translated by Urayoán Noel



                 section 36



The Washington government decreed: rains
and all the umbrellas fluttered
under the vast and dark harvest of the innumerable farmer;
London’s parks debase the old eclogues:
the machinic and chemical bread of the cities is a certain domesticated dove,
and the artificial idiots
dampen the lone walls of the asylum;
the sea of the beach resorts cries in the travel suitcases;
and the bottled baby boys in the wards-cribs
entertain their fetal notions in melancholic and plucked syrup
injecting morphine in the imagination of their testicles;
the beauty of Swiss lakes, all the beauty of Swiss lakes
is sold in crates in Hyde Park,
and all of Holland with its cheeses, its landscapes, its cows and its queen of marmalade-gelatin,
all of Holland travels in the milk jugs
spread through the earth by the cosmographic factories of Chicago;
the commercial-industrial establishments of Nuremberg
produce three million mummies per lunar almanac,
three million mummies with the smell of centuries and antique worlds,
and they send them to the eternal stone
through the sinkhole of conventional, monumental, and relative death;
Mr. Briand proves that the old jawbone from Balaam’s ass is real
by jailing Scopes,
and by not eating pork with opals:
yet the woolly aphid attacks the Adam’s apple;
the spider grows hairs and becomes a philosopher,
and Jonah’s great canned sardine lays naveled and knowing eggs in the canteens of Nineveh
dancing, in the hour of vermouth,
the useless tango of metaphorical religions

Translator’s note: Pablo de Rokha’s long poem U was published in 1926 (Santiago: Editorial Nascimento). A controversial figure, de Rokha (1894-1968) is nonetheless widely regarded as one of the three major Chilean vanguard poets (the others are Vicente Huidobro and Pablo Neruda, with both of whom he sustained a long public feud), and as a key exponent of Latin American surrealist poetics. In the 1930s his work would take a hard-line Stalinist turn, but the bulk of his reputation rests on the surrealist long poems he published in the mid-to-late 1920s, of which U, with its bold (unabashedly communist) social voice, imagistic density and garrulous flow of metaphors, is perhaps the most fully realized. One can see echoes of his work in later generations: in the irreverent yet luminous antipoetry of Nicanor Parra or the simultaneously vatic and prosaic documentary poems of Raúl Zurita. De Rokha received the Premio Nacional de Literatura de Chile in 1965, and he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1968.

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