Tugs in the Fog, a selection of translations by Anna Crowe from the work of the Catalan poet Joan Margarit, was published by Bloodaxe in 2006.
A hospital ship sails the rusty
eyes of winter, and the big rivets
in the hull are the words of a war.
Laden with military gangrenes,
its lights slowly enter the fog.
They are memory's expeditions
to the hospital ship of Rupert Brooke,
buried on a beach, on a Greek island.
Desire shines with intensity in the morning
and on the seductive skin of the waves:
the link with the future is this sand
where the bodies of tourists lie tanning,
many of them English while, out to sea,
the cold and feverish evenings return,
and, armour-plated an grey, this Charon
is passing with the lad shrouded in fog.
The war has not ended, it never ends,
and death is the Teruel front
where now the disastrous army is advancing
with the frost sparkling on their cloaks.
They are far off, a long way off, but they are already returning.
When he died he had only a handful of belongings,
among them a battered cassette with one tape.
I have listened to it: at first, for a long while
nothing could be heard but the rubbing of the machine.
Until suddenly, clear and melancholy,
there arose with force the song of a nightingale.
Leaving the cemetery I still hear
the lovely voice inside my head.
He will never go back to the river
to record the night-birds' singing.
In the dreary Girona of my seven-year-old self,
where post-war shop-windows
wore the greyish hue of scarcity,
the knife-shop was a glitter
of light in those small steel mirrors.
Pressing my forehead against the glass,
I gazed at a long, slender clasp-knife,
beautiful as a marble statue.
Since no one at home wanted weapons,
I bought it secretly, and as I walked along,
I felt the heavy weight of it, inside my pocket.
From time to time I would undo it gradually,
and the blade would spring out, slim and straight,
with the convent chill that a weapon has.
Hushed presence of risk:
I hid it, those first thirty years,
behind books of poetry and, later,
inside a drawer, in amongst your knickers
and amongst your stockings.
Now, about to turn fifty-four,
I look at it again, lying open in my palm,
just as dangerous as in childhood.
Sensual, cold. Nearer my throat.
It’s you as a child, carrying a jug and you’re waiting
at the slaughter-house to buy blood.
On the cement floor there are some benches
where rows of goats are tethered,
with neck outstretched, hobbled and bleating.
You’ve placed the jug beneath one of them,
black and soft. Unhurriedly, a man,
armed with a knife, has cut its throat.
Just as at Delphos, the message
of the red jet gushing into the jug
with the same sound you’re hearing now,
was difficult and obscure. You’ve spent
forty years trying to understand it.
You’re doing that now, pissing blood.
In that Institute in the aftermath of war
I must have picked up a smattering of Greek
and left with some veneer of the classics.
But, if learning anything in that place
was hard enough, the subject with less than nothing
going for it was German, with Berlin
then in ruins, blackened under the snow.
Of our two languages, mine
was a persecuted, hers a defeated tongue.
In a tiny room in the mansion that housed
the secondary school, as I went into class,
I’d always find her on her knees, scrubbing
beside the bin and talking to herself.
I know no German, and in general have
no good memories of anyone from that time,
but I have never forgotten that woman’s grief.
Now that I’m taking stock of what I am
I’m on my knees feeling the cold of icy tiles
to wipe away the past, as she was doing,
scrubbing the red border of the tiled floor.
We’ve both been growing accustomed,
Joana, when, getting out of the car,
you lean on your crutches, for this slowness
to start off a sally of car-horns and their abstract abuse.
Your company makes me happy,
the smile of a body so far
from what was always called beauty,
that tedious beauty, always so far-off.
I have exchanged it for the seductiveness
of tenderness that lights up the gap
that reason left in your face.
And, if I look at myself in the rear-mirror,
I see a pair of eyes I do not know,
for in them there shines the love left
by looks, and light, the shadow
of everything I have seen,
and the peace your slowness gives me.
So great is their wealth
that the eyes in the rear-view mirror don’t seem to be mine.
I remember you as tall and fat,
obscene and sentimental: you were then
an authority on Deep Foundations.
You always began our class
with the words: Good morning, gentlemen. Today
it is so many years, so many months, and so many days
since my daughter died.
And you would wipe away a tear.
We were in our twenties,
but the sight of you, a big fat man
weeping in front of the class,
never roused a smile from any one of us.
How long is it since you stopped counting the days?
I have thought of you and of all of us
now that I am your bitter shadow,
because for my daughter
it is two months, three days and six hours
that she has in death her deep foundation.
Alone in the house and looking through cupboards
I find ancient road-maps,
contracts that have expired, fountain-pens
that will write no more letters, old calculators
with no batteries, watches that time has routed.
The past has made its nest in the bottom of drawers
like a sad rat. Clothes hang empty
like old characters that have been playing us.
But suddenly I come across your lingerie
the colour of night, of sand; sheer, with tiny embroidery.
Knickers, suspenders and stockings that I unfold
and which send me back to the shining but mysterious
depths of sex and love: the thing which really
gives life to a house, like the lamps and lights
of cafés and ships in an unknown port.
In each one of us there is a grim novel.
Grief stands in for crime and loving a woman
is the novel’s hard and honest detective.
To fall asleep exhausted, hearing someone crying,
to be hard up, being out of work,
this is the police-station where we get questioned
about nothing but loneliness.
Nobody’s innocent: behind the closed door
of our eyes we gamble until dawn.
A failed love is to go back to a poor district
and sleep alone for hours in a hotel.
Memories are finger-prints
at the scene of the crime, the false evidence
set up by bent policemen.
We’re a foggy street, the setting for a thriller.
On the old jazz records I also like
to listen to the noise coming from the audience.
There is someone calling out huskily,
happy with how the musicians are playing.
There are bursts of applause; a glass breaking.
The breathy sound of a place in the suburbs
of a southern city. A few unique moments
that return each time form the past.
Life after breath must be
something like that: a lost
murmur of voices from a night with music.
And our immortal soul must be
this precise moment, fragile and brief,
when a glass rings on an old jazz record.