I didn’t post at all last week because we were in Mexico. I noticed there was no hue-and-cry! Nevertheless, I want to report that I read some wonderful books in swimming palm-leaf shade and the rustle of surf.
Let me start with this poem by the great Spanish expatriate poet Ángel González, from a collection translated with great subtlety by E. A. Mares, Casí Toda La Música y otros poemas (in English, Almost All the Music and Other Poems). It’s pretty long, but I can’t resist sharing it:
The time for nostalgia
Do you remember?
That sweet violin
the one that played tangoes,
hounded by the labored murmur of accordions
and the happy mob
spilling champagne down the plunging necklines
of the somewhat crazy, somewhat
disheveled, also somewhat sad,
somewhat fallen girls.
Ineffable perfume of those happy hours,
that’s what we knew.
Gasoline was beginning its reign
on the astonished streets,
but the jasmines had not yet begun their retreat
nor were deodorants
ready to suffocate the personality of armpits.
Next to the street lamp frequented by dogs,
the little girl sold paper flowers,
although it was the victrola,
from the darkened depths of the rooms,
that tossed a grey streamer of sadness
through the half-opened windows
over the habitual transients of the night.
bard of this drama
and impossibly sweet,
brilliant vagabond of space,
pursued those solitary hearts,
who, absorbed in themselves,
ignored the beggars who camp up to them
or turned their eyes skywards
looking for the brilliant trace of a star
that had to influence the outcome
of a hastily formulated desire.
Imprecise, murky time
fluctuating quickly towards other days
and other rhythms,
and other tones, also,
more fleeting still.
With the violin dead,
the marimba extended its tyranny.
Hammered and refined wood,
each bark or trunk from the Caribbean,
every forest from the South,
grew in the air and resonant woods
of the tropics, the astonishing rivers,
all were heard in distant lands.
At that time everything was still
to love, to kiss, to eat, even if it were
a piece of bread,
Charity would get you everything:
on the harsh corners whipped
by the mulatto singer’s breath,
by the Creole woman’s whisperings in g,
and moreover by the rain, by misfortune.
But style is fickle and flimsy,
and over the ashes of the Charleston and the banjo
it raised new babblings.
And the blues returned, and their syncopations
filled the risky morning
with restlessness and outbursts of laughter,
while the street sweepers of dawn,
the gravediggers of shadows,
were sweeping with their damp brooms
towards the grates through which the night fled,
the paper streamers, illegible notes, glass, tin foil,
fragments of evening newspapers,
dirty cotton and women’s garters.
Nothing, nevertheless, could blur
the powerful apotheosis
of the brass.
The brilliant trumpets and the sinuous
—and the slow, precise, articulated and serious
slide trombone—all together
sounded frantic, discordant,
united their strident sounds,
and the broken glasses spilled wine,
and more than one girl—no one
was able to prevent this—
lost consciousness, and something
much more valuable—according to some.
that everything has passed,
we feel nostalgic
for what has happened.
the rhythms and the bodies,
the old aroma of mint,
the trunks of elms
carved with an arrow,
the corner of the bedroom, etcetera,
On the other hand, we forget
the hunger in the countryside,
the reasons for the hunger.
if you want to return to us
each and every disgrace,
the way we laughed through the neighborhoods,
lasting for hours,
irresponsibility of it all, the beauty
of loving only the body we embraced,
the rhythms, and the assaulted
the old aroma of mint, the shredded
moon reflected on the pond, the impossible
song possibly no one remembers now:
return to us
reveal to us
also next to the violin’s
also next to the glittering
surface of the gilded and hot trumpet,
I am also nostalgic with age.
I was also very happy. Also, I remember.
I was also a witness to other times.