I had enjoyed and admired Fabián’s The Confessions when I read it, and translated a handful of poems from the early section of the book just for fun and then to use as a sampler to pitch the project to publishers.
I especially liked that the book was on the one hand explicitly written from a gay male perspective but on the other hand, concerned with subjects still not often seen in “gay poetry” such as the decline and death of a parent.
But it was only as I started translating the entire book that I began to worry I had bitten off more than I could chew, since many of the later sections are full of such complicated wordplay to try and recreate in English!
Often, that playfulness couldn’t be translated per se, but had to be built afresh in English, or sometimes in Spanglish.
The original text is so multilingual, with so many cultural and literary references as well as quotations, epigraphs, lines of poetry, in both English and French.
That made it a little easier for me to decide that sometimes things that couldn’t be translated could be left in the original Spanish and possibly glossed or riffed on or what-have-you. (The original poems just dropped those non-Spanish lines and titles and so on without explaining them, although the convention in English is for more to be glossed or explained in a translation.)
So in a poem like “Se enredaron las vergas,” which is Borges’ translation into Spanish of Whitman, which has a lot of sexual double-entendres, and trying to back-translate that into English, as it were, I couldn’t just use the Whitman original, because Fabián was riffing off of the double-entendres that exist only in Borges’ version… What a tangled (or enjangled) labyrinth indeed!
And both of the other poems involved lots of verbal gymnastics, either making sure words contained the letter X or perhaps inventing neologisms to attempt to recreate the wordplay of the originals.
Hopefully these versions of mine capture the elegance and erudition of the original poems and Iriarte’s mix of intelligence and playfulness.
I am always searching for that damned X
because I know that every time it appears
it’s to condemn me / generally
condemn me for being flexible / for my experience
for being extreme and exuberant
for an absurd axiology
for external exigencies
and for prophylaxis / for the saxifrage
flower for the law for the dura lex
even god is written with an X
even Sodom and latex / mark here with an X
damned damned X
damned X of sex
homogeneous and exact
asphyxiating and exiguous X
“se enredaron las vergas”
after reading Walt Whitman,
in J. L. Borges’ translation
The vergas* entangled, causing quite a commotion
even moreso when those same cocks later “enjangled up”
as one man said whose consonants were rather irregular, one
whose cock, also irreverent, exuberantly expelled
those verbs (or verses) that were his, but also belonged to others,
we adopted them, we wanted and set about entangling
intrepidly into knots, into nets,
diminishing the admonishing finger,
if the vergas are entangled, who will disentangle them?
* “Verga” means both the yards or ropes used on ships but also the penis, especially erect.
donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu
Mallarmé, “Tombeau d’Edgar Poe”
I come to languish / language-ish
the anguish of wanting to speak or pronounce
and being unable / one way or another
flowers inhale mouths exhale
they enunciate announce but hardly pronounce
and the people decry scrying crying
from their eyes so very strongly that sense
the most purest one / of the tribe becomes darker
senseless / due
to obedience due to syntax
to praxis to prophylaxis to health
from these ailing words / sentences stitched
with patience (like pearls thrown
to the hogs pigs swines like threads of a tapestry
synonym cononym or antonym
interminable as well as innumerable
prayers with rhythm and meter
such as they are / periphrastic phonic and antiphonic sentences
each with its homonym / such is the simony
of the language the nepotism of voices
the term(inus) is endless / upended / boundless
pure sense is senseless
so that in the end it attains sense
and you don’t rest in your searching
and always poorly armed in the flowery war
but with firm intention
of arriving there someday / of reaching an end
of reaching the meaning / of unsaying of forgetting
as if it were a matter of remembering
all the voices / all the terms / origins
words of the tribe tribes in plural
Translated by Lawrence Schimel