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Once Is Enough: Zurita Paints the Entire Sea from a Drop of Dye

Photograph by Valerie Mejer Photograph by Valerie Mejer

Like a tree with hundreds of branches and thousands of leaves that comes from a tiny seed and through overuse becomes The Example, we can’t avoid amazement when we find something that is numerous but came from only one thing, or that something so grand originated in something so small. Science will explain it a thousand times, and poetry in its own way, and yet we can never grasp this phenomenon.

Here I think of two things that at different times Raúl Zurita has shared with me. Those who know the great book Zurita of 741 pages have noticed the vast amount of poems that are made from and for Akira Kurosawa. Impressed by the immense number of poems that consider and reconsider the beautiful film titled “Dreams” by the Japanese, I asked Zurita about it while we walked together down Mercer Street near Washington Square, hurrying to his reading at NYU...and the entire scene was charged with brilliance and meaning with the answer he gave me: “I saw it once, when it [“Dreams”] came out but I never saw it again.” The part that he remembered most vividly from the movie I’ve already forgotten is the part called The Tunnel... where the official finds one of the dogs loaded with explosives and the dead blue faces of the battalion that led the charge...

We continued walking towards his reading where he read some of those poems and while he moved from one “dream” to the next his focus was to assume the role of Kurosawa in order to see his own life, as if examining it through an interlocutor who speaks to him and sometimes borrows his voice and his name (there is a poem that ends: “My name: Akira Kurosawa”). I could not get over my amazement that he had seen the film only once, it was as if the director had given Zurita a tiny bottle of blue-green dye with which he managed to paint the sea.

In a similar way he surprised me during a recent conversation we had about “The Night Boatmen.” These Boatmen are seven poems he once wrote to himself in a letter, they “are seven nightmares in which the presence of P is a comfort (his wife Pauline Wendt appears as P in his poems).” It seems, and perhaps because I operate this way (a poem of mine can come from a dream and its mechanisms and images are almost identical), I assumed that the seven poems came one by one from a nightmare.

And then I discovered a gardener who was astonished that I didn’t know that a big tree comes from a single seed. “A large part of Cities of Water and a huge part of Dreams of Humanity come from a single terrible dream: I dreamed for years that I saw the sea, wonderful, radiant, then dawn’s breaking, and moving closer I see infinite bodies moving with the rolling waves, the breakers were made of bodies. Only corpses. Kurosawa’s last dream, it’s that dream.” [Throughout our correspondence, Zurita used the title “Humanity” poems for those where there were large numbers of men and women trying to get out of a cave, falling through the air, trying to cross the sea. He told me then: “There you go, another ‘Humanity’ poem.”]

And he put an end to the only poem that duplicates the DREAM that colored the waters bloody from so many “Humanity” poems, poems that in this case also have a blue drop of Kurosawa, the drop that made the entire sea blue. Now that we know that this itself was a dream, the DREAM that caused hundreds of dream-poems, it’s unforgettable that Zurita ends the poem saying: “This isn’t a dream, this is the sea.”

The Sea

"For Kurosawa/The Sea" translated by Anna Deeny
Post translated by Torin Jensen

Originally Published: September 19th, 2013

Painter and poet Valerie Mejer was born in Mexico City. Her poems explore containment and fragility, layering loss and possibility over a once-familiar landscape. She is the author of the poetry collections Rain of the Future (2013), translated by C.D. Wright, Forrest Gander, and Alexandra Zelman; de la ola, el atajo (2009); Geografías de Niebla...