Eugenio Montejo: Three Poems
Transfigured Time | Family Album | Table
(Translated by Peter Boyle)
for António Ramos Rosa
The house where my father will be born
is still unfinished.
It lacks the wall my hands have not yet built.
His footsteps searching for me across the earth
now come towards this street.
Yet I can't hear them, they still don't reach me.
Behind that door are echoes
and voices I recognise miles off,
but they are spoken only by portraits.
The face not seen in any mirror,
because it's late being born
or still doesn't exist,
could be of any one of us
it looks like all of us.
My bones are not in that tomb
but those of my great-uncle Zacarias
who used a walking stick and pseudonym.
My own remains have long been lost.
This poem was written in another century,
some night by a guttering candle,
by me, by someone else, I don't recall.
Time consumed the flame
and lingered in my darkened hands
and in these eyes that never read the poem.
When the candle returns with its light
I'll already be gone.
The one in the background is Aunt Adela,
a worldly witch who lived at so many different times
even today I don't know if she's still here or not.
From this grandfather I inherited my name.
A rickety old oxcart snatched him from his village
to bury him a long way off.
I was born much later and still I remember him.
Luis the lawyer vanished suddenly
in the year of the plague. He left behind letters, postcards,
the map of a vague innocence.
Veronica is that one with a white fan
and the disdainful bearing that became her so well.
Of this particular José there were several others
no one knows when or where he perished.
He walked around screaming at his shadow on the roadway.
My dear King Richard looks much younger
than his death. And perhaps that's how it was. . .
In the lost land of my absent family
this almost invisible album I open and close
burns my eyelids as they watch over its dream.
Don't wake these portraits
till I can rejoin them forever
on the album's last page.
What can a single table do
against the roundness of the earth?
It has its work cut out to make sure nothing falls
when the chairs come inside mumbling
and draw together for supper.
As time dents the knives,
brings in and carries out new faces round the table,
changes the décor, the words,
what use is the suffering of wood?
What can a table do against the drift of things,
against the atheism of all suppers,
of the last supper?
If the wine spills, if the bread is missing
and the guests turn into ghosts,
what can a table do but sit there
stranded in stillness
between hunger and time?
What can it do to change a thing
however great its desire?
Eugenio Montejo was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1938. He is the author of
numerous books of poetry: Elegos (1967), Muerte y memoria (1972), Algunas
palabras (1976), Terredad (1979), Trópico absoluto (1982), Alfabeto del
mundo (1986), Adios al siglo XX (1992), El azul de la tierra (1997),
Partitura de la cigarra (1999) and Tiempo Transfigurado (2001). He has also
published two collections of essays: La ventana oblicua and El taller
blanco. In 1998 Eugenio Montejo received Venezuela's National Prize for
Peter Boyle is an Australian poet living in Sydney. His three collections of
poetry Coming home from the world(1994), The Blue Cloud of Crying(1997),
and What the painter saw in our faces (2001) have received several awards
including the New South Wales Premier's Award, the South Australian Festival
award and the National Book Council Award. He has read his poetry at several
festivals including the Medellín International Poetry Festival, 1997, and
the Festival de Poésie anglo-français, Paris, 1999. His poems have been
published in slope magazine as well as Verse in the USA, Heat, Island,
Southerly, Salt, Poetry Review (UK). His translations of French and Spanish
poetry have appeared in such reviews as American Poetry Review and Jubilat.
His next book as a translator is The Trees: selected poems of Eugenio
Montejo forthcoming with Salt Publishing.