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Uruguay: Don’t Look Away
For many of the people reading this website, the three best-known poets from Uruguay might be Comte de Lautréamont (born Isador Lucien Ducasse in Montevideo, 1846), Jules Supervielle (born in Montevideo in 1884), and Kent Johnson (lived in Montevideo 1961-1971 and in 1978), three men who gained renown after leaving Uruguay and writing in languages other than Spanish.
Kent Johnson as a youth in Montevideo
But women figure prominently among Uruguay’s great poets, from Delmira Agustini to Juana de Ibarbourou to Ida Vitale who is still writing. Unfortunately, there have been very few English translations of their work. A young poet, critic, and translator, S. M. Stone, is changing that by translating what will be the only full-length English collection of a Spanish-language Uruguayan poet.
S. M. Stone
Below, you can find selections of Stone’s translation of El lodo de la estirpe (Artefacto, 2005)/Mud of Lineage by Melisa Machado, a young poet, journalist, and art critic born in Durazno and living in Montevideo). For publication here, I’ve made cuts in the long poem, damaging its texture (but hopefully whetting your appetite for more). If you want to see the poem in Spanish or the rest of the translation, I’ve provided links to Machado’s blog and Stone’s contact information.
I would row with you brother,
turn toward you without dead or apples.
With a child’s fingers and crumbs of bread
I’d dump your body on soft dirt.
There’d be no wave of stone,
only your skin luminous as a dog’s back
and its brilliant wet shining jaws.
The moss of my breath would grow springy
threads at your feet,
thick tapestry for your Adam’s apple.
I’ll cover my feet with oil,
strip myself of ornaments.
Are you astonished by my smooth body,
my crowded heart?
And when you untie the strings,
you’ll see lying at my feet the cutest pet:
bowls to dip your fingers in.
He was imperially macho
and to each ass cheek would give a little dimple,
his ferocious teeth breaking bra straps
“The better to eat you with,” he said.
—The courtship was elegant, decadent—
Hands grabbed at languid,
And if it didn’t seem like much, so what?
Like newly bathed puppies
my petticoats lifted by the water.
“Beautiful Lucifer with reins on,
mother of cruel cubs.
These are your limited goods:
words of sand,
scratches from a feather.
You’ll eat sour bread now,
drink salty wind.
Without water to calm your thirst,
or a stone to cradle.”
We kept the salt from your eyes in amphoras,
set them in a safe place.
We aged liquids spilled for the family,
worthy substances like milk,
and even semen.
Nothing foul-smelling, nothing that would stain our stock.
Vessels with exquisite nectars, honeys and familiar oils.
Wineskins full of sweat, collected on unrepeatable occasions:
incest, weddings, births, vampire nights….
Some offered exquisite breads
bathed in rich sauces, bright like children.
And the women gave birth to dark litters
like the great wall of torment,
feverish women who lashed men’s arms
to the foot of their bed.
And there weapons and coins would rest
while new members of the lineage were being added.
Melisa Machado Blog and contact: Machado Blog
S. M. Stone contact: SMStone@Berkeley.edu