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Bundle 4315, Sewn Paper bundles, 8.5” x 8.5”’ x 1.5”, mounted in plexiglas box, 2014 by Daniella Woolf

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Luis Cernuda translated by Stephen Kessler

(excerpted from Forbidden Pleasures)

Phantoms of Desire

I never knew you, earth;
With my useless eyes, my fluttering hands,
I cried in my blindness under your green smile,
Even though, in my childish breathing, I could feel at times
A turbulence thirsting to be humbled,
Like a hurricane churning in my chest;
Not knowing you, my earth,
Not knowing your breathing hurricane turbulence,
Just like this melancholy bubble I’ve become
That your steel voice might have inspired to live a little.

Now I know that you’re the one
Who gave me this form, this longing;
Finally I know the slender ocean,
The enamored light, the smiling boys,
Are nothing more than yourself;
That the living, the dead,
Pleasure and grief,
Friendship, solitude,
Misery, the stupid boss,
The man in love, the lowlife,
Are as worthy of me as I of them:
My arms, earth, are spread still wider, stronger,
The better to hold your insatiable hunger.

Love doesn’t take just this or that form,
It never really stays in any being;
We are all equally vile and dreamy.
Pleasure that never dies,
Kisses that never die,
I find them in no one but you, my earth.

Auras of youth, dark or blond hair,
Curly or straight like springtime
On coppery bodies, on radiant bodies
I’ve loved so much so uselessly,
Life is not in you but in the earth,
In the faithful earth that waits forever
With its parted lips, with its open arms.

Just let me hold them and know for a few moments
This divine world that is mine for now,
Mine as I myself am,
As were other bodies that my arms once held,
Like sand kissed by my lips
That pretends to be other lips yielding to desire
Until the wind blows away all its lying grains.

Like sand, earth,
Like sand itself,
Caresses are a lie, love is a lie, friendship a lie.
You alone stay true to desire,
This desire that feels like mine and isn’t mine,
But everyone’s desire,
The wicked, the innocent,
Lovers, lowlifes.

Earth, earth and desire.
A lost embodiment.

All for Some Yellow Tulips

Swallowing sleep behind a pane of impalpable glass,
Between the twin throats
Of laziness and custom,
I was living in a country in the bright south
When some god’s happy message struck me,
Some young scent,
A brimming breath of unexpected warmth.

It wasn’t the trace of some faraway heavenly climate announcing itself
In the form of an ethereal visitor,
All we saw
Was a virgin light, a vast voluptuous petal
Vibrating in its hands under a shy smile,
As if it were afraid of the earth.

With a loving gesture
It held out toward me tender flares of vegetation,
Lifting their dripping brightness
In a form full of earthy seduction,
A dense patch of yellow tulips
Erect like luck amid blades of green.

My lips brushed theirs
Sealing our pact, the sky and earth made one,
And then life’s eyes could open without malice,
Gently entranced like a young child.

Lying on a bed of mortal darkness
I took your wings, blond messenger,
In a transport of tenderness mixed with anger;
And I bit hard into the truth of love, so it wouldn’t pass
And would throb forever
In someone’s memory,
Lover, god, or death in its day.

Knocked down by lightning,
When I stood up again in the mysterious myrtle
Nourishing the land with its tough diet of darkness,
The bright visitor was gone,
Leaving a light dizziness adrift in the empty house.

Yet still, on the wet window,
In those slanted rays the sun spills going down,
The tulips with their singed edges
Let their fluid spirit escape.

Hard melancholy,
You haven’t nursed us on your venomous milk in vain,
Our teeth biting into the flesh of happiness
Always met your dry pit
Like a stone in the pink pulp of some fruit.
Where can I hide this lifelong regret?

You, rain that buries this first day of their absence
As if nothing and no one could ever love again,
Give me land and a flame to swallow whole
Those blurry flowers
And with them
The weight of a happiness swept away by fate.


I’d Like to Be Alone in the South

Perhaps my lazy eyes won’t see the south again
With its light landscapes drowsing in the air,
Its flowerlike bodies lying in the shade
Or running away at a gallop like mad horses.

The south is a desert crying as it sings,
And that voice never stops like a dead bird;
It sends its bitter desire down to the sea
Creating a faint echo that takes its time.

I want to be blended with that distant south,
The rain there is nothing but an opening rose;
Its very fog laughs, a white laugh in the wind.
Its darkness and its light are equally lovely.


Luis Cernuda (1902-1963) is one of Spain's leading modern poets. He left Spain during the civil war in 1938 and spent the rest of his life in exile in Great Britain, the United States and Mexico, where he died of a heart attack at the age of 61. These poems are from Forbidden Pleasures, new selected poems, to be published this spring by Black Widow Press.

Stephen Kessler is a poet, prose writer, translator, and editor. He is the author of ten books and chapbooks of original poetry, sixteen books of literary translation, and three collections of essays. His most recent books (spring 2015) are Where Was I? (prose poems/memoirs), Need I Say More? (essays) and Forbidden Pleasures (new selected poems of Luis Cernuda, translation). He is also the author of a novel, The Mental Traveler, the editor and principal translator of The Sonnets by Jorge Luis Borges, and from 1999 through 2014 was the founder and editor of The Redwood Coast Review, four-time winner of the California Library Association’s PR Excellence Award. His other awards include a Lambda Literary Award and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets for his previous translations of Luis Cernuda, Written in Water and Desolation of the Chimera.

Wallace Baine
Elizabeth McKenzie
Jill Wolfson

Carolyn Burke
Patrice Vecchione

Stephen Kessler
David Allen Sullivan

Daniella Woolf

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