"The man I remember and sing of / glittered with mutinous life": Neruda on Girondo

by on May.13, 2013

Action Books recently published Molly Weigel’s translation of Oliverio Girondo’s legendary book En la masmedula (In the Moremarrow). I’ve been obsessed by this book since I first heard Molly read an excerpt at a reading of Latin American poetry with Cecilia Vicuna (who called masmedula “a milestone in the history of poetry in Spanish”) at an AWP a few years ago. I’ve been searching for essays on it – turns out there are a ton of them but they are all in Spanish. However, I managed to find this elegy by Pablo Neruda from the journal Salmagundi from 1974.

Oliverio Girondo
By Pablo Neruda
(translated by Ben Belitt)

But under the carpeting,
on the otherside of the pavement,
between two immovable waves
a man’s been divided
and I’ve got to go down and see
for myself who’s been lost:
meanwhile- hands off, all of you:
here’s a line,a bite in a plate,
here’s a pressed flower in a book,
a transparent skeleton.

Oliverio,all of a piece,now
comes together again under my eyes,
definite as cut-crystal:
but however closely I come, whatever I
wring from the silence or keep to myself,
what looms large in my memory,
death’s little keepsake to me
will be only a stingy reminder,
a silhouette scissored in paper.

The man I remember and sing of
glittered with mutinous life;
I shared in the bursting explosions,
his comings and goings and backtrackings,
his horseplay, his wisdom:
elbow to elbow we greeted the sunrise
smashing the glass of the sky,
climbing the terraces
of mildewing palaces,
taking trains that never existed,
raucous with health
in the early hours of the milkman.
I was a sea-going yokel
( one could see the peninsular
cloud in my clothing)
while Oliverio walked
up and walked over the crowds,
the outsmarting customs-inspectors,
keeping cool on the crossings
( his big tie askew
in the wardrobeof autumn)
tossing down beer after beer in the thick
of the smoke, wraithlike in Valparaiso.

In the web of my boyhood
Oliverio Girondo is what happens.
I was a stick from the mountains.
He was a manifest gentleman.
Bearded, bewhiskered, my light brother,
dark brother, cold brother,
making yesterday sparkle,
you rallied the daylight’s audacity,
the inventions of flowering clove,
the fabulous syllables
of your elegant labyrinth.
Your crazy beatitude
was a jewel of contingency,
as though you had scratched on a window
with the point of a heavenly scissors
your reflection for seagulls
to trace in its total exactitude.
I’m scribbler, of sorts, depressed
by the things that can happen
and the things I was meant to foresee
(not to mention my personal history
or the things that one lives through apart,)
but now my itinerant song
is for Oliverio Girondo
and the dailiness of his insolence.
We’re talking about unforgettable things.
His indelible sharpshooter’s aim
as he brought down a cathedral
grinned like a stallion
and wiped out the tourism of Europe,
discovered the cheese’s hysteria
for succulent madamoiselles,
zeroed in on Guadalquivirand gave it
what it deserved with both barrels.

Free-wheeling original,
how much poorer we are in the loss
of your iconoclastic excesses!

Sully Prud’homme in his
mauve redingote still ruled the salons
in an era of frightful propriety:
we needed an Argentine
with the roweland spurs of a tango
to kick out the mirrors and trample
the fans that a pot
smashedinto smithereens.

Kinsman-to-come
of the luminous marble of Italy,
the enduring Quevedo
and the national Aragon,
I want no man to sweat –
for the counterfeit handouts of Europe
least of all, we poor Americans
scattered every which way in the wind,
we whose metals lie deepest, millionaires
with a pickand guitar,
we who ought never to panhandle,
or beggar existence.
What I liked in Oliverio was this:
he didn’t change his address,
but died in his boots by his horse.

I liked the intrinsic good sense
underneath his compulsive delirium,
the feast of his friendship
without reservation or stint. So
lets make it together again, friend –
under the carpet,if need be,
or over the River’s orthography,
live inside a thermometer’s obelisk
( or the delicate flight
of a sigh of anxiety)
where very our roots come together
under the moon of Figari.

O demoniac in the honey,
patriot of scarecrows,
I celebrate now,before, and forever
what the passing days might bring you –
the Oliverio that might be, if you still
could share part of your spirit with me,
if death had forgotten one day
to climb up the darkness-for what?
to look for a street number-for what?
on a streetcalled Suipacha-for what?
Of all the dead I have loved
You are the only one living.
I’ve nothing to write in the ashes;
I keep calling you by name, keep believing
in your reason’s flamboyance, wherever you are,
here under my nose or in some distant part
of the world, between corners and waves
in the rondure of daylight,
in a planet bled of its powers
or inside the source of a tear.

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