the color of time on a ruined wall

Language: Spanish
Poet: Alejandra Pizarnik
Translator: Yvette Siegert

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the color of time on a ruined wall

Five poems by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Yvette Siegert

Alejandra Pizarnik (1936–1972) was a leading voice in twentieth-century Latin American poetry. Born in Avellaneda to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Pizarnik studied literature and painting at the University of Buenos Aires and spent most of her life in Argentina. In 1960, she moved to Paris, where she was influenced by the work of the Surrealists and participated in a vibrant expatriate community of writers that included Julio Cortázar and Octavio Paz. Known primarily for her poetry, Pizarnik also wrote experimental fiction, plays, a literary diary, and works of criticism. The poems in this issue are from her collection Los trabajos y las noches (Works and Nights), published in 1965. She died in Buenos Aires, of an apparent drug overdose, at the age of thirty-six.
Yvette Siegert is a poet and literary translator. She has edited for the United Nations and The New Yorker, and currently teaches comparative literature at Baruch College, The City University of New York. Her writing has appeared in ChelseaStonecutter, 6×6AufgabeGuernicaSt. Petersburg Review and other places, and her translations of Alejandra Pizarnik’s collected works, which received support from the New York State Council on the Arts, are forthcoming from New Directions and Ugly Duckling Presse.

Mendiga voz

Y aún me atrevo a amar
el sonido de la luz en una hora muerta,
el color del tiempo en un muro abandonado.

En mi mirada lo he perdido todo.
Es tan lejos pedir. Tan cerca saber que no hay.

A Beggar Voice

And still I dare to love
the sound of the light in the hours of deadness
the color of time on a ruined wall.

In my eyes I’ve lost everything.
Asking is so far away. And so close, this knowledge of want.

Los ojos abiertos

Alguien mide sollozando
la extensión del alba.
Alguien apuñala la almohada
en busca de su imposible
lugar de reposo.

Eyes Wide Open

Someone sobs and measures
the lengths before dawn.
Someone punches her pillow
in search of an impossible
place of rest.

Cuarto solo

Si te atreves a sorprender
la verdad de esta vieja pared;
y sus fisuras, desgarraduras,
formando rostros, esfinges,
manos, clepsidras,
seguramente vendrá
una presencia para tu sed,
probablemente partirá
esta ausencia que te bebe.

Single Room

If you dare to frighten
the truth out of this old wall—
and its fissures, its gashes
that form shapes and sphinxes
and hands and clepsydras—
surely a presence
for your thirst will emerge,
and no doubt this absence
that drinks you dry will leave you.

El corazón de lo que existe

no me entregues,
                tristísima medianoche,
al impuro mediodía blanco

The Heart of What Does Exist

do not hand me over,
            oh saddest of midnights,
to the impure whiteness of noon.

Sombra de los días a venir

A Ivonne A. Bordelois

Mañana
me vestirán con cenizas al alba,
me llenarán la boca de flores.
Aprenderé a dormir
en la memoria de un muro,
en la respiración
de un animal que sueña.

Shadow from Days to Come

For Ivonne A. Bordelois*

Tomorrow
they’ll dress me in ash for the sunrise,
they’ll fill my mouth with flowers.
I’ll learn to sleep
inside the memory of a wall,
on the breath
of a dreaming animal.

*Bordelois is an Argentine linguist (PhD, MIT), writer, and scholar, and one of Pizarnik’s closest friends and literary interlocutors.