I’ve never, as I recall, posted while vacationing in México. It is typically an escape into extended quiet time with my lovely wife amid sea vistas, the soft rattle of palm leaves, a margarita or two, conversations with good friends in which I slaughter the Spanish language … and, of course, a stack of books to read.
This time I’m also diverting myself by translating a small book of haiku-influenced poems by José Juan Tablada, called Un Día … poemas sintéticos (One Day … Synthetic Poems). The word “synthetic” has been corrupted by chemical companies so that for many of us it means “produced artificially,” but Tablada uses it in the philosophical sense: “attributing to a subject something determined by observation rather than analysis of the nature of the subject and not resulting in self-contradiction if negated.” Here is a version of the poet’s “Prologue” to this collection:
Art, with your golden pin
I meant to fix on paper
Butterflies of the moment;
To create a vision in brief verse
As a drop of dew condenses
All the roses in the garden;
To preserve in these pages
Plants and trees like flowers
Dried inside an herbarium.
Grain of musk, miracle worker—
In the theater of your aroma
Past love lives again,
Invisible on the beach
But full of immensity’s resonance!
Now here’s the thing: México for me it’s all about that resonance. And just a short while ago, an example of it leaped unforeseen into my head.
In my stack of books is a novel by one of my favorite authors, Juan José Saer, entitled The Clouds. It is beautifully translated by Hilary Vaughn Dobel and published by Open Letter Books. I was taking a break from translation and relaxing into Saer’s narrative, which purports to consist primarily of a manuscript on diskette sent by an acquaintance to an Argentine exile living in Paris. The exile, Pinchón Garay, in the novel’s framing conceit, is reading the manuscript on his computer, and we, of course, are reading along with him. The manuscript seems to be a 19th-century memoir but may be fiction; the manuscript’s provenance is uncertain.
Before I go on, please reread Tablada’s “Prologue.” Okay?
So … I’m reading along in Saer and come across this passage:
It is worth noting that mental patients, when educated, can never resist the chance to express themselves in writing, trying to make their ramblings conform to the shape of a philosophical treatise or literary composition. It would be wrong to take them lightly, for these writings can be an invaluable source of significant data for a man of science; in the written word, he has at his disposal, safe from the transience of spoken ravings and fleeting actions, a series of thoughts preserved like insects fixed on a pin or a dried flower in an herbarium to be pored over by the naturalist.
As we say in the Lit Trade: “Holy crap!” Juan José mirroring José Juan in a slyly obsessive way….
This was this revelation that forced me to post to The Perpetual Bird (a phrase taken from a poem by W. S. Merwin, by the way) and which, as I read on in Saer, I’ll be feverishly pondering … not a little like the narrator’s mental patients whose delusions make them see that everything is connected.