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Wislawa Symborska

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Highlands
9 Nov 2021

Highlands

Post by Rowena Hill

Read the SPANISH version

HIGHLANDS

These are all my poems on the high country or moors, of the Venezuelan Andes, and Los Rastrojos, my farmhouse and land in a remote place, an essential component of my poetry and life. Many are published in my books, some not. They are more or less in chronological order.

From above we come
to the valleys of return
and the mountains that guard them
like panthers.
The golden light
of the first garden swells
and cracks the walls
of persons.
Love is freed
of its disasters,
eternity comes back
to the body.
Our pulse measures
the earth’s spinning
and through our flesh
sap runs.


Witch’s Will

If it’s any use to ask
I want when madness comes
(how long can a woman resist
in the defense of the real?)
to be here, a body
among beasts and branches
with the sky in my eyes
and clay under my feet.
I’m not ashamed
to think I’d eat roots
get drunk on fumes
and mate with goats.
It’s worse to be exposed
to the glare of walls
and hatred, and swallow
their poison.
One day climbing the ridge
I’ll fall off and break,
my bones will turn to dust
where only the dogs know;
or the river in spate
will deposit me in a cave
and the shrew make its house
in my skull.



Absence of the King

This isn’t your countryside
maybe never was
though a lord once stood with
the lady of streams

lady still of hill slopes
and bitter berries,
lady of childbirth
and sung rosaries.

Are you not the father
of the child born on the altar
who never grows up to dispense
a new order?

The climbing eagles,
the midday sun,
the stern rocks massing
give no word.


Omens

A dove came flying,
it fell broken
at my feet, it was blind.
And the daily signals

– scorpions or spikes –
what are they foretelling?

– a sharp horn in the gut?
intimate holocaust?
a destiny of waste?
I prepare to surprise
a stone or stump
turning into a pile of moldy skin
or to see lying in the garden
where the bluebirds cross
in the yellow light
among hollyhocks and roses
the little cold white body
of the royal child.


Witch’s Poem, I

Night is crying.
Give back to night
the body of her shadows,
the face in her veils
and she will be your friend.

Winter is crying.
Give back to the solstice
its power to clean.
The child is born –
hold him to the wind
so he will grow strong.
The solstice wind
sucks the year’s shards
to their tomb in the sky.

Death is crying.
Give back to death
her crown of peace.
The world is dying
of strangled deaths –
untie the ropes
of law and fear
and they’ll become showers
to feed the earth,
they’ll become favors
to quicken the mothers
of new sons.

Witch’s Poem, II

Fire is my element.
As ash I’ll return to earth
and often I’ve sheltered
at the foot of earth walls, or run
on dusty paths;
it’s air that takes up smoke
or the mists that dress the highlands
framing new places,
it spins a rope in the wind
clear as a stream;
in water I’m born again,
I love the falls and the lake
green as parrot’s wings;
but candles in shrines
and the white glow of the moon
come alight in my head
and the sun’s rays wake me
and reveal the world.
I’ll fall through the space of my sorrows
to the centre of his eye of fire.


Rustic Meditation

First I see air
the rising sun
kindles dust motes
floating with gnats
spiders’ threads shimmer
among quivering leaves
I push through heat
the rough hill in front of me
swells with the breath
of a bristly animal
comes closer than an embrace
and forces itself through my senses
filling horizon and stomach
Beside the river
I watch flee
among the playing lights
water in webs and whirlpools
fluid surface,
I shut my eyes, chains
of stones are woven
chains of flowers
chain constancy
and emptiness
and I hear
the water flow
After bathing
belly slack on hot stone
skull hardened by the scent
of damp mineral
over my body scales form
hands fold
clinging to the rock
across millennia
the tiny eyes…


Lion

I

The puma – mountain lion –
came down to the neighbour’s field
and killed two sheep.

Weeks ago he must have gone back
to his rocks and wind-stunted forest
and high lakes,

but at night I hear him run
when the horses rustle and neigh
above the house

and he’s there when I walk
in daylight among shrubs
on the hillside.

When I breathe hard,
at the end of exhalation
he’s there, waiting.

II

Come lion,
leap out of the growths
where my eyes reach for you,

break me from the crown
with your claws of light,
reduce me to flesh
and sight.


Love and Time

Even poems that lick the instant
want to fix it, catch it,
and watching myself love
is nostalgia.
I may be eternal
at some bend in the path
buffeted by the wind
or chopping onion for soup,
but not in the arms of desire.
I stray like a lonely bitch
over the hillsides
and the hillsides are mine:
echo of footsteps
at the track’s edges
breeze in dry underbrush
and ears –
how could I be the words
in the brain’s circuit?
I’ll be the hollow space
where I fit
I’ll be a bone polished
by dust and wind
white as the light…

The Descent of Ches

I

Walking in the highlands
the body perseveres mechanically
carrying the eyes
and behind the eyes the hollowness
of the heights…
suddenly a bellow of laughter –
the innocent killer in the mist
or among earth walls the voices
of rulers: who was Don Pedro?
what giant erected this reef?
what is it that howls
among the rocks at the pass?

II

“The owner of the heights is mute,
he’s an old man in a tawny poncho,
he likes his drink…”
“The deer belong to them and the trout.
They keep cattle that stray,
they have a house with wide verandas
inside the lake…”
“They don’t let you see them,
they call you: Look fellow
countryman – they know no other greeting –
look countryman, and they speak to you,
they let you know the day and hour
of your death…”

III

Cheses, spirits
of the mists and rocks,
of water and light, forgive us…
Once you were masters
of these heights and souls,
devotion is still waning,
you hide,
in your place a breath
imprint yearning
still bears witness to your presence
subtle now
a shadow’s nimbus…

Guardians

The corner of an eye catches
a slight quiver in the grass
the hidden sun projects
a pinkish outline
or a baffled mood
a white shadow
the lines of rocks
exert their force –
and the spirits of place
are born.
The little red field
Petra’s pool
the broken ridge
acquire face and limbs.
They are tranquil presences
like pictures, they laugh
like pebbles in the stream
or they make horrid caves
of their bottomless throats
shoot out scarlet tongues
dance like severed phalluses
inhabit whole nights
of black hide…

A distant pink veil
washes down the rough face of the mountain
to its foundations
the only color in the world

In the mules’ coats
designs made by rain
their breath is warm
their legs are perfect columns

The sun wins the fight
with the clouds that surrounded it climbing
behind the ridge
lights the sky
dries the blades of grass
shines through the red petals of the geraniums

Hooves sink in the stream
splash the banks
the water goes on weaving transient braids
combs the fringes of red root tips
shakes the branch trapped between stones

The wind sways the sun’s rays
the sun burns the wind’s cables
brightness blows even at the zenith

Mule steps
a bird takes alarmed flight
whirlwind of chaff
over the winnowing circle

The steep paths converge
and the trails skirting the slope
joyful prints in the dust
toward the paved porches
toward the altar

Men’s high voices
sing the secret to each other
echo from the belly of the hills
flow with the sap of harvests
break on the silence of night
defy oblivion.

Shadow overflows the valley’s folds
reaches the path
up above the day
slowly loses its colors

Morning star
watch over this land
watch over all its ends
and its beginnings


Laguna de Don Pedro

No ordering principle,
just the shapes of rock
and bristly plants,
the occurrences of wind
in a world without people.
The lake in the fold is black, green,
restless, inert,
pure to the edge of cruelty
so far mind must run back
to admit it.

Someone Else’s Bull

A strange bull
must have broken through the fence.
From a print in the clay
I guess his wide back
his warrior’s flanks
his lunar horns.
I can’t find him,
he’s gone up the gully to the refuge
of the wild ducks.



Elodia’s Garden

Ranks of pansy faces
stare in one direction
toward the empty yard –
ghosts of children that were,
grandfather Luis purple
or brown like his earth walls
and others whose souls stayed behind
when they left for town,
or were born and died in a whisper
and an “angel’s” wake.
Some were only suggestions,
unwelcome semen
or dreams for a future lost
because a community
ran out of grace.

Old Luis

Old Luis stiff with rage
stone deaf and baffled numb
escapes from a son’s house
to shuffle barrio streets
in search of deliverance
from cinder block walls
naked female legs
on a silent TV screen
and obtuse kindness;

wants only to die at home
snug in his dirty poncho
and earth porch over
the steep maize-skirted valley,
facing the silent mountain
whose harsh aspiring massiveness
has grown through his eyes
and answers time.



Round and white

A full white moon
puffy with haze and yet
lucid enough to burn
holes in brain webs

summons the fat white flower-heads
cumuli of tiny whorls
swarming moons within moons
to a mirror feast

kept not in one head
at play with sameness
but renewing verbs of a beginning
where mind made and was made

vortices bursting
out of compact nothing
into gravid spheres
of shining white.

Eclipse

A scallop of grey cloth
drags over the face
of the molten silver bucket
containing its spill –
not a momentary loss
in a game with cloud masses
but deliberate defeat and threat
by invading shadow.
The sky is a scowl.
The moon smoulders in its net.



Los Rastrojos, Late

The mules’ eyelashes run through me
I shrink and wrinkle like the little spider
I sweep with my Sisyphus broom.
The main beam of my bedroom
ceiling, still a tree
survives after felling
and so will my bones.
The neighbors who robbed and loved me
have gone with their horses and their gestures,
no one calls me ‘doñita’ now.
A wretched era
has shattered hope,
my old age is coupled to decadence
and my heart is stripped
Refuge now is clay
stained with oxides
a thousand sprouts of green
the arc the falcon draws in air.

Growling shimmering
in the blackness above the ridge
A tree holds out its arms
a handful of brilliant stars
quiver in its clothes.

Ernesto

Years and the world’s neglect have erased
your strong teeth and laugh
your swagger as you jump from the grey mule
and enter my kitchen
to quarrel about fences.
Your skin sags in dirty folds
and you walk bent
and soon your intangible gifts will vanish too,
the image of clouds rising to swallow the moon
over this valley on a forgotten evening,
gratitude in the eyes of a man
decrepit already when you were young,
your understanding of the new century
in a disappearing idiom
as new growth stunted by ‘eclipse’.
Your own irreversible eclipse is gaining on you.
Will the earth miss
your shaky illuminations
after her patterns?

Light aging

Billowing curtains in fresh sunlight
were an image of hearts’ spring
and home renewed.

Today, sheets on the line
have blown into my yard
a tired and aging light
a stream of desolate yielding
to unfulfillment and shattered sweetness
its surface stamped
with shriveled petals
manes of dead horses
lines of forgotten poems
and no promises are left.

Second Sun

The sun went down quietly
behind the hill, the air
exhaled its tension,
a rosy luminescence
softened the peaks opposite.
I turned a bend in the path.
The sun hung fused and demented
in the sky’s circular field
and on all sides rose
penetrating to the bone
an icy white mist.

The shiny surface of this stone
is a mask
on the face of a god.
What features does it hide?
Will it bleed if I try to see them?

The river bed
is the rolling floor
of my head,
the water’s flow
its constant generation
and beautiful
unrepeatable sequence
of clarities and chains.

High snow cuts through eyes
blinds speech
raises heart to peak limits.


Element Water

I

Is the river in the warm afternoon
a portrait of a hidden dimension
of my body?
In the falls the blood runs fast
recovering the beat of earlier years;
further down it slips dividing
around rocks and fallen branches
like vessels in the brain
seeking illuminations;
in pools it mirrors sleep.

II

The cold white current
breaks through my borders
penetrates my pores,
in the impetus
in my body’s heat
water and blood become
one thing
a vein of earth.

III

Bleed me I beg you,
cut my right arm
and bind it so feverish action
ceases and the force it carried
pours out splashing the earth red
and leaving me pale and limp
not answerable to desire.


Los Rastrojos

Veils of mist stream down
from the rocky ridges
and each drop bursts its clarity
on the compact earth.
By chestnut horse light
and earth wall light
the seeds swell.

In Praise of Chickens

How could I ever despise
chickens?
This rooster
is as gorgeous as any pheasant:
his flame-colored cape
over a black opalescent body,
the flash of white at the base
of his sickle-plume tail.
He matches the sun he crows for
shine for shine.
And the hens,
sweet plump fussy cushions
embroidered in speckles and chevrons
on spindly legs.

Are chickens among the birds
that can shut down half the brain
and see with the other eye –
a two-way lateral beam
piercing and mad through glass?

Hen Tai-chi

Head under wing from behind,
both sides several times,
lift and shake wings;
quick pecks all down breast
stretching neck;
scratch chin.

I’m Afraid of Bulls

Two leaves whisper
behind my back,
in the distance I hear
the bull huff.
A menacing gurgle,
I turn to face his mask
but it’s only the stream.

Last night a bull roared
for a long time across the river,
he didn’t let me sleep.
In daylight I see the cliff
in front of me grow horns
and a cleft rock is the hoof
of a leg long enough
to jump the ravine.

The brindled bull
grunts and bellows awfully
and lowers his head
to graze.

Read the SPANISH version

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