You are currently viewing the audible threshold of happiness

Language: Catalan
Poet: Gemma Gorga
Translator: Sharon Dolin


the audible threshold of happiness

Four poems by Gemma Gorga translated by Sharon Dolin

In place of a book of hours, Gemma Gorga has composed something much more modest: a Book of Minutes. Though these prose poems do retain the meditative quality of prayer, they also share with aphorism the urge to delimit by compression: how much density can be packed into a small space. Here’s what drew me to translate them: Each time I read these diminutive poems, they open up a world for me. In that sense, they are inexhaustible as all poems and prayers should be. 

Sharon Dolin

Gemma Gorga was born in Barcelona in 1968. She has a Ph.D. in Philology from the University of Barcelona, where she is Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Spanish Literature. She has published six collections of poetry. These prose poems are from Llibre dels minuts (Book of Minutes, Barcelona, 2006), which won the Premi Miquel de Palol (2006) and appeared in a Catalan-Spanish bilingual edition, Libro de los minutos y otros poemas, (Book of Minutes and Other Poems, Valencia, 2009, translated by V. Berenguer).
Sharon Dolin is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently: Manual for Living (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016), Whirlwind  (Pittsburgh, 2012), and Burn and Dodge (Pittsburgh, 2008), which received the AWP Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. Her ekphrastic collection, Serious Pink, was reissued in 2015 by Marsh Hawk Press. She directs the Center for Book Arts Chapbook Competition as well as the international workshop Writing About Art in Barcelona:

[Les flors del jardí parlen]

Les flors del jardí parlen en veu tan baixa que es fa difícil endevinar què diuen. ¿Seran tal vegada diàlegs d’amor, diàlegs socràtics que mantenen amb els insectes de llargues barbes, pesants i taciturns damunt l’elasticitat dels pètals? S’ondulen les cordes vocals de la llum, els rínxols sonors de l’aigua. Però arriba la ronda del record i trepitja les flors amb rudes bótes de sentinella. I em deixa asseguda —trista venedora de mistos— fora del llindar auditiu de la felicitat.

[Garden flowers speak]

Garden flowers speak in such hushed tones that it’s difficult to parse what they’re saying. Could they be dialogues of love, perhaps, Socratic dialogues they hold with long-bearded insects, heavy and reserved, resting on swaying petals? Light’s vocal cords undulate, as do the sonorous curls of water. But the memory patrol turns up and treads on the flowers with its rough sentry boots. And I am left seated—sad little match girl—outside the audible threshold of happiness.

[Sostens un bocí de vidre trencat]

Sostens un bocí de vidre trencat entre l’índex i el polze. A l’ànima estan tocant les dotze del migdia i algú mormola és l’hora de l’àngelus. El sostens amb paciència, fins que la llum, les campanes i les ales convergeixen en un únic punt sensible al dolor. I en l’aire s’incendia un ocell.

[You hold up a piece of broken glass]

You hold up a piece of broken glass between your index finger and thumb. It is chiming twelve-noon in your soul and someone murmurs, “It’s the hour for reciting the Angelus prayer.” You hold up the glass sliver patiently until the light, bells, and wings converge in one uniquely sensitive point of pain. And in the air a bird blazes up.

[Té sis punxes, com una estrella]

Té sis punxes, com una estrella, però no és una estrella. La cullo i la deso a la bossa, al costat del pot de neules, vigilant que no prengui mal amb el groc lacerant de la pinya. Un cop a casa, trio un enlloc preferent on col·locar-la, que estigui ben invisible als ulls de tothom. De vegades, amb el silenci de la nit, se sent passar la llarga caravana de la set: palmeres mil·lenàries, camells foscos com dàtils, vells astròlegs de barbes enfarinades. I és que la realitat és així, o aixà, i no s’hi pot fer més, malcriada i enganyosa. Per aquest motiu hi ha qui ja no la busca, per aquest motiu hi ha qui encara la troba. Vet aquí un nadal incomprensible com la vida mateixa, explicat en sis ratlles, com si fos un poema, però no és un poema.

[It has six points, like a star]

It has six points, like a star, but it’s not a star. I pick it up and put it in the bag, next to the can of wafers, taking care it remains unharmed by the lacerating, yellow pineapple. Once home, I choose some preferred who-knows-where to keep it that’s practically invisible to all eyes. Sometimes, in the night’s stillness, you can hear the long caravan of thirst pass by: thousand-year-old palm trees, camels dark as dates, ancient astrologers with flour in their beards. Because reality is like this, or like that (what can you do), spoiled and misleading. For this reason, there are those who no longer look for it; for this reason, there are those who still find it. Here is an incomprehensible nativity like life itself, explained in six lines, as if it were a poem, but it’s not a poem.

[El vent aixeca la faldilla a les margarides]

El vent aixeca la faldilla a les margarides i el món comença a rodolar cap per avall. És evident que les fades són totes rosses i viuen amagades a la punta del tacte —les margarides, que ho saben, han esclafit el riure—. Per què tanta resistència a la felicitat? D’acord. La llum, el gir, el vol: vet aquí els tres desitjos.

[The wind lifts the daisies’ skirt]

The wind lifts the daisies’ skirt and the world begins to tumble upside down. Apparently, fairies are all blonde and live hidden at the touch of your fingertips—the daisies, knowing all about it, have broken into laughter. Why so much resistance to happiness? All right. Here are my three wishes: Light. Spin. Flight.