By Gloria Macher
Translated by Karen I. Ocaña
1 Gloria Macher’s first poetry collection, published by Verbum in 2021, is entitled Desplazamientos. « Cuerpos Celestes » was the working title. The literal translation of Desplazamientos is Displacements.
2 A word-for-word translation renders Cuerpos Celestes as Celestial Bodies. These poems speak in many and varied ways to what it means to be embodied, psychologically and physically, and how this subjective and objective embodiment affects and modifies perception of other celestial bodies, eliciting all manner of emotion. These poems are inscribed at the fluctuating, overlapping and sometimes mystical hinge between physical existence and celestial being.
FOREWORD: TRANSLATING LIKE AN AUTHOR
To translate one has to understand, interpret and adapt a given text. This involves, necessarily and importantly, writing a new text. Translation involves authorship. Readers of successful translations are reading literature.
As an author, the translator understands the original work well enough to transpose its art, and create a new work of art.
The new text is composed of a whole new set of signs and sounds, a complete new set of rhythms, as well as a brand set of meanings. This new body of graphemes, phonemes, lexemes, —signs, sounds and significations has to work in creative and harmonious ways, preserving and renewing the vibrancy of what this new body is simulating.
Translating is simulating, not copying.
A translator simulates the effects of the original by means of many and varied linguistic and literary operations, which draw on the translator’s understanding of poetry and philology, as well as other fields of knowledge, allowing the new text to come alive in its new language context.
As a poet translating Spanish poetry, my aim is to write new poems in English. Seeing how this comes about, there are moments of doubt, moments when one feels like a failure and many moments of wonderment and jubilation when the results go beyond one’s expectations.
It’s important not to shy away from inventing, innovating and supplementing, since these procedures can be what it takes to produce desired literary effects that go a long way to delivering a poem rivaling the original. It’s not a matter of surpassing an original, it’s a matter of writing the poem the original was made to be.
My translation of ten poems selected from Gloria Macher’s manuscript, Cuerpos Celestes, includes footnotes to give the reader a sense of my translation process. The notes engage with, address and comment on a variety of moments, challenges, difficulties and joys: lexical, philological, artistic, emotional, traductological (and more). Hopefully, these notes, meditating as they do on the turning points in artistic production will give readers some idea of what went into the production of both Cuerpos Celestes, (published in 2021 as Desplazamientos) and Celestial Bodies. This is not the final word, just a glimpse, a foreword.
Listo a despegar
súper héroe de los cielos
palanca imbatible en mano
máscara de oxígeno caducada
regulador de respiración activado
Torre de control
jugando con el destino
noticia de última hora
muriéndome poco a poco
choco el cielo
los marchitos despojos que presionan
los cables de mi mente
desbordando de adrenalina funesta
en la inmensidad impotente del firmamento
como ustedes manden
ya es tarde
no puedo dar marcha atrás
sólo me resta lo poco de humano
que me queda
I’m ready for take off3
trusty lever in hand
second hand oxygen mask5
respiratory regulation activated
playing with destiny
the latest update:
I’m dying little by little
All systems go
I smash the sky
the wilting parasitic lianas7
oppressing the cables of my mind
in dangerous adrenaline overdrive
in the impotent immensity of the cosmos
as you’ve commanded
and it’s too late
I cannot turn back
can’t rip up the contract
all that remains of me
is a bit of humanity
3 In Spanish a first person narrative includes the personal pronoun in the verb: Listo. In English first person narrative there’s a separate pronoun, I, that subtly increases the visibility of the Lyric aspect, and sometimes amplifies the poem’s irony.
4 Celestial superhero rather than superhero of the sky, links to the collection’s title.
5 Second-hand for caducada rather than ‘expired’ balances the line’s rhythm, and adds poetic flair.
6 Stealth for furtive rather than ‘pirated’ (or something else) adds consonantal alliterative sparkle – stealth shield, in place of the Spanish text’s lovely assonantal vowel play – escudo furtivo.
7 A full-bodied poetic image – wilting parasitic lianas – plays up the lyrical charge of the hero’s crisis
8 The superhero’s cry for help underlines the poem’s ironic bite. Our heroes are so often victims of circumstance.
archivos potencialmente peligrosos
entorno de ejecución arriesgado
de tu ser
en un sistema inestable
abierto al colapso
a tu antojo
without a password
potentially malignant files10
risky execution of commands
of your being
in an unstable system
open to collapse
at your pleasure11
9 Weighing a literal translation for the first line and more figurative options, such as I’m suffocating or I’m floundering, I settled on flounder, as it also alludes to fumbling, which one does, when one cannot find or doesn’t remember, a password!
10 I toyed with various solutions to archivos peligrosos but quickly went to malignant files because of the way the poem draws a playful analogy between the organic and digital worlds and the risk of dangerous takeovers or infections. I considered infectious for peligroso but settled on malignant, a good fit that addresses both organic and digital risk, as in malignant tumour and malware.
11 A tu antojo is a delightful Spanish phrase, with no literal English equivalent. You choose between a pragmatic and functional phrase, “at your orders”, or the suggestive “at your pleasure,” since a literal translation means “that what is before your eyes… or before your glasses…”. Pleasure wins the day, though understood with dramatic irony.
12 The poem’s lyricism is not about repeating or copying the same old same old ideas but about adapting old blues to new blueskins, so to speak. Gloria Macher’s poem Baby Blues deals with and articulates a very real ethical situation –the quandary and choice of abortion– using today’s aesthetic metaphors. Living in a digital world doesn’t necessarily help us deal with the pain and terror of our organic bodies. It may even accentuate our organic distress. Here at least, this poem understands it with a new lyrical language that adds much needed levity through its dramatic intensity and age-old irony.
La oscuridad infinita
obsede mis pensamientos
en velocidades inexploradas
en este espacio vestido de estrellas
escondidas entre las islas del universo
donde habitan los grandes silencios
entre millones de miles de años luces
olvidados en un pasado entreabierto
jugando con los múltiples secretos
entre tus labios entreabiertos
de sol y locura
entre tu mirada confusa
a 20 millares de kilómetros
de toda emoción
de todo amor
obsesses my mind13
moving at unknown velocities
in this space bedecked in stars14
hidden in the interstices of the universe
where vast silences dwell
lost in a half-remembered past
amid thousands of millions of light years16
toying with the many secrets
between your half-open lips
crazy with sunlight17
within your bedazzled
20 million kilometres
from all emotion
from all love
13 The poem’s first two lines launch this meditation on space travel into orbit, and the five stanzas that follow are clauses modifying and speculating on the initial thought.
14 Vestido de estrellas posed a challenge, which I momentarily solved with “star-spangled” but space is not an American property. ‘Dressed’ is too plain. To add romance I reached for a more traditional English lyric formula found in decking something out: a hall. Why not the sky for that matter?
15 Perturbation is a concept at home in both Spanish and English. But when a thing is perturbing and also changing, and when it’s hidden in the interstices of the universe, and also linked to erotic images of half-open lips and confused gazes, well, I call it subversive (in the best possible way).
16 My joy here, using executive authorial impulses, also known as hunches and instincts, was to hijack Gloria’s use of entre, meaning between things, which beautifully functions in her poem as anaphora, and play with the notion of ‘inbetweenicity;’ Between doesn’t always work where entre does. Sometimes you need within or amid. But sometimes you can couple lost with half-remembered for olvidados (forgotten) and arrive between.
17 De sol y locura: crazy with sunlight. Poetic license!
Adagio en la Mont-Royal
Tengo una jungla de sueños
en un corazón malogrado
encendido de pachuli
de amapolas obstruidas
combate en la puerta de salida
el helado Bilboquet derretido
para las libélulas danzantes
minúsculas notas teñidas
con grafitis de miel ocre carmín
los grillos no paran de cantar
agitándose en espirales de vida
ignorando la cadencia fracturada y los
ruidos de carros de la Avenida Mont-Royal
Sinfonía arrítmica de un bossa nova escondido
notas efímeras de besos clandestinos
desaparezco en un suspiro
y vuelvo caprichosamente
Lo que se fue sin permiso
Lo que regresa
Así no más
ADAGIO ON MONT ROYAL18
There’s a jungle of dreams
in my imperfect heart19
lit up by patchouli
with channels overflowing
jammed by poppies20
crashing the exit gates
just to finish
this melting Bilboquet ice cream cone.
for dancing dragonflies
tiny tinted notes21
graffitied with honey ochre carmine
the crickets keep on chirping
fluttering in lively spirals
oblivious to the fractured cadences and
clamoring traffic of Mont Royal Avenue
Arrhythmic symphony of hidden bossa nova22
ephemeral notes of clandestine kisses
I disappear into a rustle23
and reappear surreptitiously
What absconded without asking24
Just like that.
18 This powerful poem is so easy to love. So beautiful. Yet there’s a hint in line 2 that it’s actually based on a serious organic malfunction, an event that leads to this display of lyricism. Otherwise you’d hardly know, unless you have perhaps been overcome by something similar.
19 Malogrado is such a meaty Spanish word. I was torn between ill-fated and other options.
20 Using the double Ps of poppies, I went with jamming, with its double Ms.
21 Tiny tinted notes, is just a godsend to solve the beauty of minúsculas notas teñidas.
22 This incredible lilting phrase left me flat-footed. I preferred a literal translation, hoping I could make up the music further down.
23 The chance came with the mellifluous desparezco en un suspiro, initiating a series of alliterations in English on U: rustle, surreptitious, returns.
24 Most of the challenges in this translation were of a sonorous and rhythmical kind rather than lexical. ‘Absconded’ was a nice find to balance ask. I worked to amp up assonance and resonance proper to the musical cadences and texture of this Adagio, a poem that defies ordinary logic. But its lyricism has an ironclad logic of its own.
No sé qué
Cuando te muestro
lo que escondí
en el agujero
tejido de historia
me da un no sé qué
no sé qué
al ver que las alegrías
no hablan de ti
When I show you
what I’ve hid
in my secret place26
woven of stories
I get a rush27
a curious twinge28
to see that my joys
never talk about you29
25 Curious is the last of many ideas I had for the title of this poem since the Spanish title, No sé qué, literally means “I don’t know what.” But the way the phrase operates in the poem, the sense of it is “a feeling like I don’t know,” and it leaves the reader with a feeling of wanting to know, which is weird, strange and uncanny, all rolled into one. So the unknowable title became Curious. And it works, but it sure would be nice to have a je ne sais quoi in our English lexicon.
26 I went for a figurative read of agujero because ‘secret place’ works better in English, I think, than the literal ‘hole.’ I don’t know, maybe it’s a generational thing. When I think of Hole, I think of Courtney Love and punk music. Maybe that would be okay, and maybe I’m wrong, but ya gotta take your chances and make your choices.
27 This is one of the places where the expression “un no sé qué” appeared, but in this instance I did not use curious. It seemed better to say a rush (of nostalgia), because it’s more economic and probably more expressive of what it feels like to be overcome when unearthing a piece of history from a secret place.
28 Here with un no sé qué de pena, the phrase ‘a curious twinge of sadness’ works well.
29 ‘Never talk about you’ is the more elegant phrase, as compared with Don’t talk about you. This elegant poem embodies a mystery with intensity and sadness. The economy of the language and emotion are typical of many poems from Cuerpos Celestes.
Elegía a la muerte #1
Entre la distancia de lo dicho y no dicho
entre el café no tomado y las historias no contadas
se pasean mis penas desamparadas
sepultadas en el desierto
de las tristes alegrías
Los vientos morados
cubren tu rostro
postrado en los miles recuerdos
que nunca abandonaré
La sinfonía de ruidos inertes
en la cuál caíste ave libre, voladora, de miles colores y bailes
se eclipsa para siempre
en el frío de tu calor eterno
Las plantas lloran el agua cargada de tu olor fresco de mar
Los muebles la falta de tu cuerpo avivado por el sol
Y yo, la compañía de tu ausencia
ELEGY TO DEATH #130
Between what we say and do not say
between an unfinished coffee and untold stories
my homeless sorrows saunter31
hidden in the dunes32
of joyful sorrows
veil your face
overcast by a thousand memories
I will never relinquish
The symphony of static noises
into which you, oh free, multi-coloured, dancing, flying bird, slipped
into the icebox of your eternal fire
Your plants weep the moisture you bring fresh from the sea33
Your furniture the weight of your body enlivened by the sun
And I, the absence of your company
30 A more traditional poet might have written a sonnet on this theme, but Gloria Macher’s strength is free verse. Her compilation contains two such elegies to death, one more confrontational, evidently aimed at an enemy, and this one of sorrow at a friend’s passing.
31 There was a rich choice of synonyms to select from in translating desamparadas: helpless, defenceless, abandoned, unsheltered, since amparo signifies refuge. Homeless struck me as the apt choice since the sorrows, homeless, are wandering…
32 For sepultadas en el desierto I opted for a more concrete, albeit figurative, image: hidden in the dunes, but ‘buried in the desert’ might also have worked.
33 This line had me stumped for a bit. I managed to make sense of it… the clue being in the two paradoxical statements that follow, giving this poem a mystical finale, with its flavour of medieval love poetry in the tradition of the Troubadours, or trovadores. Some argue that medieval love poetry imported this style from the Middle East via Arabic ghazals, originally from Persia. If you have read any ghazals, you will see why. But, the Bible’s Song of Songs is another rich source of such mystical lyricism!
en los timbales alucinógenos
anzuelo en un potaje eléctrico improvisado
con tempo divino de embrujo
Al son de un hervidor de agua desatendido
saltos de piel
cambios de mano
pulsación de un bloque unido
en un solo gigante de explosión
Mientras que el café se echa a perder
Tu y yo en un día de lluvia con sol
caramelized trumpet blast
lure of an impromptu electric jam session
tempo bewitchingly otherworldly35
To the sound of a neglected kettle36
deking you out38
a furious adagio
pulsating in unison
in one uncontrollable
While the coffee gets wasted39
You and me, on a day of sunshine and showers40
34 Hot Coffee plays with jazz concepts, African rhythms. It dances, it’s entrancing and sensuous, erotic. Playful. “I enter” cannot match the elegance of Entro, but the idea is to write a new poem that works, and to stop looking back.
35 The expression “fusión con”, the ratatat of it, gets lost in translation.
36 Let me say that I just love this line!
37 Arrebatarse is the self-reflexive form of arrebatar, meaning to seize or wrench away, to carry off… like a bird of prey would, to prey on, pry away from. In the reflexive it means to get carried away, excited, out of control. I pounce seizes and works very well setting up the scene of furious erotic adagio.
38 The term cambios de mano belongs to sports, principally basketball, where you fake somebody out, feinting to the left, only to throw or kick the ball to the right. Deking it is.
39 Nice little pun here.
40 It’s not just because I love hot coffee that I chose to translate this poem, but I found that it lent itself well to creating a very fun English rendition, full of vivacity and word play.
Camino sin llegar
solo para verte
por la cerradura
de tu cuarto
de un tiempo
de olor estancado
de gotas diluida
en un pasado
STUCK IN TIME41
I’m on an endless path
just to see you
through the keyhole
of your open
of diluted drops43
along yesterday’s path of44
41 Camino means both “I walk” and “Pathway”. I tried both as titles, but switched to a less obvious solution based on clues in the poem. Stuck in Time, describes what happens in the poem. It’s more suggestive than Travelling on the Spot, and sums up the essence.
42 Confronted with choosing between watch or clock, I decided on neither. Timepiece does the trick. And forgotten timepiece has that elusive mathematical feel that this Borgesian poem does so well.
43 The Trail of Diluted Drops: now there’s a title for a short story. Such suspense!
44 Here’s the rub: We have a trail of desiccated drops in a past of desiccated vines or creepers. See my problem? In English you need to repeat the image of the trail. And by repeating it, the image is intensified and doubled, producing yet another Borgesian effect.
Las barcas llaman a las olas
de tu vida
para impulsarse hacia la boca del cielo
Día tras día
o con rumbo
me da igual
regresar a tus brazos
cuando la marea suba
y las gaviotas vuelen
en el mar
de tu ser
The boats call to the waves
of your life
vying to reach the celestial mouth
I long for
Day after day
in one direction
I don’t care
My only desire
to return to your embrace
when the tides come in
and the seagulls fly home
I shall bathe
in the ocean
of your being
45 Returning, one returns home. Hence: Homecoming. A suitable title for a deceptively simple and very satisfying poem of lyrical longing.
Voy a juntar
estos dos abismos
islas de venenos
I will fuse
these two abysses,
 This final poem in Gloria Macher’s compilation, Celestial Bodies, is reminiscent of Baudelaire, insofar as it delivers an apology (so to speak) for artistic creation as a space and form – honeyed necklaces, poison islands – where our displaced passions find an outlet. Abysses. The vertiginous spaces of literature. There are two parts, two abysses, conjoined to form Celestial Bodies. Part I is Constelaciones Oprimidas. Part II is Nebulosas Errantes. Much remains to be written.
Striving to translate like an author makes you realize how difficult it is to write well, to compose adequately, to strive for and achieve the coherence, the elegance, the economy, the ardour and generosity that make us want to read poetry. And what beauty awaits those who persevere.
Translating ten poems from Gloria Macher’s manuscript Cuerpos Celestes makes me eager to continue the task I have begun.
It has been an extremely gratifying experience, though not without all kinds of challenges, turning points, quibbles and doubts. The process of writing a work again just makes you appreciate the original work more. Translation does not erase original authorship: it multiplies it. A work in translation experiences an afterlife.
My heartfelt thanks go to ellipse magazine and its wonderful editorial staff for providing this opportunity to reflect on the translation process and to collect the insights alongside the work-in-progress as a sort of illumination on what choices we consciously and intuitively make in bringing poetry into a new phase of its literary trajectory.