Poems by Juan Carlos Mestre translated from Spanish by Jeremy Dae Paden
Juan Carlos Mestre was born in 1957 in Villafranca del Bierzo in the province of Leon in Castilla y Leon, Spain. His homeland is part of the mountain country of northern Spain. It is also one of the historic mining centers of Spain (gold, coal, tungsten). Mestre is a poet, essayist, and graphic artist. He has published twenty-five books of poems. Five of his collections have won major Spanish prizes: Antífona del otoño en el Valle del Bierzo, the 1985 Premio Adonáis; La poesía ha caído en desgracia, the 1992 Premio Jaime Gil de Biedma; La tumba de Keats, the 1999 Premio Jaén de poesía; La casa roja, the 2009 Premio Nacional de poesía; and La bicicleta del panadero, the 2012 Premio de la Crítica de poesía castellana.
Jeremy Dae Paden was born in Italy and raised in Central America and the Caribbean. He received his Ph.D. in Latin American literature from Emory. His poems have appeared in such places as the Atlanta Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cortland Review, Louisville Review, Naugatuck River Review, pluck!, Rattle, and other journals and anthologies. His translations of Mestre have appeared in Words Without Borders and are forthcoming in Jelly Bucket. His chapbook Broken Tulips was published by Accents Publishing in 2013. He is an associate professor of Spanish and Latin American literature at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky and a member of the Affrilachian Poets.
~What I Know Of Myself
I was born here beside summer’s tall lilies
& the bitter green clusters of dawn.
I was born among roses that have died
& the withered foliage of the gardens from some dream.
In the transparent avenues where the nightingale sings
& cracks open the dew with its crystal knife in the morning.
Like the leaf that falls on a grave, at birth
I stepped on this rock & its light splattered me.
Like one who was born for music & carves wood or stone
& listens to his voice creak under the chisel & does not ask.
I was born hard of heart & wrong,
but all of you have offered me spring’s tender hand.
The one who breathes the seasons into being & revives
the dead tree has noticed this young branch that did not burn.
As one consumed in his own light & as one exiled
by love, so have my days seemed.
Like he who upon entering his house finds the sea
& enjoys her & is happy & stays with her always.
I was born here before my heart knew it,
before a sweet woman approached my shadow like a mother.
Since then I’ve been melancholic & sad
because I’ve counted the stars & the rain & the sand.
From that which is another’s I’ve enjoyed earth’s generosity
& from what is mine nothingness in its infinite certainty.
I’ve seen men look to the sky as if searching
for that life which has been denied them here next to you.
& I’ve suffered pain together with all of us
& I’ve not closed the door on the one who in his hate broke into flower.
The one marked with spittle who hides from the many
I’ve chosen to keep him closer to my heart than the others.
I’ve watched birds
resolve in their flight the mystery of air.
I was born here beside Cluny’s stone
where myrtle sprouts among the weeds.
But I’ve not been happy,
my memory is tired of rain & of waiting for you.
The plentiful inflorescence of pain could do nothing against us,
the more I left, the more your love imprisoned me.
& so I’ve been clear beneath the sun & a fountain
where statues swim up from the bottom of the world to drink.
& one day, one day like today, shinning & pure,
touched, perhaps, by desire my figure approached the window.
& on seeing that body weighed down with petals
I left as if following her & I lost myself in her streets.
I have loved you small town between two rivers
where my heart found the gift of the word & of larks.
To dawn, to the pure poppy of the dream's geometer, the coalmen & those that carry jars descended
into the streets from the forest hamlets, they delivered substances like heat & milk, & I would
listen to them, I would listen to them move on through until they were lost in the distance, until
that forgetting that lies beyond myself, beyond the smoke of trains & snowcapped mountains.
Birds of daybreak, colts of dawn. Townfolk on whose doors pilgrim staff & caravan mists ring out
springtime's youth. Those who tame horses, men whose trade is the small hours, men who
fish for frogs in dawn's dark pools, & those who cure the white skin of goats under the baying
pack of stars.
Multiplicity of valleys planted with coriander, blue multiplicity of sadness, you cabin girls who collect
spices, hands softened by panpipes & birds. You whose silence knows not the length of oblivion,
ringers of cymbals, carpenters of gates for animals in heat, far-off women of small hamlets where
you feed geese on rainy afternoons.
This is the hour of the old ones around a fountain, flagstone of musing & the antiquity of nightfall.
City of those who play knucklebones beneath trees, spoiled sycophants of meteorology &
botany, wild, rustic musicians.
My heart has heard you, my heart has expansively listened to the whistle of the stars & the wood
grouse. Voices of diversity & cunning beside the atrium again green with May's basil. Voice
of the grammarians & voice of the widows before the wicker cages, silence's shout in the
atria of serenity & howl of beasts below bridges as they meet the sharpened tools.
Day troubled by a thought whose shadow does not exist. Day named for the prudence of one who
deciphers the telegraph, of one who whitens a refuge or coats with quicksilver the loneliness
of death in the humidity of taverns.
Rural spectators that gather in my soul, people of the hills, people from the outskirts of town who
barter & trade in the plaza, the one that pounds rosemary on a quartz stone & the one who
establishes hives among the heather. Land of the basket weavers, land of harmonica players
& sellers of fodder in the expanse of fog.
Foreigners guided by death's breath, builders of statues & master shearers below the curve of the
Village boys, boys whose memory is fast as lightening & fades & gives no light. Young men from
one side of a river, bodies in the poplar grove with a sickle & a hoe under the howl of the
stars. Adolescents drunk in their fervor & in the water, the lonely ones under the shadow of
old wooden bridges & those you contemplate when evening comes with delight, the wet jade
of melancholy & dreams.
Speak of this day, tell from what opalescent snowy eve you reach my mouth, day of fertile women
beside vineyards, day of the meek, of those that carve walking sticks & those that dye cloth.
River people, cleaners of fish, those who tie the lively feather of the lure & those of you who are
transparent as a glass float in the divination of winds, people of estuaries & fords, water
carriers of dawn who sing in the meadow the quiet, rustic song of lark poachers.
You, earth, that sings below the earth. Land chosen by wine drinkers who traced out horizon's line
& drew maps. Those that lit bonfires, the shepherd of lightening & the gatherer of berries,
nightfall's tribe, splendor of the gods over the grassy knolls. Dawn's earth frontier of the
zither strummers, people whose solitude is sweet in the sound of my heart.
Country of seeds, country of riverbanks where roe deer bleat. Inhabitants of the valley, peoples of
the west traversing through fog. This is the place where life, this is the place where death,
ironmongers & tailors, composers of songs whose mirth is borrowed for celebrations, the
one that builds dovecotes & the one that kneels before the fire.
Virtue of the scales in Thursday shops, virtue of kneading troughs with salt, smell of paint shops.
People who pass by in the plaza, dawn's chosen, the bell ringer, the bakers of loaves, & the
linotype operator for broadsheets.
Smoke & silence of the mountain dialects. That woman who is alone. Worsted wool & the vine that
wraps around the well. The thought of that woman who was young & dreamed of the ocean
& has grown old. The woman inhabited by shadows, the dark one who lies there like cut
wood, like the deep water while the norias suffer, while the birds fly over toward autumn's
burning isles, birds purpled with forgetting, the cypress birds, the dead myrtles, night's
Egyptian birds, the sacred birds of incest.
It has been a long time since the forests burned, a long time since loneliness in the hay barns
winnowed out the thistle's flower head.
Unmerciful valley, all that has paled in the leaves of the eternal oak wood & the cold voices of the
Oh tú que pronuncias en mí el árbol de la lentitud, el árbol cuyas raíces se extienden como un
idioma desconocido a través de los pueblos, a través de las piedras y las bocas que amargamente
lloraron los desaparecidos, aquellos cuyo silencio da razón a la muerte, aquellos cuya huella es
impronunciable en la dulzura, aquellos cuya desnudez es el alimento de las generaciones.
O you who speaks in me the tree of slowness, the tree whose roots spread out like an unknown
language through the towns, through the stones and the mouths that won’t name the place of the
wound, this place in whose pain the disappeared bitterly wept, those whose silence provides
meaning to death, those whose trace is unspeakable in their sweetness, those whose nakedness is the
nourishment of generations.
"Lo que sé de mí" ("What I Know Of Myself") and "Valle del alba" ("Dawn's Valley") were first published in Antífona del otoño en el Valle del Bierzo (Autumn´s Countersong in Bierzo Valley), which won the Premio Adonáis. "Invocación" ("Invocation") was published in La poesía ha caído en desgracia (Poetry Has Fallen into Disgrace), which won the Premio Jaime Gil de Biedma.