Yvette Siegert is a writer and translator based in New York. Her work has appeared in Aufgabe, Chelsea, Circumference, Guernica, The Literary Review, 6x6 and other places. She has taught at Columbia University, Baruch College, and the 92nd Street Y, and has edited for The New Yorker and the United Nations. For her translations of the collected works of Alejandra Pizarnik, published by New Directions and Ugly Duckling Presse, she received fellowships from PEN Heim/NYSCA and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Alaíde Foppa is a Guatemalan poet and activist who was famously disappeared in 1980. Her work has not appeared in English translation in North America, but is well-known and admired in Latin America and remains central to Central American poetry from the revolutionary period of the past few decades.
from Though It's Dark Already (1962)
from In Praise of My Body (1970)
from Words and Time (1979)
This cloudy sky with its hidden storm and foreshadowed rain is weighing on me; this still, heavy air that won't stir even the light jasmine leaves is drowning me; this waiting for what doesn't come tires me. I would like to be far away, where no one knows me, where I am new, like fresh grass; light, without the weight of dead days, free to take neglected paths to an open sky.
I. Lord, give me deep silence, a heavy veil over my gaze. This way I'll be a world closed off: a dark island; I'll dig painfully as into hard earth. After the bloodletting, my life agile and lucid, the trapped song will rush freely like a clear and sounding river. II. Lord, we're alone. It's me, facing you, An impossible dialogue. Your presence is solemn Before this reclusive love. I hear you calling But don't know how to answer. The love you planted Exists without direction Or repercussion, A buried seed Unable to reach The light of day. In my chest, you lit A somber fire. Lord, why not Burn me up If the only response I have for your love Is this quiet waiting?
At times, she feels like something left behind in a dark corner of the house, a fruit sucked dry by scavenging birds, a shadow without body, weightless, a presence that barely stirs the air. She feels that glances invade her, that she becomes a kind of fog in the clumsy arms that embrace her. She would like to be a ripe orange in a child's hand— instead of a hardening peel— a bright reflection in the mirror, instead of a fading shadow— not heavy silence, but a clear voice that someone heard once.
My life is displacement, with no return— a lost childhood, itinerant, with no home, an exile without homeland. My life sailed on a ship of nostalgia. I lived by the side of the sea, gazing out at the horizon. I thought of setting out toward a neglected home somewhere, but the trip I imagined led me to another port of call. Is love, then, the only harbor? —Arms that held me captive but gave no comfort, a cruel embrace I longed to escape from, and arms that pulled back, that I reached for, all for nothing. Endless flight, endless longing— love is no safe harbor. There is no promised land for my hopes, only a country made of ruined desire, a buried, ancient land that from far away seems a lost kind of paradise.
It's practically an appendage to the face's serene geometry, the only line in a field of curves, the subtle instrument that connects me to the air. Simple smells, acrid ones, the dense scents of jasmine, anise: flaring, taking them all in.
Sweet serpentine tangles, the only reeds on the thin earth of my body— a fine wild grass that grows in step with springtime, a shadow wing against my temples, a light coat for my neck. A crest, for this nostalgia of birds.
They say it's the size of a tight fist. Small, then, but large enough to set all this in motion— a laborer who works well, though he longs for rest, and an inmate who waits vaguely to escape.
I. A childhood nursed on silence, youth built from departures, a life that produces absence. It's only from words that I expect a total presence. II. I expect nearly everything from words without even knowing what they promise what they deny me what lies beyond their attending echo. I don't know whether they come from my lips or if someone else is dictating them in a mute language I will not parse. III. Do I hide in words to cover my nakedness? Or is it that they undress me layer by layer, until they reach the last concealing veil. IV. I fear words: their scratches hurt the newborn thing. I fear they'll wreck untouched feeling. This tough rind of poetry, this rough mask on its lucid face— oh, but to be able to turn into music, and to tear the air open, effortlessly. V. Why do I write? Because I'm alone and my own voice would frighten me? Because I wake up from a confusing dream I don't remember? Or is it simply because I find a blank page and have a knot in my throat. VI. All my life in search of words— suitable ones, sincere new forgotten clean— to tell, without telling, a secret that hurts you, to let the wound bleed, to let it comfort for not doing what can't be done. VII. Poets are usually speaking to someone. They address the multitude, bearing a brilliant sword or holding out a staff. They sing sweetly to men at war, or tell of dazzling landscapes that disarm us. Garlands are cast in their path. But up in my hidden nest, I treat poetry like witchcraft, like a secret, like forbidden fruit. VIII. Poetry at night— almost wordless. Where does it come from? Why does it linger here, the night its indecipherable language. XIII. I would like to say everything with just a few every-day words, and would like for the act of saying apple to make the air vibrate with fresh colors tangy flavors elegant ratios memories symbols. But do we even need the word if the apple exists? XV. It's not the words that speak: they say very little, they deceive. But maybe now and then a hidden voice will whisper behind the words we know, and take us by surprise. XVIII. Perhaps all I'd need is a single word for opening the window wide, a keyword, a key to admit you into silence. If I can't find it, I would rather remain locked up. XXVI. I will not lose this salt grain this seed this spark of sun this exotic germ this gold dust between my fingers this nostalgia for what's never been this hidden shoot this word that an unfamiliar hand is trying to write, this hand, that maybe, this time, is my own.
Day I. I would like some release from hope in the calm pool of this bit of sun cupped in my hand. I would like to live a single day without its tomorrow. II. Tomorrow will be better: a day as yet untouched by shadows, and with me willing to accept it whole. III. I did not do what I meant to do today, and this deficit increases daily. Night I. Is time a forgetting, or the dim memory of a story left unfinished? Is it loss or is it the sediment not dredged up by a murky river? Time warps its own fabric to fray itself daily; it devours patiently, consumes desire, slowly exhausts all hope. If someday you obtain what you have longed for, time will already have worn it out relentlessly, and all that will be left is the disenchanted meeting between a dream ravished by time and something it's merely weakened. II. Time means waiting for an unlikely future or for an established date that comes and goes and in turn gives rise to more waiting. III. You say it's late. Why? You say it's late. For what? Time isn't measured by the sun or taken by the wind. See how your hands waste it without thinking. XI. We live in forgetting, and it's not just about keys a scarf a letter a meeting, it also means secrets, and that the past is lost, inadvertently. XV. Something has fallen from my hand, and I don't want to glance back to look for signs of what I couldn't hold onto.