It's been a while since I published any poetry translations, so here's a rough attempt one by the extraordinarily inventive and innovative critic, poet and fiction writer Severo Sarduy's (1937-1993). It's the last of six from his "Páginas en blanco" series, "Cuadros de Franz Kline." It refers, I believe, to the drawing below (1954, 12 7/16 x 9 7/8 in., at the Pierpont Morgan Library, from ArtNet.com's site) and related paintings of this title by Kline, and entails considerable difficulty, because of its intricate linguistic shifts and wordplay. In it Sarduy writes in four different languages, English, French, Spanish, and Italian, and several of the words straddle two languages ("batello," "Salute"), while another, "monte," has two dissimilar meanings (mountain, woodland); yet another, "pájaro," has a particularly salient slang meaning for Sarduy, who was a gay man. (He was, fittingly, a member of the Tel Quel clique.) Let me not forget "pase," which functions as two different parts of speech--a verb and a noun, linked closely in etymology and connotation, or the French phrase "il fait beau," which is the usual statement one makes of good weather, "it's nice out," though here it takes on a somewhat different valence based on the source image. Then there is the title, which plays not only on Kline's painting, but on a persistent or fixed (fijo) theme of Sarduy's, which is difference, and in particular, racial difference; Sarduy was, among other things, an Afro-Cuban. Let me not even venture into the hurdles created by ekphrasis based on abstract work(s).... All of which make the poem untranslatable as such, and a reason for me to try.
Update: based on Kai's compelling argument about the valences of the Spanish verb "estar" versus "ser," both of which mean "to be," but the former of which connotes conditionality, impermanence, movement or spatial location, as opposed to the essentiality, permanence and transitive properties of the latter, I decided to add the "there," which also completes the music of the final stanza. Other thoughts?
BLACK AND WHITE
La raya negra y el batello,
el monte siamo tutti,
el barco blanco sobre el agua blanca
y la fijeza
de los pájaros sobre la Salute.
il fait beau del otro lado
del otro lado, digo,
BLACK AND WHITE
The black line and the little skiff
the mountain-woodlands we all are
the white boat on the white water
and the insistence
of the birds on the Salute.
it's lovely from the other side
of the other side, I say,
of the river.
We all are there
Copyright © Severo Sarduy, 2007; translation by John Keene, 2007.