A Peek Inside PI 13/14

It’s more than a peek really; here’s a generous sample–including new poems by Gerald Stern and Jean Valentine,  new translations of Eugenio Montale and Pablo Neruda, and much more–from our new double issue of Poetry International 13/14, which you can get here.


Solids and Non-Solids
Jane Mead

The air is solids and non-solids.
The person is solids and non-solids:
Solids and non-solids all the way down.

Halo of leaves. Aura of notes.
No kidding. All the way down.
Forgotten and not forgotten.

Candle. Matches. Needle. Down.
The old-fashioned stream remains.
Lost. Lost. Loster. The mind

saying loster all the way down.
Pink down of the barn-owl.
Wing crushed in mud. The road ditch.

Gerald Stern

How God in three religions rode on his back
and one there was a festival and one he
dragged his feet on the ground until the dust
filled his sandals; and what we say is the mane
is hogged and you can fold your fingers around
and through and there are stripes that make him a zebra
though they are muted and he is a Chevy mostly
with a slant V6 and a tufted tail and a strip
in the center of the windshield which since it was
a type of truck it carried two enormous
pouches and died suddenly after a hundred
thousand miles or after a lifetime of burdens
as a donkey does, first looking up for
it was his last piece of affection and he wanted
something more than he got though he was grateful,
and dying they both look up with grass in their teeth
or filthy handkerchiefs in their round metal mouths.

unfortunately typical song lyric
D.A. Powell

iron carbide permeates my sleep
razor against strop
the metallic screech of brakes
at each shingled whistlestop
and the iron horse careens through the night
like a bullet from a pistol shot

if I were a train, I’d shuttle back and forth
between you and the boy I love
if I were a train, I’d smash through the wall
of your bedroom
and the firetrucks would have to come
to put us both out

electric lights compete for my attention
they pulse on and off
like the chopping blade of a Cuisinart food processor
that wants to break me apart
and stretch me like the glutens in winter wheat
if you think you’ll knead me
then just press “start”
and if you think you’ll eat me
then have a piece of my heart

and if I were a quilt, I’d cover more than one man:
I’d be on you and the boy I love
if I were a brush, I’d smother your face
with shaving cream
and the barberchair would pump you up and up
close enough to feel the blade

there are atoms smashing in my brain
they refuse to stop
until the mushroom cloud begins to rise
in my bikini crotch
and the sand on the beach is a smelting pot
this little atoll is getting hot

and if I were a nurse, I’d attend to you and
I’d sponge your body like you’re the boy I love
if I were a clerk, I’d wait on you hand and foot
and chest and thigh
and I’d wrap your clothes in parcels
of the finest butcher paper

if I were in love, I’d be in love with you
and one or two others who’d substitute
when you and I had had enough
of the smell of each other’s soap
and “no more tears” shampoo

ooo, ooo, oooo

—for Jascha. & at least one other

Earth and the Librarian
Jean Valentine

At the library
she passed a tray with little
books of baked earth on it—

Take one,
and eat it;
It is sweet,
and it is shed for you.

How can I live?
said Earth—

Then Abraham
Jean Valentine

Then an old man came down out of the thicket,
with an axe on his shoulder, and with him

two people made out of light
—one a blameless son,

the other like a Vermeer girl,
on their way back down with the old man.

Still, all the history of the world
happens at once: In the rain, a young man

holds out a blue cloth
to caress her head

at the landing-pier
of the new bride.

You can’t get beauty. (Still,
in its longing it flies to you.)

New Translations Featured in PI 13/14:

Prayer of a Man in Snow
Israel Emiot

Today there is no bloodstain on the snow;
nobody was shot; there’s just snow and snow
around you—snow
in you snow—white on white.

O protect me God from snowy Words:
You have been weighed and found wanting.
God has numbered thy kingdom and finished it.
The face of the village: snow.
The sky that has nowhere to fall—
and sinks into snow.
The little gates swinging in the wind—
so much to say and only saying: snow.
For the village face—snow;
for morning prayers—snow, added prayers—snow, sunset
for east, west, north, south—snow,
a man in snow
a dog in snow
a horse in show.

This dear little day counts like a child
up to two:
snow, snow.

Translated from the Yiddish by Leah Zazulyer

Israel Emiot

I will trade the bread for a small box of tobacco,
already accustomed, already resigned to a day without bread;
what shall I do?—for even in the Yabbok book
such a death, such woe, couldn’t be read.

Fed up, the everlasting march in a line, march in a line,
and it’s a blessing to be dead, with your feet to the door;
I have already forgotten if I should walk on two all the time
or completely crawl like a beast on all fours.

Translated from the Yiddish by Leah Zazulyer

A Prayer in Nineteen Forty-Three
Israel Emiot

Good God, look I’m poor, and trip over myself,
and my child wears shoes three times his size,
and plays with children, falls, and runs crying to me,
as I to you—with and without a reason.

I know all prayers crown you in gold
and address the most exquisite words to you;
still, don’t insult the prayer of a child, who just wants
his own bed, and has to sleep fourth on the ground.

Your song—the day—I read and admire daily;
I still marvel at your last verse—your sunset,
but when I want to praise you my hands fail me!
Oh do not punish me, even my shirt is borrowed.

Wisdom tells me man is insignificant,
and earth the least of all your spheres;
still, do not punish me; listen to the lament
of a child who sleeps fourth on the ground.

For H. Lang
{Kazakhstan, war years}

Translated from the Yiddish by Leah Zazulyer

From Xenia
Eugenio Montale


We had studied for the afterlife
a sign of recognition, a whistle.
I’m trying to modulate it in the hope
that all of us are already dead without knowing it.

Translated from the Italian by Pattie Wells

From Xenia
Eugenio Montale


I never understood whether I
was your faithful and distempered dog,
or you mine. But not to others,
for them you were a myopic insect
lost in the twaddle of high society.
Those clever ingenious ones
did not know they
were your laughing stock:
you could see even in the darkness
and shock them with your infallible
sense of smell—and your bat’s radar.

Translated from the Italian by Pattie Wells

From Xenia
Eugenio Montale


Spring emerges with the pace of a mole.
Never again will I hear you talk of poisonous
antibiotics, of the nail in your femur,
or the patrimony plucked from  you.

Spring advances with its dense fog,  its long daylight and unbearable hours. No longer will I hear you wrestle with the backwash
of time, of ghosts, or the logistical problems  of summer.

Translated from the Italian by Pattie Wells

Greek Blood
Radu Andriescu

Badge believed he had Greek blood in his veins and in consequence
the whole of the world was a fishing boat and the whole of the sky
a bottle of rum
the night was balmy and Hellenic, you could pass through it
in just a shirt
Badge walked the streets of Iaşi in shirt sleeves while the frost
bit fiercely
one night while music was dissipating hazily between
the two undivided rooms of his garret digs
while I was befriending a vicious runty dog
his fur half mangy
more than ugly
Badge broke the landlady’s sink with an empty bottle of Russian
the bottle had to get broken, the bottle as with the Greeks
his Greek blood drained from his body to the rotten wood of the
the cur G.G. sniffed and licked it
outside the cold was doing its utmost and not until much later
did he come to learn
it had only been through marriage, do you catch the drift? only
through marriage
anyway his short Greek life
had been wonderful

Translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin with the author

Nights in Panciu
Radu Andriescu

On a collective farm in Panciu I climbed with a turkey hen
to the roof of the canteen
we looked around, it was fantastic, I was chortling
she was clucking, a bit frightened
she was a white turkey hen

we could hear voices songs loud curses from the dining hall
the long dormitories next door oozed silence
on all sides only grapevines, I clutched her to my breast
she was frightened
she was like a book you open for the first time

I took her to the canteen, I placed her in front of the singers
her shy movements were more graceful than
a ballerina’s
in her whitest tutu
I took her into the dormitories, I swallowed the protests
she was whiter than the bed sheets
from the roof of the canteen we’d seen the world together

Translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin with the author

Feature on Chilean Poetry from PI 13/14

New Age in Chilean Poetry
Mariela Griffor

Poetry is charged with the unconscious. It involves the constant search for a new language–to bring the unconscious forth in a world composed of words. But if the language we seek no longer exists, how do we express such vital truths on paper? How do we construct the language we need? To construct such a language has been the most important challenge in Chilean poetry in the last thirty years. Why such a challenge? Disruptive events, like economic disasters and political and military repression, isolation from the world and dislocation inside one’s own parameters of identity, create issues that are not easily resolved in language.
In Spain, it took at least thirty years since the end of Franco’s regime for Spaniards to define and discover a new language of expression, one capable of articulating the experiences left by Franco and his government. It took so long not only because the language prior to Franco was old, passé and unprepared for such a task, but also because considerable time was required to heal that part of the language that had been injured. That injury was initially manifested as the inability of individual poets to adequately express their experience of the horrors and repression from the years under the oppressive regime.
In Chile, the situation was even more complicated. The methods of repression were somewhat more sophisticated than those of Franco’s. In Chile, too, people were killed, their bodies disappearing without a trace. Many were tortured, and fear became the one pervasive truth endured by those who survived. One in three families in Chile had a relative in compulsory military service, and these families were segregated from the civilian elite. Despite the first months of violence after the coup d’état, Chileans rather quickly returned to some mean approximation of normalcy, and life continued superficially as it was before. Perhaps it is not without a reason that the rest of Latin America calls Chileans the English of Latin America.
However, many Chileans were not able to accept or adapt to these changes. The writers, began to scavenge the ruined soul of the language for alternative sources of inspiration: Elicura Chihuailaf and Cecilia Vicuña searched for their roots in Mapundung; Elicura Chihuailaf found his source of inspiration in the universe of memory and in his own history as a child.


When the old definitions of poetry no longer worked, poets began to define things by their opposites. Nicanor Parra is famous for creating “Anti-Poetry.” Later, another poet, such as Cecilia Vicuña, attempted to create “precarious works”—ephemeral installations in nature, cities and museums—as a way of “hearing an ancient silence waiting to be heard.”

The poem is the animal
Sinking its mouth
in the stream.

This work of re-definition continues today. For example, while the work of a poet such as Chihuailaf comes from the consideration of family experiences, the outcome of his considerations is different from the typical confessional poem on family matters so prevalent in the U.S.A. today. Chihuailaf heard what was hidden in the whispers of adults. He paid attention to what was happening in the rest of the country, far away from the safety of his native city of Cunco. He remembered what his elders had said as they sat around the fireplace drinking mate. Since he had been told as a child that poetry is worthless, he began to invent a language that gave his writing new value and meaning, uniting oral tradition with an original conception of the world where the essence of his experience could be resuscitated as elegy:
Poetry is good for nothing
I am told
And in the forest the trees
caress each other
with blue roots
and wave their branches in the air
greeting with birds
the Southern Cross
Poetry is the profound whispering
of the murdered ones
the rumor of leaves in the fall
sadness for the boy
who preserves the language
but has lost his soul

The Chilean poet’s understanding that “who preserves the language … has lost his soul” is a feeling perhaps not unusual for writers from countries under repression. Reading these words one is immediately reminded of Brecht’s famous guilt for having survived as a German in World War Two. But the tragedies of Chile happened before our very own eyes: people disappeared, books were banned and burned in front of our eyes, while at the same time we became blinded and deafened and muted by technology, by movies and TV melodramas and video games, all of which radically altered what remained of reality. The possibility of impartiality was somehow obliterated. The ability to understand, to create a powerful language, to bring the life of the unconscious into poetry, and to be consumed and transformed by the fire of individual suffering and truth had been snuffed out, “for the boy who / preserves the language / has lost his soul.”


Compiling this anthology has been a very personal experience for me. As the only member of my family in exile with no possibility of reentering the country for ten years, I experienced many of my family’s most important moments only through videos they had taken at weddings, communions and the like. One of my most painful experiences with poetry happened a few years ago. My family had sent me a video of a poetry reading. Two poets, one old and one young, both used the word motherfucker in their poems.
As a kind of experiment, I watched the video with the sound off. Whenever the older poet said the word, I could feel his pain, anger and hate, all reflected in his eyes, in his body. Every time he came up against an unspeakably harsh experience, the word motherfucker appeared, as it often appears between couples before they divorce; they scream at each other; then they swear at each other. They are completely consumed by pain and desperation until finally they can’t talk anymore. They can no longer find a way to express their feelings in words. What has happened to them? The younger poet, on the other hand, used the word motherfucker as simply a literary resource, a stylistic element, without hate or anger.
I did research on both poets. They had both been in jail, and the old one was tortured, as were many known and unknown poets of my country. The word motherfucker revealed in him a darker, deeper secret: the loss of the language as a tool of expression of his unconscious mind. The language was not enough. The time had come for inventing new ways of expressing our dark experiences during the time under dictatorship.

Poets say that rhythm in poetry is comparable to three bodily functions: the beat of the heart, one’s manner of walking, and one’s way of breathing. I would say that rhythm is one of the aspects of language that Chilean poetry uses to bring forth the unconscious. If any of the pieces of the bridge is broken (or missing), then we need to reestablish a common language to repair it.
This is the challenge of this anthology: To show the variety and the commonality that has been achieved in contemporary Chilean poetry. To help its readers understand the ways poets in Chile and outside of Chile are reinventing themselves and finding their own identity through a common language, if not, through a common experience.

Pablo Neruda

I’m going to wrinkle this word,
I’m going to twist it,
yes, it
is too smooth,
as if a large dog or a large lake
had passed its tongue or water over it, over it,
for years. Years.

I need ferrous salt
in the word, I want the desdentada
of land,
iron salt in the word,
the blood
of those who have spoken and those who have not spoken.

I want to spit the thirst
inside the syllables:
I want to lick the fire
in the sound:
I want to hear the darkness
in the cry. I want to
spit the words,
words stone as virgins.

Translated by Anna Beth Young

The Heavenly Poets
Pablo Neruda

What have you done
you intellectualists? Rilkistas?
you fucked up mystifiers, fake witches?
existential poppies shining on a tomb?
you pale grubs in the capitalist cheese?
What did you do
about this dark human being?
about this head
submerged in shit?
this essence
of raw life?

You didn’t do anything but run:
you sold piles of debris
you looked for heavenly hairs
cowardly plants, broken fingernails
“Pure Beauty” “Spell”.
Your works were those of the poor and terrified
trying to keep your eyes from looking
trying to protect their delicate tangle of pupils
so you could make for your living
a plate of dirty scraps which the masters flung at you.
Without seeing that the stones are in agony,
without defending,
in the cemetery when the rain soaks the motionless
rotten flowers on the grave.

Translated by Anna Beth Young

To See Him Again
Gabriela Mistral

And never, never again?
Not on nights packed with a few stars,
or in mornings’ first slender sun
or afternoons sacrificed to afternoons?

Or at the edge of a pale road
that surrounds the farm fields,
or a rim of a trembling fountain,
whitened by a moon?

Or beneath the forest’s lush poplars
where, yelling at him,
I was overtaken by the night?
Not in the grotto that returns
the echo of my words?

No. To see him again —
it does not matter where —
in heaven’s dead water
or inside the boiling hole
or still moon or in bloodless fright!

To be with him.
To be every springtime and winter,
united in one pained knot
around his bloody neck!

Translated by Mariela Griffor

The Pilgrim
Nicanor Parra

Your attention, ladies and gentleman, your attention for one second:
Turn your heads for a moment to this part of the republic.
Forget for one night your personal affairs,
Let pleasure and pain wait at the door:
Hear the voice from this part of the republic.
Your attention, ladies and gentlemen! Your attention for one second!
A soul that has been bottled up for years
In a sort of sexual and intellectual hole,
Feeding itself most inadequately through the nose,
Yearns to be heard.
I’d like to figure out a few things,
I need a little light, the garden’s swarming with flies,
My mind’s a disaster,
I work things out in my own peculiar way,
As I say these words I see a bicycle leaning against a wall,
I see a bridge
And the official car disappearing between buildings.

You part your hair, that’s true, you walk in the public parks,
Under your skins you have other skins,
You have a seventh sense
Which lets you in and out automatically.
But I’m a child calling for its mother from behind rocks,
I’m a pilgrim who makes stones jump high as his nose,
A tree crying out to be smothered in leaves.

Translated by Mariela Griffor

The Tablets
Nicanor Parra

I dreamed I was in a desert I was sick of myself
And I started beating a woman.
It was devilish cold, I had to do something,
To shoot someone, take a little exercise;
I had a headache, I was tired,
All I wanted to do was sleep, die.
My shirt drenched with blood
And between my toes were hairs—
The hair of my poor mother—
“Why do you hurt your mother,” a stone asked,
A stone covered with dust, “Why do you abuse that woman?”
I couldn’t tell where these voices came from, they gave me the shivers,
I looked at my nails, I bit them,
I tried to think of something but without success,
All I saw around me was a desert
And the image of that idol
My god who watched me do these things.
Then came a few birds.
And at the same moment, in the dark, I discovered some slabs of rock.
With a supreme effort I managed to make out the tablets of the law:
“We are the tablets of the law,” they said,
“Why do you abuse your mother?”
“You see those birds that have come to perch on us”
“They are here to record your crimes.”
I yawn, I am bored with these admonitions.
“Get rid of those birds,” I said aloud.
“No,” replied a stone,
“They represent your different sins,”
“They are there to look”
So I turned back again to my lady
And started to let her have it harder than before.
I had to do something to keep awake.
I was under obligation to act
Or I would have fallen asleep among those rocks
And those birds.
So I took a box of matches out of one of my pockets
And decided to set fire to the bust of the god.
I was dreadfully cold, I had to get warm,
But that blaze only lasted a few seconds.
In desperation, I looked for the tablets again
But they were gone:
and the rocks, the rocks were gone.
My mother had abandoned me.
I beat my brow. But
There was nothing more I could do.

Translated by Mariela Griffor

Godzilla in Mexico
Roberto Bolaño

Hear me, my son: bombs were falling
over Mexico City
but no one noticed. The air spread poison through
the streets and open windows.
You’d just finished breakfast and were watching
cartoons on TV.
I was reading in the next room
when I knew we were going to die.
Despite the dizziness and nausea I dragged myself
to the kitchen and found you on the floor.
We hugged. You asked what was happening
and I didn’t tell you we were on death’s telethon
but I whispered: we are going on a journey,
you and I, together, don’t be afraid.
When it left, death didn’t even
close our eyes.
What are we? you asked a week a year later,
ants, bees, wrong numbers
in the big spoiled soup of chance?
We’re human beings, my son, nearly birds,
public heroes and secrets.

Version by B. H. Boston

Roberto Bolaño

When Lisa told me she had made love
with another, in the eternal telephone booth of life
in the market in Tepeyac, I thought the world
ended. A tall thin man with
long hair and a long cock, didn’t wait even
one night to penetrate her to the core.
It’s nothing serious, she said, but it
is the best way of getting you out of my life.
Parmenides Garcia Saldana had long hair and could
have been Lisa’s lover, but some
years later I saw he’d died in a mental hospital
or committed suicide. Lisa didn’t want
to lie any longer with losers. Sometimes I dream
of her and see her happy and cold in Mexico
designed by Lovecraft: We listen to music
(Canned Heat, one of Parmenides Garcia Saldana’s
favorite groups) and then we make
love three times. The first time he comes inside of me.
The second time inside my mouth, the third, hardly a thread
of water, a short fishing line, between my breasts. And all
of that in two hours, Lisa said. The two worst hours of my life,
I said from the other end of the line.

Translated by Mariela Griffor and B. H. Boston

Prayer to a Farm Worker
Victor Jara

Rise up and look at the mountain, from
where the wind, the sun, the water arrive.
Thou, who determines the course of
rivers, thou who scatters the flight of
your soul.
Rise up. Look at your hands. Join
hands with your brothers, together
in blood we go. Now is the time that
can be tomorrow. Tomorrow.
Deliver us from the men of
misery. Take us to your kingdom of justice and
justice. Blow like the wind the gorge’s flower.
Clean the fire
in the barrel of my gun.
Thy will be done
here on Earth. Give us your strength and
your courage in combat.
Blow like the wind the field’s daffodil.
Clean fire in the barrel of my gun.

Rise up and look at your hands. Join
hands with your brothers, together
in blood we live,
now and at the hour of
our death. Amen. We live. Amen.

Translated by Mariela Griffor


The Water Sequence (fragment)
Cecilia Vicuña

The poem is the animal
Sinking its mouth
in the stream.

Translated by Eliot Weinberger

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