Translation Tuesday: Poems by Martín López-Vega

Translated by the author and Genevieve Arlie

The corpses of Orto dei Fuggitivi speak


No bones or shreds of toga,

even less flesh, or blood, or semen:

what’s left of us is the shell

of our corpses in lava, and don’t say

lava saved us: rather condemned us

to eternal sudden death.


You won’t think of us often:

your century wants a culprit

to commemorate the dead.

We remain because our nothingness

remains: there’s the rub.

An image lifted from Judgment Day,

Life meant to imitate Art

by means of the same technique

of imprisoning the human form

with vain aspirations of encrypting the real.


Vapor immobilized us as we tilled

the fields, suspending us

in fixed agony, twice agonic.

Not walking, not sleeping, not fucking—

just tilling the agon. Everything sank

in noise of the end as we entered

the great silence smothered.


Fugitives of the ephemeral,

caught forever in the moment of that agony,

another would capture us better


the sound of certain footsteps in the sea—

the taste of certain lips one portentous afternoon—

the scent of lavender and a gathering storm—

the opportune shadow of an olive tree—


Of our death you know everything,

but of our lives, nothing at all.

You examine us in vain. So obvious,

the moral isn’t worth a metaphor:

in this fire you must be the flame.


My influences as a scientist


My grandfather was a philosopher

whose collected works are titled

simply: Listen, look, and shut it.


My grandmother was a Baroque sculptor

whose masterpiece

was the parlor of her house

where only visitors were permitted.


At the time

I was a mad scientist

in search of a top secret formula.

One day I combined all my chemistry set vials

in a concoction that kept ballooning

even when flushed down the toilet.


Thus did I realize Brueghel

had mislaid a skull in my head.


Due to my failed attempts

to grant long life to impermanence,

my supervisors met in secret

and resolved that from that day forth

nothing would last forever.


In countries with unknown names,

televisions, tenderness, and this

putrid trickle rot together,

suffusing land and sea

with the antibiotic of elegy


Martín López-Vega (Poo de Llanes, Asturias, España, 1975) is the author of ten books of poetry in Spanish, collected in Retrovisor: poemas elegidos 1992-2012 (Papeles Mínimos, 2013) and four books of poetry in Asturian, selected in Otra vida: poemas en asturiano (2008). His most recent collection is La eterna cualquiercosa (Pre-Textos, 2014). He has also written a novel, travelogues, and essays on Spanish modernism and Asturian literature. He translates from Portuguese, Italian, and English. In 2000, he received the Roman Prize from the Spanish Academy in Rome. He’s now a PhD student in Spanish at the University of Iowa, where he teaches Portuguese.

Genevieve Arlie is an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa, where she’ll complete her MFA in literary translation in May 2015. For her thesis she is translating Homo scribens (1994), a chapbook by contemporary Russian poet Dmitry Golynko. She’s the current editor-in-chief of Exchanges, Iowa’s journal of literary translation. Her translations have appeared in The Brooklyn Quarterly and are forthcoming in St. Petersburg Review. Her awards include a Pushkin Poetry Prize, a Stanley Research Grant, and a Kathryn Davis Peace Fellowship. She also holds a BA in English from Stanford and an MA in Russian literature from Columbia.