One of the complaints I get from time to time—about both Three Percent and Open Letter—is our lack of poetry coverage. This is primarily my fault, since I rarely ever read poetry. Probably some sort of reading deficiency, blindspot, or problem with my soul, but, well, there you have it. (It’s not as if this is my only flaw! Even my best-friend could provide a list as long as a summer day.)
To try and make up for this, Open Letter is launching a poetry series (one book a year, starting in February or thereabouts) and below you’ll find a poem that I came across in the new issue of Zoland Poetry. (BTW, the new issue isn’t actually featured on the website . . . yet. Whoops. There is a mention of the pub date—March 23rd—but that’s it. I can confirm that yes, this really does exist, and that it’s filled with good stuff.)
“Invented Memoir” by Manoel de Barros, translated from the Portuguese by Idra Novey
I leaned into the morning the way a bird leans and a vision appeared: the afternoon running behind a dog. I was fourteen. The vision must have come from my origins. I don’t remember ever seeing a dog outrun the afternoon. I made a note of it anyway. Such leaps of the imagination are what make our speech more beautiful. I made a note in a phrasebook. By this point, I was already saving visions like this one. I had another that month, but first I should tell you the circumstances. I transported parts of my childhood between the kitchen wall and the yard. I pretended to put a yoke on the frogs behind our kitchen. We understood each other well. I fixed things so the frog’s skin matched the color of the ground. It seemed right, since they were of the ground and grimy. One day I said to my mother: A frog is a piece of the ground that jumps. She said I was mixed up, that a frog isn’t a piece of the ground. Now that I’m older, I think of the prophet Jeremiah. He was so distraught at seeing his Zion destroyed and dragged through the fire that a vision came to him in his home: even the stones in the street were crying. Later, calmer, writing to a friend, he remembered the vision: even the stones in the street had cried. It was such a beautiful sentence because there was no reason in it. He said this.
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