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Archaeologies

by Pedro Serrano
Translated from Spanish by
Katherine Silver
Issue 23 Online Exclusive

1

Like a latent and buried blow,
like relentless grief,
like a bell that was its own endless echo,
its prophecy, the lazy density of secrecy and finality,
the gentle fabric of the heart and its beating,
sorrow.

Life like a flight of stairs or an endless street with houses all the same,
repetitions, tiny variations on premonitions and despondencies,
loom and swarm,
pulsating sac or hive.

—It never rains there but it pours,
all that’s heard is jolts of fear, speed, hysteria,
the splashing of footsteps.

Everything drifts by, overflows, settles.
Very quietly pools, gathers weight:
the pinpoint pulsation of the soul, its splendor,
gold sediments, silage, that frenzy.
Here is the acrid taste of the species, its challenge and its craving,
a softness: its faltering, its duration.

2

Guilt seethes and grows, and like cancer
eats and softens everything,
subdues and subverts everything.

It grabs and devours acts, tact, fingers,
finely undermining its own lack of reason, its collective will, its doggedness.
If guilt were not what it is there would be no words,
only grunts and flavors,
the juice of fruits and uncooked meat,
hunger, longing, and drums,
the dread of death and survival.

But guilt leaves in its wake traces, art, and tools,
and is the plow that first breaks the durity,
the purity of the land,
its natural reverie, and takes from it
damp dark clumps, soil, sows
this sadness of the species,
this seed and this weave,
this turmoil and that tomb.

3

It’s just that to write now is to say things that are ever more bitter,
the stench and stagnation of things,
the filthy fermentation that corners us,
the muddy weight of so many solitary people,
violence and its very human flourish
a dog’s bite and blood,
the scorpion the following day.

It’s just that to write now is to start again amidst the stubble,
with nothing but these muted walls,
this whitewashed storehouse of longing
and so many voices behind us and so many blind.

Because to write now unleashes the dog,
unleashes the ox, unleashes death,
unleashes flesh and decay,
malediction and maladdiction.

4

Nothing sounds at night but the flat drone of falling time.
The pinpricked girdle of rain doesn’t blacken,
nor make the edges of the furrows shine.
The eager needles keep embroidering hunches and disappointments,
clumps of soil, night-blooming jasmine.
Because the breath rhythmically bathes the sweet wood and the scent of lavender,
bathes the house and its tenderness,
bathes peace and the orange tree and the almond tree.
It very softly kisses so many vines, so much life,
weaves skin as if it were a web of dreams and wind,
weaves life and its longing and the air that abates then settles,
weaves a touch of solitude into the stitches and backstitches,
and this barely breathing lung is made of a different silent fabric,
the warm down over the chest of a frozen bird,
a shriek never, ever to be heard,
only to settle into the dry throats of a thousand birds a thousand feet in the air.
Because night has fallen and everything in the world is adrift,
everything breathes so the world will rain tonight,
so the raw root won’t be chewed,
so the soil will split and contract,
so the clumps will break with longing,
so the black cycle of life will begin.

Author
The author of five books of poetry, Pedro Serrano has edited an anthology of contemporary Mexican poetry and translated William Shakespeare, Matthew Sweeney, and Edward Hirsch. His is a poetry of pessimism and exaltation, deeply personal though never confessional or abstract.
Translator
Katherine Silver has translated and published more than thirty books, mostly of Latin American literature, and her work has been honored by critical acclaim, awards, prizes, and other recognitions. Her most recent and forthcoming translations include works by María Sonia Cristoff, Julio Ramón Ribeyro, Juan Carlos Onetti, Julio Cortázar, Daniel Sada, Horacio Castellanos Moya, César Aira, and Pedro Lemebel. She was recently translator-in-residence at the University of Iowa, and is the former director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre.