disbelief y Concha Méndez

In my fascination with the short lyric, one of the variations I enjoy are poems that work like door hinges into an emotion. These poems walk the fine line of narrative and abstract language, and take on risks in order to create an emotional impression.

This week’s poem – “No es aire lo que respiro…” by Concha Méndez – is a good example of what I mean. In typical short lyric fashion, the poem is carried by a personal tone that evokes intimacy. From there, the voice delves into metaphoric language, developing a narrative of air-turned-ice, ground that opens, and eyes that see an ever-darkening world. The poem ends on lines of sorrow and disbelief.

dawnDespite the bleak turns in a small amount of lines, this poem is one of hope in the way that poetry writing in general implies hope. Here, in ten lines, is the presence and direct statement of one’s feelings. Also, there’s the sense of one reporting from an inner landscape in language whose ambiguity leaves what poet D. M. Garrison calls “dreaming room,” that is, a space for a reader to dwell on what the words bring up for them. In the light of recent events in the news, including climate change reports and the Kavanaugh confirmation, we have been given many reasons to “look at the world” and “not want to believe.”

In my translation, I worked towards having the words do the “hinge” work I spoke of earlier, and downplaying some of the cadence in the original Spanish that doesn’t exactly carry over into English. My goal was to drum up some of the tension and air of dwelling in Méndez’s original. Enjoy!

No es aire lo que respiro… — Concha Méndez

No es aire lo que respiro,
que es hielo que me está helando
la sangre de mis sentidos.
Tierra que piso se me abre.
Cuanto miro se oscurece.
Mis ojos se abren al llanto
ya cuando el día amanece.

Y antes del amanecer,
abiertos miran al mundo
y no lo quieren creer…


It’s not air that I breathe … — by Concha Méndez
English translation by José Angel Araguz

It’s not air that I breathe,
that is ice freezing
the blood of my senses.
The ground I tread opens for me.
Wherever I look darkens.
My eyes open, weeping
already when the day dawns.

And before dawn,
they look at the world
and do not want to believe…

modifying with ángel gonzález

This week’s poem comes from Spanish poet Ángel González. It speaks of the ways words modify and change what they are attached to. It’s the kind of poem that if you speak too much about it, it flies away, like the butterfly in the poem.

I offer my own translation from the Spanish with the full awareness that the act of translation itself lives in this territory of ephemeral, shifting meaning.

I offer it also as a belated valentine to Ani, as we happened to be apart last week. What’s in the date of a holiday, really?


A veces, un cuerpo puede modificar un nombre – Ángel González

A veces, las palabras se posan sobre las cosas
como una mariposa sobre una flor, y las
recubren de colores nuevos.

Sin embargo, cuando pienso en tu nombre, eres
tú quien le da a la palabra color, aroma, vida.

¿Qué sería tu nombre sin ti?

Igual que la palabra rosa sin la rosa:
un ruido incomprensible, torpe, hueco.


Sometimes, a body can modify a name – Ángel González
translated by José Angel Araguz

Sometimes, words pose themselves over things
like a butterfly over a flower, and they
cover them in new colors.

Nevertheless, when I think of your name, it’s you
that gives the word color, aroma, life.

What would your name be without you?

Same as the word rose without the rose:
an incomprehensible, clumsy, hollow noise.


Happy modifying!


* nosing with quevedo & williams


One of the more exciting moments in reading is coming across texts that show a writer’s own reading creeping into their writing. In my own work, I can think of an orange I inadvertantly stole from a Gary Soto poem as well as a prayer reformulated from an Ernest Hemingway short story. These are moments where an influence is unavoidable or inevitable in hindsight. Not outright theft but more moving forward with one’s influences like burrs caught on your clothing after walking through grass.

burrI found such a moment in reading William Carlos Williams recently. While I’ve long admired his poem “Smell” for its ingenuity and directness, learning that he had translated the work of the Spanish Gold Age writer Francisco de Quevedo added another layer of meaning. Quevedo has an infamous sonnet, an “ode” to a rival’s nose, that, when read with Williams in mind, can’t help but conjure up the latter’s own poem. Here are excerpts from Quevedo’s sonnet, “A Una Nariz” (To a Nose):

Érase un hombre a una nariz pegado, 
érase una nariz superlativa, 
érase una nariz sayón y escriba, 
érase un pez espada muy barbado.

Érase un naricísimo infinito 
frisón archinariz, caratulera, 
sabañón garrafal, morado y frito.

(Once there was a nose with a man attached,
a superlative nose,
a nose both criminal and scribe,
a swordfish with an overgrown beard.

It was an infinity of nostrilisticity,
a towering archnose, a mask,
a proud and painful protruding pimple.)

One can see the exaggeration and wordplay of Quevedo’s original influencing Williams’ poem below. While the speaker in the poem by Williams turns the satire on himself, there is no less enthusiasm and barb in his words. Considering the two poems together, I can’t help but view the question asked in the last line of the Williams poem (Must you have a part in everything?) as mirroring the way reading influences writing.


Smell – William Carlos Williams

Oh strong-ridged and deeply hollowed
nose of mine! what will you not be smelling?
What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose,
always indiscriminate, always unashamed,
and now it is the souring flowers of the bedraggled
poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth
beneath them. With what deep thirst
we quicken our desires
to that rank odor of a passing springtime!
Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors
for something less unlovely? What girl will care
for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways?
Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?
Must you have a part in everything?


Happy nosing!


* mirroring & anthilling with garcía lorca

This week’s poem is a translation of a short lyric from Federico García Lorca’s Suite de los Espejos (Suite of the Mirrors). Reading through the suites, I was impressed again and again by García Lorca’s facility to estrange us from the everyday world, only to bring us back. His lyrics are infused with a purposeful sense of shock.

This particular poem hooked me in my first reading with its closing lines:

Me veo por los ocasos,
y un hormiguero de gente
anda por mi corazón.

(I see myself through the sunsets,
and an anthill of people
marches through my heart.)

Even in the brief space of three lines, this travel between something outside of human experience and something within it (in our very chests, to be exact) is enacted through the blended images of sunsets/anthill/people/heart. It’s something that moves beyond metaphor into an almost physical reaction while reading.

What fascinated my as I translated was the way the “mirror” theme of this specific suite leads up nicely to this ending. Through a series of questions with no answers, García Lorca develops a lyric uncertainty, only to push it further as the poem develops: …are you you / or am I me? the speaker asks, only to follow it up with a question regarding hands. It is to this physical point that the poem has led us: questions about the heart and thoughts and even stars have spiraled down to more intimate, physical terrain. With this set up, the poem tips into its final imagery as if tipped over by hand.


Confusion (from Suite of the Mirrors) – Federico García Lorca
translated by José Angel Araguz

My heart –
is it your heart?
And who reflects my thoughts?
Who lends me
this passion
without roots?
Why does my suit of colors
keep changing?
Everything is at a crossroads!
Why do you see in the sky
so many stars?
Brother, are you you
or am I me?
And these cold hands,
are they from that one?
I see myself through the sunsets,
and an anthill of people
marches through my heart.


Confusión (from Suite de los Espejos) – Federico García Lorca

Mi corazón
¿es tu corazón?
¿Quién me refleja pensamientos?
¿Quién me presta
esta pasión
sin raíces?
¿Por qué cambia mi traje
de colores?
¡Todo es encrucijada!
¿Por qué ves en el cielo
tanta estrella?
¿Hermano, eres tú
o soy yo?
¿Y estas manos tan frías
son de aquél?
Me veo por los ocasos,
y un hormiguero de gente
anda por mi corazón.


Happy espejando!



* living, dreaming & apples

Between living and dreaming
there is a third thing.
Guess it.

— Antonio Machado

I look at this quote and see much of the poetic craft summed up in it.

There is the living of everyday life – work, chores, relationships, food, tying your shoelaces – all the things that make up routine, the background to who we are.

Then there’s dreaming – both the idealizing of the future as well as the literal act of what is seen when we sleep.  The unspoken times.

Between these two things – the background and the unspoken – we do our best to do the guessing that Machado encourages.


In the poem below, Jay Leeming takes an everyday thing – in this case, an apple – and pushes it into dream.  The image of the apple’s core as a “little room” is a guess towards what the act of eating an apple suggests beyond the everyday.  You get the usual connotations of Adam and Eve, the Fall – but there’s something more to it.

The turn for me here is at the end, how the poem leaves you with enough image to keep on talking inside of you.  Just watch what happens when you get to the powerful compound word “tear-shaped.”

Apple – Jay Leeming **

Sometimes when eating an apple
I bite too far
and open the little room
the lovers have prepared,
and the seeds fall
onto the kitchen floor
and I see
that they are tear-shaped.


Happy appling!


p.s.  Jay Leeming is also the editor of Rowboat: Poetry in Translation, a great journal you can find out more about here.

* photo found here.

** published in the book Dynamite on a China Plate, The Backwaters Press.

* translation 2/3 on the friday influence

(from Greguerias – Ramon Gomez de la Serna) *

Curious about the earth, the sky keeps opening and closing the clouds.


The hour differs throughout the stars.  In some it is yesterday, in others today, and in others centuries have passed.


He had a keyring so dusty, he looked like a fisherman of keys.


The socks tucked into the little shoes of the sleeping child wrinkle with his dreams.


This week The Friday Influence is proud to present the work of the Spanish poet Ramon Gomez de la Serna (1888-1963).

First, some reviews: “For me he is the great Spanish writer: the Writer, or rather, Writing…I also would have learned Spanish just to read him” (Octavio Paz).  “…the major figure of surrealism, in any country, has been Ramon” (Pablo Neruda). **

I share these quotes to show the range of influence Ramon (as he liked to be called)  had in his day.  Neruda’s Book of Questions (excerpts of which I translated last week) would not have been possible without the work of Ramon.  He wrote novels as well as stories and essays, but it is in his Greguerias that I feel his singular personality truly shines.

These sentences are packed with images and humor.  They take a little and expand it in the mind.  They do the work of haiku and aphorisms but with a distinct flavor.  I spoke last week of how a poet’s job is partly to see how much they can get away with.  In his Greguerias, Ramon gets (carried) away with himself.

Also, any writer who seriously writes about the stars after the Romantic period endears themselves to me.  Ramon’s work gave me permission to work out some single line poems of my own.  He has opened up to me what a sentence or two can offer lyric poetry.

I discovered his work two years ago by accident, working out my own ideas of prose poems.  His name came up in an essay and I made my way to his poems.  Seeing as he has stayed with me, I have decided to periodically sit down with his Greguerias and translate a few pages at a time.  If I get through the whole book in this manner, I’ll let you know.

Here’s a few more from Ramon:

The night lies there between blue eyelashes.


In autumn, the butterflies come out in the same red as the dry leaves, and the same wind sweeps up the one as the other.


After a while, the sound of the typewriter fills our thoughts with gravel.


Pinocchio opens books with his nose.


Happy gregueriando!


* translated by Jose Angel Araguz (word to vosotros!)

** quotes from Paz and Neruda found on Wikipedia (word to citations!)