EARTHY POEMS : Sergio Badilla Castillo: (Valparaiso, Chile 1947)

My Father's Ocean and the Ondinas

Opacity of mist against the clarity of day and the brigantines
Along the shore the sails of the top-masts rise up
Houses keep their limy white fašades
It's distance that diminishes our eye
that depreciates the ocean's closeness
because Malaysia exists no matter what and Indonesia
out there beyond the waves
and at the end of the world there's a port full of novice mermaids
the boundary the horizon enforces within the metal of the astrolabe
as if my father were to leave with his blue uniform water blue festival blue
and go down the jetty's gangways
Madagascar may be written wrong on the binnacle
the ancient letters of sailor's other alphabet the cause
or because it is one rung below the old rigging
Certainly before the white coral mountains
were everywhere
coral with its chalky places
after an infinity of bilious reef ruinous
like this anchorage of beached vessels
Harsh sands stripped bare
And nymphs ready to lend their rotundity
to a sailor's tangible lechery
We are from here from these rude bearings
A briny coast south of steep slopes
in the globe's indisputable confines The crew
gets drunk before setting sail
and these cracked boulders raise anchor too in the lunatic's
The Ondinas will return once more to show their white pubes
beneath the weight of strangers
Opacity of mist against the clarity of day and the seagulls
fight with the solan geese the brigantines once more hoist their riggings
and the limy exterior of the old homes hold on tight to their perfect white.

(Translated by Deborah Moore)

Second Gospel

I was born on the outskirts of Averno the year the plague spread
and from day one I could curse in an ancient tongue
to ward off the Almendral's darkness.
On the third day I rose to the Playa Ancha and they sat me
at my father's right hand
in the days when calamities were escalating on the docks.
Faced with the abyss I aspired to an endless penance
tucked in a shack up on a karst plateau or sheltered
in some desperado's cave on the coast.
Vivid are the nights of my Antichrist years
when I went down hopeless to the Chinese Quarter with its voids
and its depths like Faust and Mephisto.
Talking a crude criminal lingo
I dealt patiently with informers
birds of ill omen
and various bald and prostrate bards
who desired to accede to Paradise.
In my adventures with wastrels and whores
at Echaurren Square and on Cajilla
with ruffians soaked in vice and degradation
out of the mouths of hucksters and underdogs
I learned it all.
Several times I fell in love and discovered age doesn't matter
in fugitive animal couplings
kissing and blessing them from pubes to feet
groping their chasms whole nights with no
melancholy baggage.
On occasions I lose myself in the old days of the bay
and the shadows that speak of my Antichrist years...
all that is left now some nondescript whiskers
reflections of sterile redemption
somewhere in Valparaiso.

(Translated by Roger Hickin)


What melody was Hayashi Fusao singing
when the earth suddenly moved?
Drunk in his cottage
chirring like an aged winch
Was it honjozo-shu or the earthquake
that unchained his lunacy?
What does it matter!
I have lost sight of him
The insanity cramped his soul
and shattered his tongue
The time shaded his common sense
and Hayashi Fusao is silent now
his mind a night of absolute obscurity.


Undoubtedly before the walls
they were everywhere
with their disastrous faces
in that ruinous dwelling of unexpected angles.
Certainly they were there
with their calamitous presences
they were everywhere
for a final concert.

A gracious eagle

A young beggar pleaded me for mercy
pushing me closer to his misery
I wouldn't dare being replaced for a sorrow or a blossom.
It was full moon day of March and it was visibly in the air
then life exigency uttered its uniqueness
where the souls roam without end and cosmos is not alien
but quietness as inexplicable as a gracious eagle
flying openly in the glossy air.

Days of tempest

Wang Wei gets totally confused wondering about
what disturbing occurrence brings Li Yuan in his mind
if the tempest like a rat gnaws the Tang dynasty from the back.
The twirl resists with the ruggedness of silver grass beneath
a layer of chilly frost
and no excuses at all
when the disaster whips over Chanxi.
Hence he gets sad facing the leaves on a tamarind tree
tending to fall off as the empire.

Nevertheless Wang Wei is alive
so his mind is bursting of hypothesis
during these tempestuous days


And then unexpectedly as rockets falling over the
thousand bats plunging down from the treetops like
errant angels in a hollow mirage.
The fall is even as plummet
oppressive emptiness
imagined from below as pervading gap
But now I'm nowhere to be found to look upward.

Sergio Badilla Castillo (born November 30, 1947 in Valparaiso, Chile) is a Chilean poet and the founder of poetic transrealism in contemporary poetry. He is considered the Latin American poet with the broadest Nordic influence, from the Finnish poets, Edith Sodergran, Elmer Diktonius, Paavo Haavikko, Pentti Saarikoski and the Swedes Gunnar Ekelof, Tomas Transtromer and Lars Gustafsson.


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