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Poetry From the July 2011 issue: The Arab Spring, Part I


Alaska

Alaska

The eye of the seal—my amulet—will lead me to the white bear.
Is there anything more beautiful than to pursue the white bear over the white ocean?
I’ve followed his trail now through many dreams; these prints
in the snow, scoured by the wind and leading nowhere.
I’ve looked for so long, my eyes have stopped seeing.
But sometimes, in the immense whiteness, I think I hear
a kind of crying, a yowl unlike any other living creature’s;
and by the time the first whiskers of shadow appear,
when the sun has bled until it disappears,
someone will have seen a silhouette high on the ridge,
transforming night to day, dark to light.
Now the lamp-oil has guttered,
the stars migrate toward the land of caribou,
and the men, excited, set their traps
and wait for the hidden prey to show itself.
What is that splendor on the wind-carved steep?
Three times I’ve rubbed the death eye,
three times I’ve promised its viscera to the men and their dogs,
three times I’ve offered my heart as bait.
And some day, the heavens and earth will tremble,
some day, the mortal lance will pierce his body,
and when it does, we’ll hang his bladder from a pole
to drive off the shadow and the spirit of the shadow.
Later on, we’ll toss the offal downhill to the sea,
and wrapped forever in his immaculate skin,
we’ll continue our march, laughing clamorously,
giving each other great pats on the back.

Translation of “Alaska.” Copyright the estate of Horacio Castillo. Translation copyright 2011 by Samuel Gray. All rights reserved.

El ojo de la foca– mi amuleto– me llevará hasta el oso blanco.
¿Hay algo mas bello que perseguir el oso blanco en el océano blanco?
Hace muchos sueños que sigue sus rastros, estas pisadas
en la nieve que el viento borra y no llevan a ninguna parte;
y los ojos, de tanto mirar, ya han dejado de ver.
Pero a veces, en la inmensa blancura, he creído escuchar una especie de lamento,
un bostezo no parecido al de ninguna otra criatura viviente;
y cuando aparecen los primeros pelos de la sombra
y el sol snagra cada vez más hasta desaparecer,
alguien ha visto una silueta sobre la ladera
convirtiendo la noche en día, la oscuridad en luz.
Ahora se ha agotado el aceite de la lampara,
las estrellas emigran hacia la tierra del caribú
y los hombres, excitados, colocan las trampas,
esperan la presa que se oculta para mostrarse.
¿Qué es ese resplandor en la escarpada colina?
Tres veces he frotado el ojo de la muerte,
tres veces prometí las vísceras a los hombres y los perros,
tres veces ofrecí como cebo mi corazón.
Y un día temblarán los cielos y la tierra,
un día la vara mortal atravesará su cuerpo,
y entonces colgaremos de un asta su vejiga
para ahuyentar la sombra y el espíritu de la sombra.
Luego arrastraremos sus restos cuesta abajo, hacia el mar,
y envueltos para siempre en la piel inmaculada,
seguiremos la marcha riendo clamorosamente
y dándonos los unos a los otros grandes palmadas en la espalda. 




Horacio CastilloHoracio Castillo

Horacio Castillo (Ensenada, Argentina, 1934–2010) published eight books of poetry, as well as numerous volumes of Greek and Portugese poetry in translation. His own work has been translated into French, English, Italian, Greek, and Portuguese, and his critical essays on Latin American and Greek poetry have appeared in six different book-length collections. Horacio Castillo’s work as a poet, translator, and critic has brought him dozens of awards and honorary distinctions, including the Argentine National Foundation for the Arts Literary Translation Award (1988), the Konex honorary diploma (1994), the Argentine Poetry Foundation Award (2002), and the Faro de Oro (2005).

Translated from SpanishSpanish by Samuel GraySamuel Gray

Samuel Gray is currently a graduate student at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, where he teaches courses in creative writing and literature. His translations of Horacio Castillo's poetry have previously appeared in International Poetry Review.