Mambos Religiosos

Max Lichtenstein

The silence of the walls
so much to hear
and nothing to say

You arrived late with those sweets
I already gave lunch away
nothing for the poor
everything for the rich

Smoke rising in my body
money wasted on pornography
just one more woman and that's it

I only fall in love once
not enough youth to spend
just a ton of coins
shining in the silence of the wall

Protesting as I Can, on Monday I Begin the Diet

Fuck everything from Garcia Marquez to the nueva trova. To wit: I found
Dylan thanks to Pavement. Masturbate all the time, everywhere you can. In
any bathroom you find. But always leave them clean.

It's not my fault your idol wasn't born in your country.

Hate cellphones, buzzers, intercoms. Never travel. Go out with girls from
your city and listen to your aunt who recommends giving it your heart and soul.

Always wear black suits. Listen to the Beatles but pronounce it with a
smart Santa Fe accent, "the Be-atuls." Walk and drink water. Give up on Tarantino.

Scorn the old and honk at them from your car. Shame Bolaño got popular.
Put a price on your ass for a night at a trendy party packed with tweakers.
Sell art. Get boring.

25 and not a clue. Try on different religions for size and wash up in
Cordoba convinced UFOs exist. Resentful. Read the Da Vinci Code (everybody's doing it).

Drink warm beer in plazas. Talk with taxi drivers. Don't end up dead by the
age of 27. Hang on just a little longer. Go vegetarian for a month and
donate some small change to Greenpeace.

Set yourself on fire and look for the closest shop selling Coca-Cola to put it
out. Never go to Bolivia but yes to Morocco, (and the corresponding ugly
caftan comes home with you). Look for a hero, an icon, something... (the
Virgin of Guadalupe never goes out of style)

(Bonus Track: buy Elton John albums. Smile like Sharon Stone. Homage.
Let life flow, said a friend. Growing up with the greats is so important.)

Christmas Song for Sad People

empty houses and plastic cars
your world crashes against nothing
so goes

santa i asked for more love
not for you to hit on my sister

santa i asked for more love
not for you to sell my dad a car

Christmas red & green as a soccer game
on television

The Stairway Doesn't Go to Heaven

The pamphlet's promised gold            never arrives   One has to
lie in the paper to find the perfect lover          Did you believe
that beer?        We might not all make it together
That scares me           Let's not all think together       It scares
me more         I swim in self deception          And surf cheap tricks
to not muddle further...           That miracle is never going
to happen and that      is the worst sin of a miracle.

translated from the Spanish by Cordelia Brodsky

Read the original in Spanish

Read translator’s note

Max Lichtenstein is the author of numerous volumes of poetry perfumed with the bitter flowers of Miles Davis, Bob Dylan and Classic Rock, both new and old. He has resided in Mexico City since 2004, where he listens to jazz, smokes unapologetically, walks his dogs and works as a waiter. He currently has several multidisciplinary poetic and visual projects in the works.

Cordelia Brodsky is a graphic artist and translator based in Spain since 2005. She is currently tattooing her way across Mexico. Her translations, essays and interviews have appeared in TattooArte Magazine, Black Warrior Review, Sphera, and Mondo Sonoro. You can find a selection of her visual work here.

The following selection of poems is taken from the book Mambos Religiosos, by Max Lichtenstein, published in 2005 by Juan Malasuerte Editores. I came across  these poems thanks to Francisco Fenton, head editor of Juan Malasuerte, a small press based in Mexico City specializing in letterpress printed editions of poetry and prose by up-and-coming Latin American authors.

These poems in particular present a unique challenge to the translator despite their apparent simplicity because they are rooted in the informal, referential discourse of conversation and its consequent class associations and geographic references.The specificity of who is speaking may not be translated. Argentine Spanish is instantly identifiable as such even in print, not just because of the particular "Vos" form of address, but also for a series of small divergences from the hotly disputed norm as far as vocabulary, slang and diction are concerned. To anyone reading them in Spanish, the "Argentine" nature of these poems is undeniable; lest the author were making an affected joke. In written English, the nationality of an author is not generally so inextricably tied into their words.

In the background, a small radio plays a loop of peppered with rock music, giving rise to titles like "The Stairway doesn't go to Heaven;" these references become perhaps more visible in English than in the original. Artists like Pavement, the Pixies and El Mato a un Policia Motorizado (an Argentine Indie rock group whose first EP, Navidad de Reserva, came out in 2005, the same year Mambos Religiosos was published) could form an accompanying playlist.  Musical discourse is an important aspect in Lichtenstein's work.  One could say music marks  the time, influencing the rhythmic structure of the poems, and in a larger sense, serving as a generational marker.

When I first read the book, I was perhaps most struck by the way it seems to reflect a very particular moment and demographic, people coming of age in the wake of the Argentine economic crisis of 2001. Many left to look for luck elsewhere, echoes of sun-dappled afternoons of foreign pop songs churning with revulsion and longing for what was abandoned, and for a future which had abandoned them.

NB: Juan Malasuerte is a small publisher in Mexico City dedicated to printing the works of up and coming avante garde poetry on archival quality stock, run by Francisco Fenton and Eugenio Martinez. Mambos Religiosos was published in 2005, typeset by hand and printed on a 1927 Chandler & Price platen press.