Poem Scribbled on the Walls of New York

Translated from Portuguese by Dean Thomas Ellis

 

Cement seeps into your bones
steel dense glass
pervade the last chill

Of bone
The workmen of New York
in 1970
march
in protest against liberty

A grand gesture
(steel              dense glass                     cement)
in solidarity with Spiro Nixon

(the two-headed eagle)
Guernica
on every street
shrieks

Sometimes it seems
The whole world
has turned into

A Spanish civil war

The not-eyes of the skyscrapers
ogle you

Frank O’Hara where are
you?
Where is that easy laughter
that gave its arm
To New York?
Where flow the ecstasies
Of the dead?

And in the heart
Of this mythological city of the 20th century
Picasso’s exorcism
I scream
Federico
I scream
Garcia
I scream
Lorca
Guernica Garcia Lorca

This city does not abide laments
It doesn’t ascertain death
But in its heart it can withstand
The noblest and most barbaric cries of mercy

The skyscrapers sway
To this ceaseless scream
The people cover their ears and their eyes
And walk that much faster
and that much more
Terrified

(The dead get out of the way)

On the building next to
The First National City Bank
At  the corner of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street
On July 7, 1970
I read these words on the door:

                                                   Sign the petition

                                                   Sign off the war

Petition drive
For charter amendment
to test legality of war

…………………………………………………………………………………….

If you are registered to vote in New York City
Please come inside and sign a petition for
                                               PEACE

I saw the statue of liberty
(Of liberty!)
Literally green
With rage
And frustration
Something has died in the arms of the world
Without a name
Or a funeral service

Dusk falls
Over Manhattan
It is the hour when flowers float in water pitched with dreams
In this hour of the intense vertical shadow
In this hour amidst all that is gentle
I think of you        Federico
I think of Frank O’Hara
And of everyone who has hated and loved this city

Federico
what green rats
whence
here
Did you detect in this absence of Moorish wreaths?

Whence here came your solitude?
I close my eyes
And I ask
meekly
what happened to you in this city
Federico
What black light struck you
with its lightning

What agony?

What glance did you exchange with Hart Crane?

The skyscrapers
Sometimes
Take flight
It is in this uncommon lightness
That I glimpse the swift movements
Of Frank O’Hara
How I long for your gusto
How I wish I had known you
and walked with you
In your beloved city
There is another New York
and another
and another
and another
that I’ll never know…

Who will lead us through the forest’s eyes
(With that guileless irony
Little Red Riding Hood?
Robin Hood
Johnny Weissmuller
And onto those paths we won’t lose ourselves
In such a city as this?)

Where is your New York?
What exactly do your thoughts
hold about
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday Lady Day and the day of her death?
What would you think of Federico
And of the bar out front
And of the black man who tells me he doesn’t know
Where Times Square is?
(Look behind you and scornfully smile:
He has his reasons, sociological and quite legitimate
I stick with my own, “human” one—
À chacun son gout)

The Sun, refracted, seeps into
The crevices of this Grand Canyon
(O Cesario Verde, why didn’t you ever come to New York, to this 20th century?)
Cesario, o ye of Sentiments of the Westerner.
New York.
July 7, 8, 9, 1970.

 

Poema Escrito nas Paredes de Nova Iorque

O cimento penetra os teus ossos

o aço o vidro espesso

penetram o gelo final

Do osso
Os operários de Nova Iorque
em  1970
marcharam
num protesto contra a liberdade

Num gesto maciço
(aço            vidro espesso       cimento)
de solidaridade para com Spiro Nixon

(a águia de duas cabeças)
Guernica
em todas as ruas
grita

O mundo inteiro
Parece às vezes
tornar-se

Numa guerra civil de Espanha

Os não-olhos dos arranha-céus
fitam-te

Frank O’Hara onde estás
aqui?
O do riso fácil
que dava o braço
A Nova Iorque?
Onde desaguam as alegrias
Dos mortos?

E no centro
Da cidade mitológica do século XX
O exorcismo de Picasso
Grito
Federico
Grito
García
Grito
Lorca
Guernica García Lorca

Esta cidade não suporta lamentos
Não compreende a morte
Mas no seu centro aguenta
O mais bárbara e nobre dos berros misericordiosos

Os arranha-céus oscilam
Com esse grito sem fim
As pessoas tapam os ouvidos  e os olhos
E andam cada vez mais depressa
cada vez mais
Apavoradas

(Os cadavers abrem alas)

No edifício contíguo
ao First National City Bank
Na esquina da 5.  ̊Avenida com a Rua 52
Em 7 de Julho de 1970
Leio estas palavras numa porta:

Sign the petition
                                  Sign off the war
Petition drive

for charter amendment
to test legality of war

……………………………………………………………………………………………

If you are registered to vote in New York City
please come inside and sign a petition for
                                              PEACE

Eu vi a estátua de liberdade
(Da liberdade!)
Literalmente verde
De raiva
E frustração
Algo morre nos braços do mundo
E não tem nome
Nem funeral

O crepúsculo desce
Por sobre Manhattan
É a hora das flores flutuando na água inclinada do sonho
Nesta hora duma sombra vertical imensa
Nesta hora entre todas suave
Lembro-me de ti           Federico
Lembro-me de Frank O’Hara
De todos os que odiaram e amaram esta cidade

Federico
que verdes ratos
aonde
aqui
Descobriste tu na ausência de grinaladas mouras?

Aonde chegou aqui tua solidão?
Fecho os olhos
E pergunto

mansamente
o que te aconteceu nesta cidade
Federico
Que luz negra te assombrou
como um raio

Que agonia?

Que olhar trocaste com Hart Crane?

Os arranha-céus
Às vezes
Levantam voo
E nessa leveza descomunal
Lobrigo os gestos rápidos
De Frank O’Hara
Que nostalgia de teu entusiasmo
Como eu queria ter-te conhecido
andar contigo
Pela tua cidade bem amada
Há outra Nova Iorque
e outra
e outra
e outra
que eu não sei—

Quem me ajudará dentre os olhos da floresta?
(Com a tua ironia inocente conhecias
A Menina do Chapelinho Vermelho
Robin Hood
Johnny Weissmuller
E outras maneiras de gente se não perder
Numa cidade destas)

Onde está a tua Nova Iorque?
A tua exatamente
que contém
Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday Lady Day e o dia da sua morte?
Que pensavas tu de Federico
E do bar em frente
E do negro que me diz que não sabe
Onde fica Times Square?
(Olha para trás e sorri com desprezo
Ele fica com as suas razões sociológicas e muito legítimas
Eu com a minha razão humana—
À chacun son gout)

O Sol refractado penetra
Os meandros deste Grand Canyon
(Ó   Cesário  Verde,  por  que  não  vieste  nunca  a  Nova  Iorque,  ao  seculo XX?)
Cesário, ó do Sentimento dum Ocidental
New York
7-8-9 de Julho de 1970

 

Alberto de Lacerda (1938-2007) was born in Mozambique and raised in the open country where he fell asleep to the “sound of roaring lions.” At 18, he moved to Lisbon, eschewed the university, learned French and English on his own, and established himself as a prominent poet. His first book, 77 Poemas, earned him international acclaim at age 23. He went on to publish a fiercely independent body of work (11 more poetry collections) that won admirers as diverse as Octavio Paz, John Ashbery, René Char, Manuel Bandeira, and Edith Sitwell. The latter was one of his greatest champions when he moved to London, where he became a broadcaster for the BBC, introducing the work of Fernando Pessoa to the British public. In the States, he was Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin and later at Boston University.

Dean Thomas Ellis is a writer and translator living in New Orleans. His work has appeared in Bloodroot, Bedtime Stories, St. Petersburg Review, KGB Bar Lit Journal, and in the online series Working Stiff at PBS.org. His translation of Jacinto Lucas Pires’ novel, The True Actor, will be published by Dzanc Books in November. He hosts the radio programs Tudo Bem and The Dean’s List on WWOZ-FM, 90.7 in New Orleans and online at wwoz.org.

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