Two Bilingual Poems from Chile

March 30, 2022
translated by 
A photograph of a downwardly spiraling staircase, shot from above
Photo by Chuttersnap / Unsplash

List of Totems in the Air

A broken wine glass, a Chinese radio,
trees looking on undaunted as I grow old,
scraps of bitter lemons,
a staircase patiently awaiting the day
when I can no longer climb it.

Here I reign. Like the earthworms,
I transform words into nitrogen,
and thus build my homeland out of refuse, scraps,
living in air saturated with smoke and soot.

Here I digest my past, hiding in wardrobes
and flapping for oxygen in the dense darkness.

Careful! A single well-spoken word
will destroy me, the least breath on my heart
and it will evaporate into attics and basements.

Then wandering through slums,
under the roots of coigüe trees, through icicles,
pierced by the mewling of cats in heat.

Here I reign still: amid muddy shoes and pants,
dancing a slow rumba toward the serenity of the clouds.

 

Listado de tótemes en el aire

una copa rota, una radio china,
árboles que me miran impertérritos mientras envejezco,
residuos de limones agrios,
una escalera que paciente espera el día
en que no la podré subir.

Aquí reino. Como las lombrices de tierra
transformo en nitrógeno las palabras;
así construyo mi patria, con desechos, con chatarra,
viviendo en un aire saturado de humo y hollín.

Aquí digiero mi pasado, me oculto en los armarios
y en la oscuridad espesa aleteo por oxígeno.

¡Cuidado! Una sola palabra bien dicha
me destruirá, un soplo apenas en el corazón
y todo se habrá evaporado por desvanes y sótanos.

Deambulando entonces por arrabales,
bajo las raíces de los coigües, entre carámbanos,
atravesado de maullidos de gatos en celo.

Aquí reino todavía: entre zapatos y pantalones embarrados,
lento y rumbeando hacia el sosiego de las nubes.

 

A House Lost in the Aromatic Exile of Mint

The murmuring stream slips through his fingers.

The rain, wind, darkness, light will seep in
through the apertures in his soul.

And the mirror will only return a dull

image of clouds.

And the instant of looking will have no meaning.

So what? I’ll climb the cliffs again
to welcome my loved ones, smiling down from above
where it all fits into the first particle of a unique word:

onomatopoeia of an endless kiss.

 

Una casa perdida en el aromático exilio de la yerba buena

El arroyo murmurante se va de las manos.

Entrarán la lluvia, el viento, la oscuridad, la luz
por los agujeros del alma.

Y el espejo solo devolverá una sorda imagen de nubes.

Y el instante de la mirada no tendrá significado.

¿Qué importa? Volveré a escalar los barrancos
para saludar a los míos que sonríen allá arriba
donde todo cabe en la primera partícula de una única palabra:

onomatopeya de un beso interminable.

Translations from the Spanish

Sergio Mansilla Torres was born in Achao, Chiloé, Chile in 1958. He received his PhD in Spanish from the University of Washington; he is a tenured professor at the Southern University of Chile in Valdivia. Mansilla has published ten books of poetry, including Quercún (Los Libros del Taller, 2019).

Cynthia Steele is professor emerita of comparative literature, cinema, and media studies at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her translations include Inés Arredondo, Underground Rivers (Nebraska, 1996); José Emilio Pacheco, City of Memory (City Lights, 2001); and María Gudín, Open Sea (Amazon Crossing, 2016). They have also appeared in a number of journals, including TriQuarterly, Gulf Coast, Chicago Review, Seattle Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Washington Square Review, New England Review, and Agni. Her English translations of other poems by Mansilla have appeared in Lunch Ticket, the Journal of Literary Translation (Dublin), Ezra, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Southern Review.

World Literature Today
630 Parrington Oval, Suite 110
Norman, OK 73019-4037
405-325-4531



Updated by World Literature Today: [email protected]