Chapbook: Poems of Francesc Parcerisas, translated by Cyrus Cassells

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  • December 21, 2018

Born in 1944, Francesc Parcerisas, the author of fourteen volumes of poetry, including Still Life with Children, Triumph of the Present,and The Golden Age, is considered the premier Catalan poet of his generation—a “miracle generation” of poets who came of age as Franco’s public banning of the Catalan language came to an end. He is also a masterly, award-winning translator of an impressive array of significant international writers, including T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Doris Lessing, Katherine Mansfield, Joyce Carol Oates, Cesare Pavese, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, Rimbaud, Susan Sontag, William Styron, and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney. Among his numerous translations from French, Italian, and English into Catalan, he is most famous in Catalonia for his translation of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. His own poems have been translated into Basque, English, French, Gallego, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese, Slovenian, Spanish, and Welsh, among others.

Among his awards are the 1966 Carles Riba Prize, the 1983 Critics’ Prize for Catalan Poetry, the 1983 Catalan Government Prize for Catalan Literature, the 1992 Lletre d’Or Prize for his volume Triumph of the Present, the 1992 Serra D’Or Critic’s Prize for his Catalan version of Seamus Heaney’s The Haw Lantern, and the 2001 Cavall Verd-Rafael Jaume Prize for his translation of Ezra Pound’s A Draft of XXX Cantos. In 2018 the Writers Association awarded him the Premi Jaume Fuster for his contribution to Catalan letters.

 

 

THE EGYPTIAN ROOM

 

 

Sitting in the museum’s Egyptian room,

I’m an audience for

a honey-rich buzzing of bees.

The past’s fully alive:

yellow and blue,

akin to the laborer’s threshed wheat,

or that stork sipping

from a turquoise river

captured on papyrus.

In a flash, everything’s scrambled:

the stonemason with his sieve

in the pitiless sun

and the slave meekly

fanning the pharaoh

wait for me in a taxicab

down the street.

A flock of in-a-hurry ducks

crosses the overcast sky;

an ibis snivels at the next table,

soused and barbarous.

Folks claim passions

can’t be painted any longer,

but this fresco’s

a four-thousand-year-old mirror.

Like the mural’s black mongrel,

death will arrive,

and we’ll imagine ourselves

unripe, unready,

or we’ll lament having

to surrender in sleep

so many scant, fleeting

moments of joy,

well aware the Nile barge glides

endlessly under the blazing sun.

 

*

 

SHAVE

 

 

Observe yourself in the mirror,

unchanged yet strange,

still shaggy with sleep, startled

at seeing your likeness.

These wrinkles, these graying temples

that you’ve already accepted gracefully

—affable guests who showed up

so suddenly, that you can’t quite recall

their initial appearance,

are emblems of the shameless price required

for this fictitious intimacy with the body.

And now, begin to shave.

The blade, once quick and cold, no longer

glides taut across your skin like the pleasant

lickety-split friction of youthful skis:

you’re forced to stretch your flabby cheek

with your fingers. Don’t despair.

Perhaps if you’re shrewd and willfully avoid

the shameful mark of a knick,

you’ll forget your alliance with your body

has already begun to dissolve.

 

*

 

DECEMBER ORANGE

 

 

I listen to the sweet December orange:

it tells me No,

then Nevermore,

then Maybe still.

Only in wintertime

do plummeting raindrops on the patio

splatter with such intensity.

The tempest and the dead

jar me awake.

Look at the ferry passengers, the ones

too long at the beach:

welcome or lost, dauntless,

and still at large.

Sleep when it comes to us

is blessed;

I prize and depend on all this:

as if time’s wheel wouldn’t dare

savage such a young body

alive with pleasure,

I reach for your back.

The orange is also sweet,

and through it, I acquire

December’s light,

and the face the Venetian blinds

blur, once more,

with their aura of a discreet,

betraying life

that burgeons and finally

abandons us.

Slowly, slowly, the ferry departs.

The pulp is the ruddy juice

of the entire dawn.

 

*

 

AFTER ANNE SEXTON

 

 

The well-bottom’s shadowy and fearless,

because it’s finite.

Like the depth of your body and mine,

also luminous and firm,

because it’s finite.

But the skin we can’t part with

is the other’s skin,

a desert fashioned of words.

My first, fresh image of you,

or your ever-elusive eyes

are, for me,

the very essence of limits.

The voice uttering my name

becomes distance

and issilence.

And the plaintive fingernails

which scrape and scratch

are the time periods separating

all those pencil-marked dates:

it’s been eighteen whole days

without you.

 

 *

 

SEVERED HAND

 

Cut off my hand,

it’s all yours,

and transform my fingertips and flesh

into this old but unfading memory:

a solitary girl at her breakfast,

perched in front of the TV.

Now that the hostile night

is a glass, fashioned of fear

and unease, close my lids,

so I can’t witness

this extravagant loneliness,

and slowly, slowly, let me know

when dawn blooms and composes again

the window panes and the hands

we once utilized

to bind each other

so desperately,

in the tepid, softened light

of every word.

 

 

CALYPSO

 

For seven years—or was it five?—

the divine nymph plied him with

forgetfulness, delicacies, shared passion.

Near Calypso’s grotto,

cypresses and alders grew, a grapevine

for fashioning luxuriant wine

—all that tantalizes men.

A truism lost on the nymph:

not even on an island

adorned with caves,

in the arms of a supernal lover

can a mere mortal endure

a wearying eternity

of youth and beauty,

devoid of what men prize most:

elusive memory,

unattainable desire.

 

*

 

VIRGIL’S HAND

 

 

The battle’s slow and sinuous,

a stormy fire on the hilltops.

The enemy’s spears and darts

have decimated,

at such a snail’s pace,

our once-protecting parents,

that, almost unawares, we’re caught,

wordless, shield-less, in the blazing

tumult of the frontline.

Up till now, Virgil’s hand.

From this day forward,

the world will be utterly different:

we’ll combat the fire

totally on our own.

Guideless, spurred by a secret

quest for common sense,

perhaps, in the long run, we’ll realize

the ramparts,

the enemy, the war itself,

are trumped-up shadows

of a fire that’s merely

light and ash;

we’ll realize: purgatory

and paradise reside

entirely within us.

 

— Translated by Cyrus Cassells

 

* * *

 

Editor’s Note:

Several of these poems have previously appeared in the following publications:

“Shave” appeared in the anthology Being Human(Bloodaxe Books: 2015)

“December Orange” appeared in Two Lines: A Journal of Contemporary Translation

“Calypso” appeared in the Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art

“Virgil’s Hand” appeared in the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day

 

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