I Write with Words That Have Shadow but Don’t Shelter

January 6, 2021
translated by Ilan Stavans
A black and white photograph of a line of typewriters on wooden desks on a beach. The desks and typewriters are covered with flotsam and sand.
Photo by Matt Artz / Unsplash

I write with words that have shadow but don’t shelter
no sooner do I start this page insomnia burns it
not the words but what they consume is what reality starts occupying
the place without place
the agony the game the illusion of being in the world

illusion is not what reality is made of but the ignited lightning
simulacra where ceremonies take place
bright exchanges from the emptiness of desire

there is no longer place for writing because writing is the place itself
of what is erased
we don’t discover the world we describe it in its stubborn elusiveness

I shall no longer return to the sea but the sea lives in that absence
it is the sea when the word announces it
and is spilled over the page like a hand
I shall no longer be at the forest but in the page I write on
and I glimpse its foliage the wind passes by
there shall be no more summer but sun devouring memory
and the great night of sand coming to cover the eyes
and we shall only be able to read what wasn’t written

Translation from the Spanish

Editorial note: From Selected Translations, 2000–2020, copyright © 2021 by Ilan Stavans, forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press on February 23, 2021. First publication, by permission of the translator.

Courtesy of Alchetron

Born in Tumeremo, Bolívar, in 1933, Venezuelan writer Guillermo Sucre is also an essayist, translator, literary critic, and educator. A cofounder, in 1957, of the literary group Sardio, he has taught at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, Universidad Simón Bolívar, and University of Pittsburgh. He was awarded, in 1976, the Premio Nacional de Literatura for his nonfiction volume La máscara, la transparencia (Mask and translucence, 1975). Among his books are En el verano cada palabra respira en el verano (In the summer, each word breathes in summer, 1976), Serpiente breve (Brief serpent, 1977), and La vastedad (Vastness, 1990). He also wrote Borges, el poeta (Borges, the poet, 1967), a study on the work of the Argentine author of “The Aleph.”

Photo by Kevin Gutting

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College and publisher of Restless Books. His latest books are I Love My Selfie (Duke, with Adál) and Quixote: The Novel and the World (Norton). He has translated into English the poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Rubén Darío, Jorge Luis Borges, and Pablo Neruda, among others. He is also the editor of The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry (2011).