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Literature Details
Published:  March 26, 2008
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Author Details
Author:  Karl Maurer
Karl Maurer teaches Classics at the University of Dallas, and translates both ancient and modern texts. He recently completed a translation of Vergil's Georgics.
Three Poems by Carlos Germán Belli
by Karl Maurer
Note: Audio in the following piece requires the Adobe Flash Player.

This wolf-mouth of a world, that bristles even
with a hare-lip, whose gap the highest mountains
of earth cannot stop up, by luck has not,
like an unsalted alimentary bolus,
been shot to the remotest starry maw,
since in this strange world it is customary
for any foetus that has got this far
but grins from a hare-lip to be out-flung
in the fourth month or sixth, so that its corpse
will stop the crack at the end of that hare-lip.

The Extraterrestrials
I, grandson of Elvira de la Torre,
like her today besieging me descry
commensals everywhere,
now maned with drag-hooks, now with carving-knives,
and such long ladling spoons, that dangle arm-like,
and no tongue but a dagger
as for the toughest viands upon the board.

And yet not human are they, such rare beings,
all on the outside gleaming nickel-plated
(not of the orb they are)
and inside all of iron oh how armed,
as they reduce the antique chairs to sawdust,
when they have plundered fiercely
all the terrestrial sandwiches forever.

At dawn already me they bid assist
at the sublunar oaken rustic table,
the inconsiderate
commensals, Martian, or it could be lunar,
or what do I know from what foreign planet,
but with my portion make off
until, crumb after crumb, they plow up me.

And though not buoyant since I go securely
myself unto the tomb a hopeless glutton,
on me they set forthwith
and struggle godless to engear in me
their knives, their carving knives, their ladling spoons,
and though so mean the estate
how they despoil it, me how carve and plunder!

Original Spanish version available for PDF download here.

To My Brother
At last I have discovered inch by inch
how is the superficies of your days,
into which, daring all, I had to travel
over the mountains girdled by the clouds
or in the foaming and resounding oceans,
    so as to reach the point
    of which you nothing know
except that there your spiritual traces
I sight or palpate in these boundaries,
where you have never for one instant been.

Not even the light buzzing of the flies
whenever, suddenly, you are alone
since each has vanished rapidly outside
to do the little things of daily life,
glad that that way they move away from you;
    and such absence of noise
    in this place, too, is felt
and is an immense silence that appears
in the surroundings and there makes its nest,
as if instead of me it were you here.

Those walls, the apartment, and the emptiness
are like corporeal things of yours,
that have stretched into you, so as to form
from you and from the room a unique bundle
made out of salt and sand and flesh and soul;
    and as if utterly
    that has been reerected
in the remoteness where I am today,
in which I take the measurements at last
of your pure square, pure circle, purest world.

Although thus there is entrance to this replica1
of your apartment in a drab location
where now I like a nail am in the wood,
that motionless, alone, must be exactly
like unto you inside your so same space,
    whose sill I cannot cross
    but equally with others
find myself separate from you very early,
and you stay in it, cornered, in an angle
(except that you are reproduced in me).

For never again do I turn my back on you,
and even as in the past, so now both of us
are in the crib, the room, the dwelling-place
beneath the sweet eyes of our mother, tied
there tightly by a thread identical;
    and the fate-heavy sphere
    and the felicitous
(your own, and mine) unite, and is the house
of Papa and Mama, in whose company,
as yesterday, so now, and so forever.

Original Spanish version available for PDF download here.

Below is a small prose piece by Belli on the importance of belief in form.

Taking Hold of Form that Moves ("Asir la forma que se va")
Some believe in Divinity solely through fear in the face of a possible nothingness. In the same way some adore artistic form in the face of their fear of what will end by disintegrating forever. But in this case anguish is not the only cause, for there is also a tacit devotion of the senses as old as the aesthetic objects themselves. That is the faith in form, not from fear of the void, but from the pure pleasure of enjoying it. This happens in the same way in which Divinity is adored for itself, and even if it does not exist. In truth it is not spurious and does not come from baroque or Parnassian decadents. There must be no shame on account of it. It must not be made to abase itself. To work in that way is nothing but disowning our container. For the bodies in which we dwell possess a contour, also a structure, where the secret vital organs are found in perfect order and agreement. Let us hold fast to it, as we hold fast to our bodily form in the face of inevitable death.


1Here to me the Spanish syntax seems ambiguous; for this verse ('Aunque así sea ingreso en esta réplica') could also be construed, "Though so it be, I enter into this replica" etc.)

"Taking Hold of Form that Moves" and portions of the audio lecture are taken from Maurer's “Notes on Carlos Germán Belli,” published by the Spanish department at Harvard University, Plaza: Revista de Literatura 12, Spring 1987, p. 39-46.