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Poetry

poets per square foot

By Raquel Salas Rivera
Translated from Spanish by the author
In three epic and defiantly celebratory poems, Raquel Salas Rivera—in his own translations—summons the muse, queer Caeneus, and the persistence of poets.
Two stray dogs at a crosswalk stare at the camera
Columbo222, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

poets per square foot

            for roberto ncar

what flowers most are broken tiles.
more than fruit, glass sprouts in gutters
and here we carelessly plant forests
of breezeless rumors. fungal volumes.

born amidst ratshit and a classroom hive,
a grove of books in the shutdown school,
dust springs on the stairs.

vengeful flashlights set fire to mansions
that were once this country, this body.
our poets, unknown to poets,
also perversely abound in readerless pages.

the lázaro library has a budget of zero,
how then do i find so much stem,
so much play, since there is an overgrowth
of stores for sale, landfill mangroves, tourists?

someone asks if i feel i’m a poet.
we don’t have a national press, i answer.
we don’t have a national press and sometimes,
never watered, we burn books before
they go to print, thinking who reads poetry
from puerto rico in puerto rico.

but we take to the earth. with just rain. by exchanging a look.
suddenly, i hear a young poet reincarnating verse.
one explains: at her school they only gave out
stanzas. but she still wandered barefoot into being a poet.

we take to the poem, a miracle with no church, with no witness.
in a country also with no first name,
we spread with a cruel plenty,
givingly giving.
someone divides,
becomes an editor,
journals,
readings,
festivals,
where to print.
another manures
a stump and busts

pop up morivivientes.1

in a house where stray dogs sleep,
a restaurant that serves in english,
we don’t have vaccines, time, a living wage,
hospitals, respect, electricity, natural reserves,
libraries, earth, earth to sow,
earth to build our homes.
we don’t have a national press.

the marxist poet visits me.
i agree with my recent nihilism,
still i stand stupefactual
thinking we shot time
lined up against the wall of lost memory.
what an incalculable strength, what
wild insistence has possessed us.

someone asks me what kind of poems i write.
i say that i write poetry unprinted
and although i have my books, i write poetry
unread, on that basketball court, my mouth,
where the dogs stretch out, the names of poets.
resting in the heat, seemingly dead.
but if you call them, they raise their heads, fix stares
and answer.

 

Fragments of the epic poem Algarabía

Canto I

            Falóme en algarabía
            como aquél que bien la sá

            —Anonymous from “Yo me era mora Morayma”

According to the eternal transformation,
I was born the day I was raped by a god
on his backyard beach.
Desperate and possessive,
he snatched silence from sand.

After the theft, Poseidon wasn’t rough.
When taking my name, Caenis,
he offered me impenetrable skin,
a shell coated with apologies.

Today, I want to be a man. I burn with
the desire to be a brave and audacious captain
fighting in Valencia’s feverish Spain
Bound to the loyal ranks.

That is how I came to be Caeneus,
a man improved,
a man improvised.
a soldier who fought harder,
faster, and with less
than any before.

But I remember no transformation.
My origin dons no street or school.
Only the name Cenex, a garrison
erected on a military map.

I was born dispersed, not man.
I was born dead, died in life, and live in death,
in the guts of a memory
with my forty friends (keeping alive)
in apartments with steep rent,
no pets and no locals.

Where there are also no guarantees.
In a living room unmowed, the harvest defrosted,
we give out fruits in trays.
Our history can’t sustain great feats because
we love and die in battle.
If the war ends, we can’t return.
There are no waiting families. We are forgotten.

Oh muse!
My tongue weighs.
My song is clumsy. It falls across the path.
My song is a banquet
of ferns.

Praised be the wire pregnant with changos!
Praised be the line in Capri and the clothcutter!
Praised be the soil studies!
Praised be the hands that give handjobs!
Praised be the mouths that suck and raise dicks!
Praised be the beach behind the wall!
Praised be the positive blood!
Praised be the algarabía silence, the gabble silence!
For these are the workers
that keep building a shifting country.

And so, I sing a gas leak
that explodes gloriously in shoe stores
with patent leather soaked in glitter.

Every morning, I dress my forty for the day.
I kiss their cheeks and make them lunch.
On trains we almost graze women’s ¡danger!
clothes and stand perilously near men
who are sure they’ve always been.

Here we are forever about to steal young faces
and drain gentlemen of funds.
Implacable, rotative, disarming
on the waters, sirens on rocks,
inviting men to die and join
us in our impossible forms.

It is morning. (This is how we measure time
and this is why we can’t find work.)
I’ve picked the curb where I will shed my things, 
when this skin tires and finally settles,
which motheaten couch or broken screen.

I take my time. I finish my chores.
I’ve picked my forty and each has brought a whistle
for dogs that bark behind gates
keeping everything intact.

 

(Natural design)

My lineage is a laboratory
where my design imitated mamá,
daughters or hard-to-reach aunts.
I was late for every date with the
pediatric spy.

I was Cenex before knowing how
to choose a name or autonomize my parts.
I was a subject and a discussion topic.

They wanted me shooting.
It was the first of many tests.
They had to evaluate my responses,
whether these were qualitative or quantitative kills.

Poseidon (if that’s his name) was the complex
where they gave me dolls and guns.
I was not punished. I was rewarded.
I was not tortured. I was raised
in a bestiary of millimetered tears.
They taught me to speak, not to shout, to eat facing down.
I formed my internal organs by dint of uncertainty,
bending a monadic spoon and unfolding my ears.
To play! To make fun of the wardens
with these early pranks,
with the dysphoria of a plastic stove.

My friends were the guards. The doctors were my family.
My priest was a priest and my school was a prison.
I got to a certain age and started hating survival.
I was bad. I was uncanny.

My forty were the times I cut and ran.
They leaked, sank, and ached.
To them, I was the impulse
to steal sweets.
I was single-celled in my resistance.
I put on a dress and wore it wrong.
This was what others call a childhood.
They never forgave me for fighting the belt.

© Raquel Salas Rivera. All rights reserved.


1. I have chosen not to translate this neologism since it is an adverb coined from “moriviví,” the name for the mimosa pudica plant, which comes from “morí y viví” or “I died and I lived.”

English Spanish

poets per square foot

            for roberto ncar

what flowers most are broken tiles.
more than fruit, glass sprouts in gutters
and here we carelessly plant forests
of breezeless rumors. fungal volumes.

born amidst ratshit and a classroom hive,
a grove of books in the shutdown school,
dust springs on the stairs.

vengeful flashlights set fire to mansions
that were once this country, this body.
our poets, unknown to poets,
also perversely abound in readerless pages.

the lázaro library has a budget of zero,
how then do i find so much stem,
so much play, since there is an overgrowth
of stores for sale, landfill mangroves, tourists?

someone asks if i feel i’m a poet.
we don’t have a national press, i answer.
we don’t have a national press and sometimes,
never watered, we burn books before
they go to print, thinking who reads poetry
from puerto rico in puerto rico.

but we take to the earth. with just rain. by exchanging a look.
suddenly, i hear a young poet reincarnating verse.
one explains: at her school they only gave out
stanzas. but she still wandered barefoot into being a poet.

we take to the poem, a miracle with no church, with no witness.
in a country also with no first name,
we spread with a cruel plenty,
givingly giving.
someone divides,
becomes an editor,
journals,
readings,
festivals,
where to print.
another manures
a stump and busts

pop up morivivientes.1

in a house where stray dogs sleep,
a restaurant that serves in english,
we don’t have vaccines, time, a living wage,
hospitals, respect, electricity, natural reserves,
libraries, earth, earth to sow,
earth to build our homes.
we don’t have a national press.

the marxist poet visits me.
i agree with my recent nihilism,
still i stand stupefactual
thinking we shot time
lined up against the wall of lost memory.
what an incalculable strength, what
wild insistence has possessed us.

someone asks me what kind of poems i write.
i say that i write poetry unprinted
and although i have my books, i write poetry
unread, on that basketball court, my mouth,
where the dogs stretch out, the names of poets.
resting in the heat, seemingly dead.
but if you call them, they raise their heads, fix stares
and answer.

 

Fragments of the epic poem Algarabía

Canto I

            Falóme en algarabía
            como aquél que bien la sá

            —Anonymous from “Yo me era mora Morayma”

According to the eternal transformation,
I was born the day I was raped by a god
on his backyard beach.
Desperate and possessive,
he snatched silence from sand.

After the theft, Poseidon wasn’t rough.
When taking my name, Caenis,
he offered me impenetrable skin,
a shell coated with apologies.

Today, I want to be a man. I burn with
the desire to be a brave and audacious captain
fighting in Valencia’s feverish Spain
Bound to the loyal ranks.

That is how I came to be Caeneus,
a man improved,
a man improvised.
a soldier who fought harder,
faster, and with less
than any before.

But I remember no transformation.
My origin dons no street or school.
Only the name Cenex, a garrison
erected on a military map.

I was born dispersed, not man.
I was born dead, died in life, and live in death,
in the guts of a memory
with my forty friends (keeping alive)
in apartments with steep rent,
no pets and no locals.

Where there are also no guarantees.
In a living room unmowed, the harvest defrosted,
we give out fruits in trays.
Our history can’t sustain great feats because
we love and die in battle.
If the war ends, we can’t return.
There are no waiting families. We are forgotten.

Oh muse!
My tongue weighs.
My song is clumsy. It falls across the path.
My song is a banquet
of ferns.

Praised be the wire pregnant with changos!
Praised be the line in Capri and the clothcutter!
Praised be the soil studies!
Praised be the hands that give handjobs!
Praised be the mouths that suck and raise dicks!
Praised be the beach behind the wall!
Praised be the positive blood!
Praised be the algarabía silence, the gabble silence!
For these are the workers
that keep building a shifting country.

And so, I sing a gas leak
that explodes gloriously in shoe stores
with patent leather soaked in glitter.

Every morning, I dress my forty for the day.
I kiss their cheeks and make them lunch.
On trains we almost graze women’s ¡danger!
clothes and stand perilously near men
who are sure they’ve always been.

Here we are forever about to steal young faces
and drain gentlemen of funds.
Implacable, rotative, disarming
on the waters, sirens on rocks,
inviting men to die and join
us in our impossible forms.

It is morning. (This is how we measure time
and this is why we can’t find work.)
I’ve picked the curb where I will shed my things, 
when this skin tires and finally settles,
which motheaten couch or broken screen.

I take my time. I finish my chores.
I’ve picked my forty and each has brought a whistle
for dogs that bark behind gates
keeping everything intact.

 

(Natural design)

My lineage is a laboratory
where my design imitated mamá,
daughters or hard-to-reach aunts.
I was late for every date with the
pediatric spy.

I was Cenex before knowing how
to choose a name or autonomize my parts.
I was a subject and a discussion topic.

They wanted me shooting.
It was the first of many tests.
They had to evaluate my responses,
whether these were qualitative or quantitative kills.

Poseidon (if that’s his name) was the complex
where they gave me dolls and guns.
I was not punished. I was rewarded.
I was not tortured. I was raised
in a bestiary of millimetered tears.
They taught me to speak, not to shout, to eat facing down.
I formed my internal organs by dint of uncertainty,
bending a monadic spoon and unfolding my ears.
To play! To make fun of the wardens
with these early pranks,
with the dysphoria of a plastic stove.

My friends were the guards. The doctors were my family.
My priest was a priest and my school was a prison.
I got to a certain age and started hating survival.
I was bad. I was uncanny.

My forty were the times I cut and ran.
They leaked, sank, and ached.
To them, I was the impulse
to steal sweets.
I was single-celled in my resistance.
I put on a dress and wore it wrong.
This was what others call a childhood.
They never forgave me for fighting the belt.

© Raquel Salas Rivera. All rights reserved.


1. I have chosen not to translate this neologism since it is an adverb coined from “moriviví,” the name for the mimosa pudica plant, which comes from “morí y viví” or “I died and I lived.”

poetas por pie cuadrado

para roberto ncar

lo que más florece son losetas quebrantadas.
en las cunetas brotan más que frutos, los vidrios
y aquí sembramos sin querer bosques
de rumores sin viento. enciclopedias de hongo.

en la escuela cerrada nace un huerto de libros
entre mierda de rata y colmena de aulas,
va creciendo el polvo en aquella escalera.

las linternas vengativas encienden mansiones
que alguna vez fueron el país, el cuerpo.
también nuestros poetas que ni poetas conocen,
abundan perversamente en libros sin lectores.

el presupuesto de la lázaro está en cero,
¿cómo entonces encuentro tanto taller,
tanto tallo, si retoñan más que nada negocios
a la venta, manglares-basureros, visitantes?

alguien me pregunta si me siento poeta.
no tenemos impresora nacional, contesto.
no tenemos impresora nacional y a veces
quemamos libros de antemano por nunca
regarlos, pensando quién lee poesía
de puerto rico en puerto rico.

pero se dan. con agua y tierra. de nada. de mirarnos las caras.
de repente, escucho un poeta joven reencarnando versos.
una me explica que en su high solo repartían
estrofas, pero igual llegó descalza a ser poeta.

nos damos, milagro sin iglesia, sin tan siquiera testigo.
en un país que tampoco tuvo nombre propio,
aquí nos damos con una abundancia cruel.
dadivosidamos.
alguien se divide
una editorial, revistas,
lecturas, encuentros,
donde imprimir.
otro abona a un tronco muerto
y salen bustos morivivientes.

en una casa donde duermen realengos,
un restaurante que sirve en inglés,
no tenemos vacunas, tiempo, salario digno,
hospitales, respeto, luz, reservas,
bibliotecas, tierra, tierra para el cultivo,
tierra para hacer nuestras casas.
no tenemos impresora nacional.

el poeta marxista me visita.
le doy la razón con mi nihilismo reciente
y a la vez me quedo estupefactual
pensando que les disparamos al tiempo
en el paredón del olvido. que fuerza
incalculable, que insistencia nos posee.

alguien me pregunta que clase de poesía escribo.
digo que escribo la que nunca se imprime
y aunque tenga mis libros, escribo la que nunca se lee,
en la cancha bajo techo de mi boca,
recostados los perros, los nombres de poetas.
dormidos en el calor, aunque parezcan muertos.
si les hablas, alzan la cabeza, te fijan la mirada
y contestan.

 

Fragmentos del poema épico inédito Algarabía
Canto I

Falóme en algarabía
como aquél que bien la sá
—Anónimo de “Yo me era mora Morayma”

Según la eterna transformación,
nací el día que un dios me violó
en su patio, la playa.
Con desespero posesivo,
le arrebató el silencio a la arena.
Tras el robo, Poseidón no fue brusco.
Al quitarme el nombre, Caenis,
me ofreció una piel impenetrable,
un cascarón de disculpas.

Hoy, quiero ser hombre.
Me queman las ansias de ser
aguerrido y audaz capitán peleando
en la España febril de Valencia
Asido a las filas del bando leal.

Así llegué a ser Ceneo,
un hombre mejorado,
un hombre improvisado.
un soldado que peleó más duro,
más rápido y con menos
que los anteriores.

Pero no recuerdo aquella transformación.
Mi origen no conoce su título de calle o escuela.
Solo el nombre Cenex, una guarnición
erigida en un mapa militar.
Nací dispersado, no hombre.
Nací muerto, morí en vida y vivo en muerte,
en las tripas de un recuerdo
con mis cuarenta amigos (sosteniéndose)
en apartamentos con renta empinada,
no mascotas y no gente local.
Donde no hay garantías tampoco.
En la sala sin podar, descongelada la siembra,
repartimos los frutos en bandejas.
Nuestra historia no sostiene hazañas porque

amamos y morimos en el campo de batalla.
Si termina la guerra, no podemos regresar.
No nos esperan familias que nos olvidaron.
¡Oh, musa!
Mi lengua pesa.
Mi canto es torpe. Cae sobre el camino.
Mi canto es un banquete
de helechos.
¡Alabao el cable preñado de changos!
¡Alabá la fila en Capri y la cortatelas!
¡Alabaos los estudios de suelo!
¡Alabanza para las manos que hacen casqueta!
¡Alabanza para las bocas que maman e izan bichos!
¡Alabanza en la playa tras el muro!
¡Alabanza en la sangre positiva!
¡Alabanza en el silencio algarabía!
Que esos son los trabajadores
que siguen creando un país movedizo.
Y así canto una fuga de gas
que explota gloriosamente en zapaterías
de charol ensanchado en escarcha.

Todas las mañanas, visto mis cuarenta para el día.
Les beso en los cachetes y les preparo almuerzo.
En los trenes casi rozamos las ropas ¡ojo!
de las damas y andamos apegados a los hombres
que están seguros de que siempre lo han sido.

Estamos a punto de robar las caras jóvenes
y drenar a dones de sus cuentas de ahorros.
Implacables, rotativos, desarmadores
sobre las aguas, sirenas en las rocas,
convidándolos a morir y a que se unan
a nuestras formas imposibles.

Es de día. (Así se mide el tiempo.
Por eso no conseguimos trabajo.)
Ya elegí la esquina donde dejaré mis cosas
cuando esta piel se canse de cambiar,
cual sofá con polilla o pantalla que no prende.
Tomo mi tiempo. Completo mis tareas.
Escogí a mis cuarenta y cada uno ha traído un pito
para perros que ladran tras portones
que mantienen lo intacto.

 

(Diseño natural)
Mi linaje es un laboratorio
donde mi diseño imitó a mamá,
hijas o tías difíciles de conseguir.
Llegué tarde a cada cita con el espía
pediátrico.

Yo era Cenex antes de saber elegir
un nombre o autonomizar mis partes.
Era todo un sujeto y un tema de discusión.
Me querían disparando.
Era la primera de muchas pruebas.
Tenían que evaluar mis respuestas,
si asesinaba cualitativa o cuantitativamente.

Poseidón (si ese es su nombre) era el complejo
donde me dieron muñecos y pistolas.
No fui castigado. Fui premiado.
No fui torturado. Fui criado
en un bestiario de desgarros milimétricos.
Me enseñaron a hablar, no a gritar, a comer agachando la cara.
Formé mis órganos internos a fuerza de incertidumbre,
doblando una cuchara monádica y desplegando mis oídos.
¡Jugar! Para burlarme de los alcaides
con esta primera instancia del ser travieso,
con la disforia de una estufa plástica.

Los guardias eran mis amigos. Mi familia eran los médicos.
Mi sacerdote era un sacerdote y mi escuela era una prisión.
Llegué a cierta edad y comencé a odiar la supervivencia.
Fui malo. Incomodaba.

Mis cuarenta fueron las veces que corté.
Goteaban, se hundían y dolían.
Para ellos, yo representaba un impulso,
el de robar dulces.
Era unicelular en mi resistencia.
Me puse un vestido y mal.
Esto fue lo que otros llamarían una infancia.
Nunca me perdonaron por resistir la correa.

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