Translated from the Spanish by Marguerite Feitlowitz
We are the ones best able to march together, in unison, in harmony, from north to south, on the dirty road flanked with flags, day and night, rain or shine, eyes surprised by the satellite, by the cable to the moon, the wagon of fire and the angels in their chalice of night and crystal. You march, we march, just to leave and return, circling the corner, going back home by our regular bus, hungry for lunch after the long white march; but the parade is supposed to go on forever with the martial music of death—“eternally will I mourn you”—no looking back, no going back until we get to the edge and fall into the frozen summit of the southern mirrors: once again the iceberg.
No problem. Plowing from end to end. Slitting the country end to end. Back and forth. One furrow next to another, like bleachers in the stadium, as seen from the air, their traces sinking, ever deeper, night and day. Until they appear. Until we hear their screaming. We’re here! My darling, here!
Giving and taking. I hold out to you a certificate of good conduct and you make your confession, you whisper in my ear where they are to be found. There will be no reports in the press and no discussion in front of the children. All quiet. What is not known does not exist. But you’ll be comforted to know that in the future the surprise can be repeated as many times as may be necessary. As many times as may be necessary.
Ever the iguana. Especially when you hold forth and get tongue-tied. What’s going on? So much work to put things right while the years were transforming you—from seraph—to sergeant. It’s true you had no choice, someone had to stand vigil for the sake of verse—especially when upstairs they’re blasting music right above your bed—and put some order in all that jive. But how unfitting to the general mission; how unfortunate that pants and jacket have replaced the tunic. To say nothing of the shrunken neck and the nose—degenerated from classic to postmodern—O how this aggrieves you. We could eternally enumerate such ills, that’s how we progress from a state of virtue and good intentions to one of censure, approving poems only if they’re fit to be served on a platter. We believe we are infallible in our work, unerring unto heaven—isn’t that the standard?—it’s the same pit of arrogance all over again and the same game against losers and suckers. Isn’t that the way you put it?
They can be found framed by the heavens and the many-colored clouds, the heroes with name and rank, dates, and decorations. And in some unknown place: the actors disappeared from their own theater.
We have to pick some faraway place and go. Or are we staying here, for business as usual, among clowns—midgets on stilts—while everyone else piles into taverns, or heads for the beach? We have to keep marching around the dry water tank, stretch, haul ourselves up, fold half our body over the edge, so we can peer down at the progress of the satisfied, deserving, exemplary column of ants arriving at their winter barrack (abandon all hope of protection at the door) where they will torture the cicada. We have to pick some faraway place and go. Where there won’t be armies, wannabes, or robbers guarding the gates, no magazines devoted to banking, or glittering old women with their unctuous preening, superimposed on the night. We have to pick some faraway place and go. To stifle the drums and the blows that can yet be stifled.
Ennio Moltedo (1931-2012) was a native of the seaport city of Valparaíso. The son of Italian immigrants to Chile, he a poet of the sea, and his connection to ancient Mediterranean poets can be seen, heard, and felt in his poems. He published eight collections of poems, collaborated with visual artists, and was Director of the Universidad de Valparaíso Press. Night, from which the poems here are excerpted, was written during and against the Pinochet dictatorship, but not published until that regime had ended, and is forthcoming from World Poetry Books in November 2022. A revered “poet’s poet,” Moltedo has been compared with Cavafy for his allegiance to a place at once mythic and mundane; with Char, for the inventiveness of his political poems; with Saba for his mastery of extreme concision.
Marguerite Feitlowitz’s translations of Ennio Moltedo are supported by an NEA Translation Fellowship. Night, from which the poems here are excerpted, is forthcoming from World Poetry Books in November 2022. Feitlowitz has published five volumes of translations from French and Spanish, including Small Bibles for Bad Times: Selected Prose and Poetry by Liliane Atlan (2021) a memoir and poems by Salvador Novo, and plays by Griselda Gambaro. She is the author of A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture. Her work has appeared internationally in numerous journals and anthologies. Feitlowitz’s awards include Fulbright Fellowships to Argentina, a Bunting Fellowship in nonfiction, and a Harvard faculty research grant. She teaches literature and literary translation at Bennington College.