Translation Tuesday: Five poems by Ana Luísa Amaral

and thank you for the thread of perfume you brought me, / waxing a rough wooden floor / or the veins of a plant eager for leaves



I’m about to fly off somewhere

and my fear of heights plus myself

finds me resorting to tranquillisers

and having confused dreams


If I should die

I want my daughter always to remember me

for someone to sing to her even if they can’t hold a tune

to offer her pure dreams

rather than a fixed timetable

or a well-made bed


To give her love and the ability

to look inside things

to dream of blue suns and brilliant skies

instead of teaching her how to add up

and how to peel potatoes

To prepare my daughter

for life

if I should die on a plane

and be separated from my body

and become a free-floating atom in the sky


Let my daughter

remember me

and later on say to her own daughter

that I flew off into the sky

and was all dazzle and contentment

to see that in her house none of the sums added up

and the potatoes were still in their sack forgotten




Killing is easy


With my nail I murdered (so easy)

a small mosquito

that landed without permission and without a licence

on this piece of paper


Dressed to be invisible,

its wings too insubstantial to be seen

and once dead on the paper, a trace

of almost nothing


But a trace

with a trick of magic, a pretext

for a poem, and though its lymph burned

for less time

than my life-time,

it was still

a time lived


Laid low by no spear, no dagger,

no mortal poison

(a dignified dose of cyanide or strychnine)

it died, the victim of a fingernail,

and returned to dust:

a brief floury powder


But it must contain,

like all its relatives,

something concrete,

in less than a hundred years, it will be

the same substance


as feeds a poet’s tibia,

a face once loved,

this piece of paper pulp on the desk before me,

the tiniest most imperturbable point

on a comet’s tail –




No nymphs or muses


No nymphs or muses:

only a force that comes from within,

a touch of madness, of the abyss

that frightens

and seduces


A fountain of thread-thin water

finer than fine

(a too-bright moonbeam

would dry it up)


No river no lyre

no female flood of nymphs:

only some inherent inherited force,

in a fountain where the moon

does not shine




Mini-ode, in the form of a semi-biographical note


Good morning, dog and cat,

and thank you for your early morning greeting,

velvet body, soft tongue,

which means, in simultaneous translation:

Good morning


Good morning, sun, and thank you for coming in

and offering me this mirror

in which I see myself, full face,

your bright light lightening this sheet of paper

and inscribing on it, with one transparent ray,



Good morning to all things glossy out on the balcony,

the leaves of the camellia, whose very name shines,

the song of that bird,

as if the world, suddenly,

had become more world, and in such a way

that we might never again see

the day darken


Good morning to all those tiny creatures

invisible to me from my chair,

but who are all there: ants and spiders,

minuscule insects,

all doomed to die, but who will still be born here,

every day


Good morning, daughter, so like a sunflower,

how many more times will I say good morning,

glancing over at the corridor,

you, no longer to be lulled to sleep, but pure love

pure filigree,

and my sun almost setting


Good morning, sofa,

where I sit at night, slowly,

the flowers sometimes absent and sometimes

peopling this table, the glass door,

illuminated, all right angles,

books and paintings, small

photographs in brief



Good morning to you too

and thank you for the thread of perfume you brought me,

waxing a rough wooden floor

or the veins of a plant eager for leaves,

or even the flawed peace you gave me

the same peace I wish for you


Despite the discordant note

of waking each morning

to a world full of so many sunless hands

despite the disorderly, violent, rushing current

that is the world,

despite all, here is this brief note

on opening my eyes and saying good morning

and breathing in the newly-fresh air filling

everything –








The not-quite-turned-off tap

and in the silence

the invasive sound: a drop

small, regular


Like a nail in the brain

tearing: the sharp sound

of water. The torture the memory

the time spent waiting

for the next drop


the next blue whiplash

in the storm



Ana Luísa Amaral published her first volume of poetry, Minha Senhora de Quê in 1990 and has since published fifteen collections. Translated into several languages, her work has brought her many prizes, including the 2008 Grande Prémio from the Portuguese Writers’ Association. She is also a translator, notably of the poetry of John Updike and Emily Dickinson.

Margaret Jull Costa has been a literary translator for nearly thirty years and has translated works by such writers as Eça de Queiroz, José Saramago and Javier Marías. In 2013 she was invited to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 2014 was awarded an OBE for services to literature.

  • Elton Uliana

    I first encountered Margaret’s work reading her translation of Saramago’s ‘A Viagem do Elefante’ (‘The Elephant’s Journey’). I could not express enough how incredibly brilliant her transposition of the novel into the English language is, even Saramago’s characteristic tone I could hear. I follow you always and everywhere now Margaret.
    Elton Uliana