Gabriel Gudding (Illinois, USA): One Poem, One Translation

MY BUTTOCKS

your buttocks
— Wallace Stevens

I am very interested in my buttocks,
because it is the part of my body I most infrequently see.

You might argue that if I were really interested in my buttocks
I would use mirrors and look at it more often.

But I reject that theory.
I am at once plainly interested in my buttocks,
at the same time that I look at it about once a year.

I am frankly uninterested in the buttocks of other people.
If I had but one buttocks to look at, I would prefer it be mine.
Don’t construe that as evidence that I look at my buttocks but more than once a year. Because I don’t.

Indeed I would prefer it if other people didn’t have buttocks.
Better two groins than one buttocks — one in front, one in back.
That way we could have our choice of groins to look at.
We could also choose to use one groin over another, either during sex
or using the bathroom. This would cut down on repair bills and maintenance costs
for our groins (urinary infections, prostate things, flaming birth canals,
yeast issues): two groins, no buttocks. Perhaps a sewer-tube that could extend down to either foot, and at the moment of defecation we remove the shoe and give a good kick, flinging the ball of excrement away from us. Bathrooms
would have to have backboards.

All of us hermaphrodites who shit from our feet. We would have banished anal sex to our heels. Which brings me to another concern: the new anus that is now in one of our feet: would that anus be near our toes or near the heel, or on the top of the foot?
My concern is this: If the anus were in the instep, would
it not leave little pucker marks in our footprints?

No, I don’t like buttocks. Despite rumors to the contrary.
Contrary, there’s a word. I oppose the word contrary.

© Gabriel Gudding 2002, from A Defense of Poetry


TO ROOSEVELT

It is with the voice of the Bible, or the verse of Walt Whitman
that I advance upon you now, Hunter!
You are primitive and modern, sensible and complicated,
with something of Washington and a dash of Nimrod.
You are the United States,
you are the future invader
of all that’s innocent in America and its Indian blood,
blood that still says Jesus Christ and speaks in Spanish.

You are a superb and strapping specimen of your people;
you are cultured and capable; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are a horse-whisperer, an assassinator of tigers,
you are Alexander-Nebuchadnezzer.
(You are a Professor of Energy
as the whackjobs among us now say.)

You think that life is a fire,
that progress is eruption
and into whatever bones you shoot,
you hit the future.

No.

The United States is powerful and huge.
And when it shakes itself a deep temblor
runs down the enormous vertebrae of the Andes.
If it yells, its voice is like the ripping boom of the lion.
It is just as Hugo said to Grant: “The stars are yours.”
(Glinting wanly, it raises itself, the Argentine sun,
and the star of Chile rises too…) You are rich --
you join the cult of Hercules with the cult of Mammon;
and illuminating the way of easy conquest,
“Freedom” has found its torch in New York.

But our America, which has had poets
from the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl,
which has kept walking in the footprints of the great Bacchus
(who had learned the Panic alphabet at one glance);
which has consulted the stars, which has known Atlantis,
(whose name comes down drumming to us in Plato),
which has lived since the old times on the very light of this world,
on the life of its fire, its perfume, its love,
the America of the great Moctezuma, of the Inca,
our America smelling of Christopher Columbus,
our Catholic America, our Spanish America,
the America in which the noble Cuauhtemoc said:
“I am in no bed of roses”: that same America
which tumbles in the hurricanes and lives for Love,
it lives, you men of Saxon eyes and Barbarian souls.
And it dreams. And it loves, and it vibrates; and she is the daughter of the Sun!
Be very careful. Long live this Spanish America!
The Spanish Lion has loosed a thousand cubs today: they are at large, Roosevelt,
and if you are to snag us, outlunged and awed,
in your claws of iron, you must become God himself,
the alarming Rifleman and the hardened Hunter.

And though you count on everything, you lack the one thing needed:
God.

--Rubén Darío, 1904 translated by Gabriel Gudding,
forthcoming in Poems for the Millennium, v. 3.

[The great Nicaraguan poet, Félix Rubén García Sarmiento (1867-1916), who called himself Rubén Darío, was born in Metapa, Nicaragua, in a city that now bears the name Darío. Considered one of the leaders and proponents of the Modernismo movement, Darío completely changed the landscape of Spanish language poetry. A journalist and diplomat, he is now one of the most widely read of Spanish-language poets. This poem, “A Roosevelt,” was written in response to US President Theodore Roosevelt’s invasion of Panama in 1903 after Roosevelt fomented a coup in Panama City so that he could annex the Panamanian isthmus for the purposes of building the canal. Roosevelt’s coup and the invasion of Panama was excoriated around the world and at home. Richard Olney, in 1903, former US Attorney General and Secretary of State, said of Roosevelt’s act, “For the first time in my life I have had to confess I am ashamed of my country.”

-- Rubén Darío, translated by Gabriel Gudding, forthcoming in Poems for the Millennium, v. 3.