does not see his own image. Fortunately Tiresias is blind.
Two fish swim in the celestial water, each to one side. Aries, Gemini. Cancer. Leo. Virgo. Libra. Scorpio. The Archer Centaur. The Sea Goat. And Aquarius, the water carrier. And the circle turning an endless history, eternal return, day, night, life, echo, the twelve signs, the hero's twelve works.
To every thing Narcissus is attentive, to the dream that makes from head and breasts of a woman, wings of a bird and body of a lion a sphinx, and from the trunk of a horse and torso of a man a centaur, the being, this dream of metamorphoses.
This night, nothing remains in its being, the beings suffer the pains of labor from the most improbable alterations.
There is no being, all is change, echoes, reverberations, perpetual exchange.
Everything can be transmuted into everything.
Thus, under the form of a swan, the bird with a big penis, Zeus wanted Leda, the princess with the beautiful thighs. Like rain of gold, it rained on Danae's lap. Assuming the form of the husband, he made Alcmena pregnant by Hercules, the worker hero, the god who suffers, in a world of monsters and prodigies.
Narcissus starts to suffer.
Sisyphus' rock is Tantalus' thirst, the infinite thirst of the mouth that is never able to touch the water, and the rock that forever rolls back when arriving at the top of the mountain, the eternal thirst of the image that is never able but to transform itself in image.
Theseus, new Minotaur, now inhabits the depths of the labyrinth, between Mycenean walls and the smell of manure, the beast without god, hunger is a god, thirst is a god.
Medusa's shadow drips down the stairway of Minos' palace, in Knossus, transforming all the gods into stone statues.
Somewhere in Asia, night generates a new Theseus.
Pitia's words, happy while he cannot see his own face. Convert every diverse into identicals, coincide every difference with itself.
Pitia's words, Apollo's words, the implacable archer, the one who knows of yesterday, the one who knows of today, who knows of tomorrow.
Tomorrow, Narcissus, is another day. Every day is like this, sacred every tree that the lightning, phallus, of Zeus touched.
Narcissus, an eye on the waters, the vessels of Ulysses pass, destined toward the astonishment, the maximum fright, the skepticism, the apathy, the amnesia.
Who doubts all is named skeptical. What are those called who believe in everything? Those who believe that everything is possible? That every phantasmagoria has as much right to exist as the solid certainty of the taste of bread and the undetermined reality of the water that drips on the face of the thirsty in the rain?
Water, blood, wine: what god hid in the grape, the crazy wind of inebriation?
All in Chaos, all on earth, all in Tartarus, to all, Eros approximates and mixes, simulacras and metaphors, mimicry and spectacles, how many centuries my echoes take to cross the labyrinth?
Reason, Athena, is only a pain in the head of Zeus.
As when a story has two ends, as when a story has several beginnings, as when a story tells another story: escaping from Minos and from the labyrinth, Daedalus, the incomparable artisan, the inventor of inventors, came to the Sicilian coast, on the beaches of king Cocalo. For Cocalo, the incomparable artisan designed a room for the throne where one could see without being seen, hear without being heard, and be when absent. Minos, lord of the sea, came to reclaim his prisoner. Fearful, Cocalo threw Daedalus into an oven, where he died roasted. How to reconcile this end with the flight of Daedalus and Icarus, from labyrinth to liberty? Or Daedalus would have been killed after the fall of Icarus? Or the swan who possessed Leda was only a metaphor for a vessel with white sails, a fleet, a flock. Or the image of Narcissus is the face of an unknown transient. Every fountain is a beautiful woman who was loved by a god, who said no to a river, who fled a satyr, nothing is real, nothing is only this, everything is transformation, every trace of a constellation is a part of a sketch of a terrestrial drama, signifying so much that everything vibrates. What is a sphinx, a chimera, a medusa, a gorgon, compared with a father who kills his children and serves the flesh to the Father of the Gods? Last water, this fountain is all that remained from the deluge. Facts are not explained by facts, facts are explained by fables. The fable is the blossoming of the structure, archetypal in flower. Some are transformed into flowers, others are transformed into stone, still others transformed into stars and constellations. Nothing in its being conforms to itself. Every transformation demands an explanation. The being, yes, is inexplicable. Some transform themselves into beasts, others are changed into wolves, into birds, into doves, into a tree, into a fountain. Only Echo, the nymph, transformed herself into her own voice. In which language to speak with an echo? A a language language recalls recalls a a legend legend, Narcissus, Narcissus, Narcissus. What is a cyclops compared with the story of a prince who killed his father and married his own mother? Which animal in the morning walks with four legs, in the afternoon walks with two, and at night walks with three? Consult the Sibyl, listen to the pythoness, read the signals in the heavens, in the movement of the waters, Narcissus. The seer Tiresias had told Laius, the king of Thebes, I see horrors, I see darkness, you will have a son who will kill you and marry the queen, his mother. To which horror can this horror be compared? Old Tiresias blind, victim and server of Apollo, luminous god, who gives the gift of divination, lord of the three ages, god who sees all, who accompanies all, knows all. Laius places the boy Oedipus inside a box and releases it in the currents of the Nile. The box with the boy washes up on a beach, where it is found by a she-wolf. Others say shepherd. Oedipus, the occult prince, ignorant of his origin, grows robust among the shepherds. One day, he decides to go to Thebes, the big city, the city where lives the great king. Oedipus begins to realize his destiny, the desire of the Moira, of fate, of fortune, of the blind potencies of chance that rule all in heaven and on earth, in the life of gods and in the life of men, reflex of the supreme order. King Laius was traveling incognito on the road that leaves Thebes. Crosses the shepherd, has a misunderstanding with him, they fight, Oedipus' youth prevails, Oedipus leaves for the vultures his father's cadaver, open throat, from which the blood flows. The news arrives fast in the city, queen Jocasta is a widow. While traveling incognito, the king was killed by a stranger. The city is accursed. On the road that leaves the city, a monster, the Sphinx, head and chest of a woman, wings of a bird, body and legs of a lion, submits all passers-by to a question, an enigma, decipher me or I devour you. Hundreds of Thebans it had devoured, nobody dared leave the city. Oedipus decides to confront the Sphinx, the interrogator-monster, the question-monster, the proponent, the first philosopher, the questionnaire being.
[...] What is an echo but the transformation of a voice into stone, eternally identical to itself, as the alphabet letters, invented by that Cadmus, son of Agenor, king of Phoenicia, and of the queen Telefasse? Cadmus, the protégé of Palas Athena, the hero who arrives from the Orient to find the sister, Europe, kidnapped by Zeus in the form of a bull, and to slay a dragon? Inspiration of the goddess, pulls the dragon's teeth and sows them. From the teeth sprout furious warriors who attack the hero. Cadmus manages to make them destroy each other. Alphabet letters, dragon teeth, originating in Asia, the aleph, the beit, the gama, delta, zaleth, seeds, dust of sounds, free atoms, epsilon, dzeta, yod, omega. What would the Seven Wise Men of the Twelve Works of Hercules say? Each one has a precise significance, like the head of Medusa in the dark of the goddess Athena. Omnia mecum porto, all that is mine with me I carry. Nobody sees my face and lives, says the Lord, says Medusa. Why did he mold us from clay, the Titan Prometheus? Why did he steal for us the fire of Zeus? Yesterday I was trying to interpret the war of Troy, the significance of Ulysses, of Agamemnon, the kidnapping of Helen, the anger of Achilles, the madness of Ajax, the wooden horse, what do they mean those stories, gordian knots from the remembered and the forgotten? It's frightening to think that they are not stories, they are not carriers of a recondite meaning. Only the most fantastic never happened. Every thing happened. All of that happened. By the one hundred eyes of Argos all of that. Zeus wanted the daughter of Inachus, king and river, Io, priestess of Hera, Io transformed into a calf, guarded by Argos of one hundred eyes, fifty open, while the other fifty sleep. Who would force them all closed but the astute god, Hermes, lord of strategies and trickery? Argos, hundred eyes, E, Argos, hundred eyes, E, e, e, Argos E, E, E, eyes. What do fables mean, besides the pleasure of fabling? Love is that which subsists even after you say, I don't love you any more. In a dream, I dreamed, to live all in a mirror. If the mirror exists, being does not exist. This fountain is a ditch, sewer, garbage, cloaca of myths. Dead myths stink, the smell of dead kings, dead gods, rivers strangled by Hercules. This myth is dead and above the dead myth I will build a new myth. Dea, idea. Error upon a time. To endure, the greatest miracle.

(Tr. Marta Bentley and Scott Bentley)


read more in:
New American Writing #18


see also:

· poems translated by CHARLES A. PERRONE
· poems translated by CHRIS DANIELS
· UNENCONTRARIES 6 brazilian poets
· NOTHING THE SUN COULD NOT EXPLAIN 20 Contemporary Brazilian Poets
· a poem by ROSA CLEMENT


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