“There’s a lot of waiting in the drama of experience.” 
                                                     Lyn Hejinian, Oxota 

No signal from the interface except for a frozen half-bitten fruit. 
Other than that, no logos. An hour is spent explaining 

to the group what I’ve forgotten, to do with the mistranslation 
of a verb that means driftingbut can imply deviance.

The next hour goes by trying to remember, in the back of my mind, 
the name of the artist who makes paintings on inkjets.      

Why I’d think of him escapes me. Now my gaze circles the yoga bun 
of the tall woman in front of me. I didn’t pay $20 to contemplate 

the back of her head. It’s killing me. The pillars and plaster 
saints with their tonsures floating amid electronic sound waves. 

At such volume they could crumble. The virgin safe in a dimly lit 
niche as the tapping on my skull and the clamor of bones or killer 

bees assaults the repurposed church. This is what I sought, while 
in another recess I keep hearing Violeta’s “Volver a los diecisiete” 

and seventeen-year-olds marching against the nonsense of arming 
teachers. If I were an instrument. A bassoon. In the source language

we don’t say “spread the word.” Pasa la voz is our idiom, easily 
mistaken for a fleeting voice. From the back row all I see is fingers 

gliding in sync with her vocalizations. How fitting a last name 
like halo. Lucky for us here time is measure and inexplicable 

substance. That’s when I decide to stop fighting the city. Use it in my 
favor. Speak to strangers. Demolish the construct in the performance.

More by Mónica de la Torre

Demolition Derby

                  Sonya's so good that all the guys 
pick on her, so the evening's narrative goes. I've heard she wears 
yellow t-shirts each time to match her hair. Last time her tennis 
shoes got so dusty that she had to throw them out because there 
was no way on earth that they could be white again. 
                  Trunks shrink like deflated accor-
dions, like melodramatic arguments after they've met face to 
face with someone's indifference. A baby cries and pouts 
while her mother is trying to scoop more Velveta on to her 
nacho. The father is strung out on something, someone in 
back of us says. A teenager with severe acne turns around 
and fires a dart full of cavities into my gaze. We give in to the 
pleasure of destruction for the sheer sake of waste. What 
inside, the collision, the jerk on the nape that makes the 
driver wonder whether this one's it. Swallow me dust while 
the crowd cheers and claps its French fries away into the 
space between a nearby neon and the floodlights gathering 
an army of many sized moths.

The Script

I.
You thought this would be 
a dance lesson,
things were easier then.
No marimbas, no clarinets;
only a longing for the fun
to begin.
Rain came down.
Nothing seems as remote
as the days you didn't 
have to think about it:
always already there,
gushing out. Control
was required to stop ideas 
from overflowing. 
You did your job well, 
you killed them as one kills Easter 
baby chickens. 

II.
Rasputin was on the lookout.
Magdalene had multipurpose hair:
Kumernis had it in stocks 
where and when she needed it,
on her beard especially. Anything 
to keep the Barbarians away
will do. Chopped noses, 
rotten chicken stuffed in corsets. 
We were told that the demons 
would come out in Maine. 
They hate recollections and certainty. 
Their favorite verb is sabotage. 

III.
Rasputin helps one to recognize inspiration; but, oh, what 
   could imagination be?

To retrieve, to plunder, to forge.

To be bored. 

To rip kites so they may stay on the ground.

To forget jokes and misunderstand common sense. 

To sit for four hours without getting up. 

To count words and people and only remember their 
   numbers. 

To listen closely to what loons could be trying to say.

To permutate dots so that lines are never identical to 
   each other.

To return to known places and act always the same, 
   thus the slightest change might become apparent. 

To force things to happen.  

To pretend there's meaning when all that comes out is a 
   "My dog loves me and he's no showboat."

To think there's nothing to say. 

To leap from canopy to can openers to can open her.

You've begun, now use your props.

On Translation

Not to search for meaning, but to reedify a gesture, an intent.

As a translator, one grows attached to originals. Seldom are choices 
   so purposeful.

At midday, the translator meets with the poet at a café at the intersection 
   where for decades whores and cross-dressers have lined up at 
   night for passers-by to peruse.  

Not a monologue, but an implied conversation. The translator's 
   response is delayed. 

The translator asks, the poet answers unrestrictedly. Someone 
   watches the hand movements that punctuate the flow of an 
   incomprehensible dialogue.

They're speaking about the poet's disillusionment with Freud. 

One after another, vivid descriptions of the poet's dreams begin to 
   pour out of his mouth. There's no signal of irony in his voice. 
   Nor a hint of astonishment, nor a suggestion of hidden meanings,
   rather a belief in the detritus theory.

"Se me aparece un gato fosforescente. Lo sostengo en mis brazos 
   sabiendo que no volveré a ser el mismo." 

"Estoy en una fiesta. De pronto veo que el diablo está sentado frente 
   a mí. Viste de negro, lleva una barba puntiaguda y un tridente en 
   la mano izquierda. Es tan amable que nadie se da cuenta de que 
   no es un invitado como los otros." 

"Anuncian en el radio que Octavio Paz leerá su poema más reciente:
   'Vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . . vaca . . .'"

"Entro a un laboratorio y percibo aromas inusitados. Aún los recuerdo." 


The translator knows that nothing the poet has ever said or written 
   reveals as much about him as the expression on his face when he 
   was asked to pose for a picture. He greets posterity with a devilish 
   grin. To the translator's delight, he's forced to repeat the gesture at 
   least three or four times. The camera has no film. 

Related Poems

On Sundays

On Sundays we composed our own music.

Tapped a nickel against a mailbox,
pounded the wall with the heel of our
palms, and sought a demo-type sound.

Sundays were the sound of a tobacco patch crashing on the tip
           of a boot.
The nimbus of gospel & game rejoicing at the feet of laughter
            & loot.

Saint Martin held us down in word if not in deed.
Santa Barbara held us down in word if not in need.
San Lazaro held us down in pocket if not in feed.

On Sundays, number slips trickled from Maxi’s
sleeves, & dream books slept on discount racks.

Sundays were for our best clothes, which meant that every day
          was Sunday.

Two birds sat on a crucifix, and grandma’s church
hat was damn near auctioned at the Player’s Ball.

Sundays were for sonnets & aunties, bonnets & Bibles, a
          mourning dove nesting near your window guard, a rumor
          upgraded to libel, making babies to a faint chirp & being
          late to your Confirmation.
 
Everything damn near legal was damn near closed on Sunday.

On Sundays, we had to give up a piece of our burning.

August Morning, Upper Broadway

As the body of the beloved is a window
through which we behold the blackness and vastness of space
pulsing with stars, and as the man

on the corner with his fruit stand is a window,
and the cherries, blackberries, raspberries
avocados and carrots are a rose window

like the one in Chartres, yes, or the one in Paris
through which light floods from the other world, the pure one
stabbing tourists with malicious abundant joy

though the man is tired in the summer heat
and reads his newspaper listlessly, without passion
and people pass his stand buying nothing

let us call this scene a window looking out
not at a paradise but as a paradise
might be, if we had eyes to see

the women in their swaying dresses, the season’s fruit
the babies in their strollers infinitely soft: clear window
after clear window

City That Does Not Sleep

In the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the street corner
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the stars.

Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.

Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead dahlias.
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.

One day
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the eyes of cows.

Another day
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes are waiting,
where the bear's teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.

Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.

No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the night,
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.