João Luís Barreto Guimarães


There were figs
and olive trees. Messina had been taken
by Carthaginian boats
the way morning coffee occupies
the space in the air.
There were apricots and almonds. Nearby
in Syracuse
(using his own body)
Archimedes demonstrated how water
is incompressible.
We held hands and touched feet.
There were citrus trees and cypresses.
I’m not sure about vineyards.

The Possibility of Love

cold morning draws the lovers
near the sea on the far north side of the island where
a cold wind blows and a cold waterfall leaps in
an arc off
the cliff that the islanders named
Bridal Veil. On this side of Porto Moniz (in
long agave leaves) every language has left alive
the possibility of love:
Hubert aime Christine
a Olga le gusta Mauri
only solitary Simon and Susan the dreamer
inscribed on different leaves (albeit
from the same cactus) by bad luck
or good misfortune
did not coincide on that day.
All of them were once here. All of them conceded
the possibility of love—
even if
the water that falls today is not tomorrow’s water
(let alone next year’s) when
these names fall and others rise up
in their place still
without bitterness. May the passion here written
turn into love by then.

Pentecostés en la Taberna del Obispo

Everything returns everything is cyclical (a
love that once appeared lost)
our return to the Taberna del Obispo where even
the parson returns to drink the bustle
(and una caña)
between masses. Inside
the Cathedral the
Word completed one more cycle (Christ
already rose to the Heavens nearly seven days ago and
now the archangel Gabriel is going to see Mary
to announce to her that she will be
the Mother of
Christ). Outside
in the calles of Malaga we wander through the city and
like the parson we return to Taberna del Obispo
to commune tortillas
revueltos and
calamares. For behold where faith finds sustenance there
Man himself will find sustenance
and not even the Holy Ghost belittles such a place—
as soon as the parson departs He descends to nibble
crumbs that the parson leaves (religiously)
for Him.

Between Ethereal and Earthly

Deus sive Natura

the morning of the storm we left to assess the damages
(replace rocks in walls
pluck twigs from the ground). The
of nature upended the previous order
like a sign of overindulgence when
on the morning after you look closer and discern
the misconceptions
of last night. Left over from the tempest’s strength
only pain and silence (heaven and earth
derailed at the feet of an umbrella pine:
a mouse and a
sparrow are the visible memory of the blind
devastation) as if
a starting over was only possible should
ethereal and earthly both
dare to take a loss. A
god adjusts equilibrium destroying its creation—
someone has to die early on so 
the rest of us outlive.

The Slow Song of Allah

You’d have to have the gift of tongues not to
lose yourself in the sounds of Jemaa el-Fna Square. An
alchemist from Syria an Algerian medicine man
a muleteer from Tunis the
Moroccan water seller—
all of them
request your soul all of them
beg with one hand in the immense glossolalia
the Sirocco
conjured up. Honey, if you ain’t seen this
you ain’t seen nothin’ yet: from
the top of the minaret in Marrakesh’s souk
the call of the muezzin makes sure to stress
Muhammad is the prophet (Allah
the only God)
in this song the foreigner cannot resist
(ignorant and happy) in a tone
“more or less”

Meanwhile on a Roman Denarius

face of Caesar Augustus much more haggard
than the effigy of Tiberius (Tiberius
crossed Hispania years after Augustus—
much less time spent
on the road). Caressed by commerce
on the obverse of a denarius: this is how
an emperor draws the confines of an empire
and it’s easy to like the Minho (the
climate of its estuary)
Augustus let himself get lost among
the stone houses going on almost
two thousand years. In
the Castro of Santa Trega’s archaeological museum
the twins Castor and Pollux proceed
with their backs turned on the
emperor’s face. It’s the other side of the coin:
prisoners to Rome’s power
their being gods does them no good. They cannot
return without him.

translated from the Portuguese by Calvin Olsen