Anna Crowe

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Six Catalan Poets
Six Catalan Poets

Six Catalan Poets

Six Catalan Poets edited by Pere Ballart, featuring the work of Josep Lluís Aguiló, Elies Barberà, Manuel Forcano, Gemma Gorga, Jordi Julià and Carles Torner was published by Arc in 2013, and launched at StAnza in March of that year. PN Review wrote: "This is a smart book that will reward anyone with an interest in European Poetry. An informative introduction is balanced by translations that are honest and affecting." (volume 40 no 1, September-October 2013)


THE ATTIC

by Josep Lluís Aguiló

You had to walk stealthily. Every footstep echoed,
disturbing emptiness and time. The smells of food
from the kitchen did not reach this high and I scrabbled
among lumber and old clothes, savouring the smells
of chicken bran and the dung and damp walls
of this corner of Santanyí and bad Mallorcan cement.
There were baskets made from bulrushes, bottoms stoved-in,
and decorations from many Christmasses in a tactful gloom.

The attic was a little world, and I visited it secretly
so as to be far from the land and advice of the grown-ups.
The forbidden land where there were newspapers from years ago
and a yellow library of missals and The Christian Year.

There were also the trophies of an unknown godfather:
the rattle of a rattlesnake, an ostrich egg, the shell
of an armadillo, nameless bones, the remains of a fantastic
bestiary washed-up from across the seas.

Many days, still in secret now, I sneak up to the attic.
I sit in a corner, with my eyes closed, breathe in
the scent of moss, chicken-shit and old rushes.
With hardly any light, my hands stained by yellow dust,
I read papers eaten by moth and by silverfish.

And I forget that it's years since we demolished it.


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A WOMAN

by Gemma Gorga

A woman is ironing, making the most
of the last of the light from the window. She gathers
the garments on the ironing-board, dips her fingers
lightly in cold water, sprinkles the clothes,
pressing them with the triangle of steam,
and her eyelashes fill with vapour.
Outside, the city too smoothes itself out
in the dusk, as though the buildings
might be coming apart in rivers of molten metal.
In the night, in the darkness, she goes on ironing,
she irons the flowers, the tiles in the house,
the eyelids that don't know how to close,
this daily fear of ours.
At daybreak, while we're still asleep,
she pulls out our soul and smoothes it, on the right
side and the wrong side, until she has erased from it
every insidious crease, the stigma of doubt.
And so, when we get up, the morning shines
as fresh as a lawn that has just been cut,
and the windows are free from smears,
and breakfast welcomes us into its circle
as intimate and sweet as cream. It's eight o'clock.
We let ourselves be carried to work.
With the house empty, she comes in and picks up
from the foot of the bed the pile of dirty clothes,
the crumpledness of our ruins.
Behind the steam of centuries, a woman
is ironing, making the most of the last of the light.


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OLDER COUSINS

by Jordi Julià

She used to listen to Elvis Presley and she smoked.
She had a pack of large and strange cards
with which she'd predict the future
far-off as sequoias seen from below—
a difficult multiplication for me
counting my years on little more than one hand.

She drove me in her small yellow car
to the cinema, and said over and over she thought
that Liza Minelli was really beautiful,
and I told her that she was even more so.

I don't think I was really in love with her—
not with that pure, childish, mimetic love—
but she gave me a hand in a grown-up game:
chatting with a woman you really like,
tasting what's forbidden to you (dark-looking drinks),
being able to waste your time when it gets dark.

She went to live in town to work,
and one of those family misunderstandings
cut her off from me for ever,
like a flash of lightning striking a family tree.

We bumped into each other at some funeral,
and now we meet in the village, after all these years
(that have made her look like the one she wanted to),
and we don't know what to say to each other, and we talk
of how things are going, of where we're going,
and we share memories —like people who know each other.

I've not been able to remember what she predicted,
if this fate of ours was written,
but the one I was then has never forgotten
two clumsy drawings among the cards:
the big, bony, dead woman
                 and the tree of the hanged man.


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ABRAHAM’S GESTURE

by Carles Torner

About four thousand years ago someone decided
not to kill any more children.
Maybe it was the angel’s hand, the intruder,
that stopped the raised hand with the knife
just before the crime. Maybe it was the voice
inside him.
Maybe.
In any case it was a gesture:
to leave off killing children.
Or the opposite of a gesture: the renouncing of that gesture,
humbled, intimate genuflexion
of the gaze.
Faced with the angel’s hand above his own,
faced with the voice demanding that he kneel,
the man gave way.
He lowered the knife.
He spared
the child.
And yet before that, maybe, with knife poised,
while the angel’s voice deafened him, Abraham,
closing his eyes, saw the future raised up,
time like a wave clasping him:
struggle, passover, a setting free,
pilgrimage, exile,
the elusive presence of the voice now speaking,
temples to a god of peace,
promise and prophecy, wrestling by night with the angel,
annunciation, visitation, magnificat, childbirth,
crucifixion and appearings,
children deported, exterminated
in the European diaspora,
martyrs the whole length of Latin America,
religious wars in Jerusalem,
ethnic cleansings in Bosnia, crimes in Chechnya:
a river of child corpses, an outpouring
of the tortured, dead, mutilated,
wars in the name of him
who now stops his arm and deafens him with:
“Cease killing children.”
What absurd promise
can make him hold back his gesture?
“Cease killing children!”
What inner cry assaults him and makes his hair stand on end?
And what power does the cry possess?
“Cease killing children”,
the wind echoes it in the boy’s hair
as he stares up at him in terror.
And the man lowers his arm.


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POETICA

by Manuel Forcano

Herodotus recounts how the Persians sacked Athens
and stole the statues, so beautiful were they.
And they kept them safe in leafy orchards at the palaces
               of Sussa
and Persepolis, in castles a the foot of the Zagres,
in sumptuous mansions on the banks of the great rivers.
Like them, you walk through the city
eager to find that beauty to which you owe yourself
and make it your own: a face amazes you, the gesture
some hands make, the half-parted shape
of a pair of lips, the flash
of a pair of eyes, possible love, the joy
of answering desire. And you hoard them,
dreamed of, lived, in your memory.
Often you submerge yourself in them like pearl-fishers
in the illuminated depths of the Indian Ocean, and you surface
with hands full of pleasures or the remains of a shipwreck.
Because there are memories of triumph that you worship
as the ancients did in their temples
with the figures of the gods, and you pray to them.
Sometimes, though, the past is a sink piled high with dishes,
with half-drunk glasses and knives sticking up.
And forgetfulness is capricious: it keeps hindrances and fears,
it devours and wipes out those treasured moments.
And you miss them and want to restore them
and you leave your house like a warrior of old prepared
              for plunder.
Like a Persian.


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ARCHAEOLOGIST

by Elies Barberà

he has the container opened forcing a reluctant
gap: a screeching in the machinery.
the reek, the laughter of garbage.
half-smothered by the fetid breath, the man
with the hook pokes and prods among the rubbish,
and a cloud of mosquitoes greets him.
he doesn’t weaken, he dreams of diamonds,
treasures hidden among the refuse.
and finds in the blackness of the mute sarcophagus
an orphan girl-child, one eyelid askew,
as pretty as a little cake, who looks at him
fearfully, and he plucks her from that foul
cradle and carries her over to the trailer
that waits for articles of sacred origin
with gentle and ceremonious care.


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Anna Crowe
May 2014
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