Horacio Talvez, from La Puerta / The Door

Translated from the Spanish by Brandon Holmquest

oracio Talvez was born in 1991 in the tourist town of Chapala, Mexico. At the age of ten his parents, hoping to spare their son from a life spent in the service of tourists, sent him to live with a maternal aunt and her husband in Queens, New York. The husband left some years ago, leaving Horacio and his aunt to fend for themselves.

I first met him shortly after I moved into the building where he and his aunt have lived for several years. I was in the courtyard smoking, reading a bilingual edition of Cesár Vallejo, when this dark-haired kid, very Indian looking, with one little wiry hair sticking out of his chin bummed a cigarette off me. I noticed him giving my book the once-over while I rolled his cigarette, but he said nothing but, "Got a light?" I gave that too him too and he left. He bummed cigarettes off of me pretty steadily for most of the next year, always ogling whatever book I had with me, never saying anything. It was kind of like trying to befriend a feral cat, the only way to go is to act like what happens is totally up to the cat.

About a month ago Horacio finally sat down and smoked with me. It was a Luis Cernuda book that finally did it. He talked around things for a while before asking if he could borrow it. Naturally, I gave it to him. A few days later he returned it to me in the courtyard, bummed another cigarette, and we fell to talking, about Cernuda and Mexico, New York and poetry. He asked if I had any books by Frank O'Hara. I loaned him my copy of O'Hara's collected poems and he's been treating my apartment like his personal lending library ever since, which I don't mind since he is a very considerate borrower.

I tried to act suitably surprised when Horacio finally announced that he was a poet, that he wrote in Spanish.. Oh really, well that's cool, I never would have guessed. I had already told him that I was a translator, of course. I said I'd really like to read some of his work. It was obvious that he really liked hearing his poems referred to as "his work." The next day there was a envelope wedged under my door when I got home from work.

I can't say that I really expected much from Horacio's poems. I sat down to read them with my after-work coffee in a courtyard where his absence was conspicuous. There were ten of them, from a series entitled La Puerta (The Door) which Horacio considers to be a work in progress. They deal with his earliest memories of himself and his parents. They were pretty damn good poems, especially considering that he wrote them at the ripe old age of 17. I made translations of them and printed them off, gave them to Horacio a day or two later. When he read them over, I could see him studying my English versions, nodding his head. When I asked him what he thought he said that it was interesting. In English the poems were different but the same, and if they were the same they'd be different. We talked about translation for a long time and I gave him a couple of poems of mine to work up into Spanish. I told him I'd be willing to put his poems up on the Calque website. He started fussing. Maybe, he said, maybe, he'd have to think about it. I pressed him and he finally agreed. But only number one and number five, he said, I'm not sure if the others are good or maybe they're not done yet.

primer recuerdo un coche
grande y largo y verde
se mueve por el lado de un lago
dije a mís padres que una vez
era en el lago una ballena
con una isla en su techo y un día
la ballena se bajaba para buscar
lo que se comen las ballenas
supongo peces y la isla fue
inundado y toda la gente
se ahogaron y mi madre dijo no
¿ves tú allí donde hay esas casas
y esos coches y árboles?
esa es la isla
pero mi madre se equivocó
era una penísula


first memory a car
large and long and green
moves alongside a lake
I say to my parents that once
there was a whale in that lake
with an island on its back and one day
the whale dove down to look for
whatever whales eat
fish I suppose and the island
was flooded and all the people
drowned and my mother says no
see there those houses
and those trees and those cars
that's the island
but my mother was wrong
it was a peninsula

en el garaje junto al coche
en un short y sin camisa
con un refresco al lado
de sus pies descalzados
ferozmente despellejando
a una ardilla
el cuchillo más grande del mundo


in the garage next to the car
in shorts and no shirt
with a soda beside
his shoeless feet
fiercely skinning
a squirrel
the biggest knife in the world

"KLEE" by Ida Vitale

Translated from the Spanish by
George Economou and Luis Cortest

Ida Vitale D'Amico was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1923. In 1942 she entered the Law School of the University of the Republic in Montevideo and later studied at its School of Humanities. She co-edited the literary review Clinamen from 1947 to 1948. She married the critic Angel Rama in 1950, and since 1964 she has been married to the poet Enrique Fierro. She was Professor of Literature at the university in Montevideo from 1956 until 1973, when the military dictatorship forced her and many other intellectuals and artists into exile. In addition to writing poetry, which is noted for being the least autobiographical of her Uruguayan contemporaries, she also translates from several languages. Vitale lived in Mexico from 1974 to 1984, where she was befriended by Octavio Paz, Alvaro Mutis, and other Mexican writers. Since 1990 she divides her time between Montevideo, Austin, Texas, and Mexico.

A brief note on the poem: [Der] Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) is the name (after the title of a painting by Wassily Kandinsky) of a loose association of German Expressionist artists that included Paul Klee and Kandinsky which had major exhibitions in Munich in 1911 and 1913. Die Blaue Vier refers to a group of four artists, including Klee, with ties to Blaue Reiter, which showed in Germany and New York City in the early 1920s.

• • •

KLEE — En clave de infancia mítica, la escala de colores de Klee parte como una nave del crepúsculo. La máquina de gorjear abre la frontera hacia el país fértil y el mundo clarea. ¿Nacerá cuadro y otra cosa? ¿Cristal o sangre? Todo es todo. Las flechas no fatídicas, avanzan lealmente en su espacio. Los laberintos juegan a la libertad. Las ciudades se despliegan en el horizonte. La geometría de Klee es no euclidiana. Reclama el derecho a ser tan móvil como la naturaleza. Del Blauer Reiter al Blaue Vier, su pintura se "forma" y podrá ser "Estrella, Vaso, Planta, Animal, Cabeza u Hombre". Nunca un trazo feliz requirió explicacion. Klee no quiere dar el hombre tal cual es sino el que pordría ser, en otras estrellas, por ejemplo. Klee -esclerosis de la piel- se muere poco a poco, extrañamente, pero danza en sus pinturas, en sus grabados, danza de los afligidos, danza de falena, trocado en árboles rítmicos, en el templo de la aspiración "hacia allá". Al final, cuando la mano no responda, danzará con la espátula. La música lo ha acompañado desde siempre. La música es su otro enclave.


KLEE — In the key of infancy's myth, Klee's scale of colors furrows like a ship through dusk's daze. The warbling machine opens a frontier on a fertile land and lights up the world. What will be born? A painting? Something else? Crystal? Or blood? Totality. Arrows unforeordained seek their space in good faith. Labyrinths play freely. On the horizon cities unfold. Non-Euclidian Klee's geometry is. It claims the right to be as fluent as nature. From Blaue Reiter to Die Blaue Vier, his painting takes "form" and can be "Star, Glass, Plant, Animal, Head or Man". Never does a single happy trace demand interpretation. Klee does not care to show man as he is but as he might be, for example, on other stars. Klee--skleerosis of his skin--dies bit by bit, strangely, but he still dances in his paintings, in his prints; the dance of the afflicted, the dance of the geometrid, transmuting in rhythmic trees, in the temple of aspiration "over there." In the end, when his hand fails to respond, he will dance with the palette knife. Music has always accompanied him. Music is the other key that unlocks him.

• • •

Luis Cortest is Associate Professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics at the University of Oklahoma.

George Economou taught English and Creative Writing at the University of Oklahoma from 1983 to 2000.