One of the most intrepid translators of the mercurial Roberto Juarroz is my friend Mary Crow, whose selection of Juarroz’s late poetry was recently released by White Pine Press as Vertical Poetry: Last Poems. (Just an aside: White Pine Press is surely one of the country’s great literary publishers, and yet it seems quite a bit lesser known than Copper Canyon, Graywolf, or Milkweed. I can’t figure out why.) As with Juarroz’s more aphoristic fellow Argentine Antonio Porchia, I can read only two to three Juarroz poems at a time: they are light on the surface and darkly complex as you go deeper into their implications; in fact, they can keep you up at night! Here are two examples (all of Juarroz’s poems are untitled):
We die from being alive.
The more alive, the more we die.
No one dies from being dead.
Therefore, some people,
in order not to die,
prefer to be dead.
Thus two opposite stories are written:
some biographical chronicles,
innumerable necrographical notes
with a few jottings about what is alive.
The apparent monolithic relationship
between lives and deaths
becomes a patio of mosaics then
with many capricious drawings.
And in that patio a child is playing
who doesn’t even look at the drawings.
The answers have all been used up.
Perhaps they never existed
and were only mirrors
face to face with emptiness.
But now the questions have also been used up.
The mirrors have broken,
even those that reflected nothing.
And there’s no way to fix them.
perhaps a question remains somewhere.
Silence is also a question.
A mirror remains that can’t be broken
because it faces nothing,
because it’s inside everything.
We’ve found a question.
Can silence also be an answer?
Perhaps a certain heights
questions and answers are exactly the same.
[Mary translates this one, but I thought I’d offer a somewhat different angle on it, just for fun. For Mary’s excellent version—buy the book!]
Today thinking pains me,
my writing hand pains me,
I’m pained by the word I said yesterday
and by the word I didn’t say,
the world pains me.
There are days like spaces designed
to make everything ache.
Only god doesn’t pain me today.
Is it because today doesn’t exist?