from Zangareio

Flávio de Araújo

The Man Mending His Net

The man mending his net
needle in hand
net hung on its nail.
The man mending his net
thinks about the need to stitch
pictures the fish that might escape
through that rip.
The man mending his net
mends his world.

The serious man
expertly threads
his needle with red line
shoos away the black fly
spits chewed nylon
offers his thoughts about the weather
which are always right.
They still listen when he says it will rain
when he says the wind will blow.

The man mending his net
doesn't scold life
nor the mesh for its lack of fish
nor the big trawl ships.

The man mending his net
tells fisherman's tales
with such earnestness
he doesn't seem a fisherman.

The man mending his net
seems a happy man, distant
measuring in strokes
his silence, his will to live.

The man mending his net
and only now, to me,
my father
is just a man,
a man who mends his net.

The Floating Body

A body floating on an oily sea:
the clearest memory of his brief childhood.

It was not a ship's hull
nor part of the forest
unloosed by the sea.
But the solid matter into which God once blew
His spirit.

She was dressed in gray, like the squall.
Crustaceans of a thousand colors crowded
her long hair, and she had the luminous skin
of a woman who scrubbed with spices,
but was not beautiful at all.

The fishermen's faces grew saltier
like the fish they salted, liquid
poured from their eyes and settled
on their cracked lips
recalling the taste of brine.
Their minds clamored for the strength
of Jesus' blood.

A woman's body—
that much they knew.
The waves pulled her into a dance
with no music.
She didn't appear aged,
had no identifying marks.
One only heard, my God!
Over and over again, my God!
My God!

A woman's body floating
but never part of the sea.
They searched for a resemblance,
a name, a desire to die.

The admiral's sea gave way to storm.
Fish bile covered the sky.
Old Marçal dried breams
on the bamboo clothesline.
A revolution exploded that year, '64.

And my grandfather, by the light of a kerosene lamp,
again asking his grandchildren
about the floating body.
It was a story we'd heard a million times
but still claimed not to know.

And he would tell the same story
he'd been telling us for ages
that leaves our minds drunk even still.

A woman's body floating on an oily sea.
The clearest memory of my grandfather's brief childhood.

No One Plants Fish in the Sea

Cast your net, fisherman.
To wrap blue silk around the woman
praying on the wharf.
To pay for the children's notebooks.
To keep the storeowner
from turning away.

Sort the fish, fisherman.
The smallest one, that will come back big,
from the largest that will blacken
your wife's new frying pan.
The mesh-chewing crab
from the razor-toothed eel.

Freeze in the hold, fisherman,
where cold air stiffens
your busy hands
and the fish with gleaming,
lidless eyes.
Don't fear the seafloor below your feet—
from it sprouts seeds
you did not plant.

Skill will bring your vengeance,
justice will come from faith.

Watch the clouds propelled
by the breath of God.
The beaches overrun
by no entry signs.
The real estate speculator
with his lizard grin.
The dump scavengers hunting
aluminum and plastic.
The cigarette butts that don't kill
turtles from edema.
All the vanished species
expensive oil
and easily melting ice.

As if taming a horse
by the mane—
cast your net, fisherman,
it is your fate.

translated from the Portuguese by Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren

Read the original in Portuguese

Read translator’s note

Flávio de Araújo is a contemporary poet from Paraty, Brazil, who comes from a family of caiçara fishermen. His debut poetry collection, Zangareio, was published in conjunction with the 2008 OFF FLIP literary festival, an offshoot of FLIP (Paraty International Literary Festival). Araújo has participated in, and helped to organize, OFF FLIP, and has served as an editor for the Jornal de Poesia literary journal. He has also read at the International Literary Festival of Porto de Galinhas-Pernambuco and the International Literature Festival in Havana, Cuba. Zangareio is currently being translated into Spanish by Mexican poet Martha Favila.

Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren is an MFA candidate in poetry and literary translation at Columbia University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Two Lines, Nimrod, Calyx, New Delta Review, and Upstairs at Duroc.

The main challenge in translating Araújo's work has been recreating the sonority of the Brazilian Portuguese in English. The musicality of the caiçara dialect, and Araújo's attention to rhythm, create an almost incantatory effect that is more difficult to produce in English. Additionally, the poems have vivid imagery, but often use deceptively simple, straightforward language. The poems grow louder with each subsequent reading, as you realize all that is at stake for the speaker and his community. They also build on each other, the caiçara dialect becoming familiar as the same words reappear in different contexts. Araújo includes a glossary in his book since many of the words would be unfamiliar even to Brazilians from other parts of the country. Phrases such as mar de almirante (admiral's sea) and mar de azeite (oily sea) are much more lively and exciting than their literal meanings—that the water is calm. Depending on the rhythm of the poem, I have kept the more unusual caiçara word or phrase in some places, and used the more literal meaning in others. Overall, I have tried to maintain the lyricism and accessibility of the originals, without simplifying or eliminating the caiçara elements that make Araújo's poetry so unique.