absence

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Absence
Claribel Alegría

Hello
I said looking at your portrait
and the greeting was stunned
between my lips.
Again the pang,
knowing that it is useless;
the scorched weather
of your absence.

Translation

Ausencia

Hola
dije mirando tu retrato
y se pasmó el saludo
entre mis labios.
Otra vez la punzada,
el saber que es inútil;
el calcinado clima
de tu ausencia.

Photo by Rúben Marques on Unsplash

lightly

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To Go Lightly
Ángela Hernández Núñez

In innocence, eternity is possible.

But I have loved in haste,
with the attentiveness of objects that fly away.
I find myself saying, close the doors.
I find myself saying, love you ought to leave.
I find myself touching lines in the stone.

I think about the women who waited,
not for Ulysses, but for ordinary men.
Those who laid siege to cities,
beyond the great width
of their own hearts.

I have loved after and during the storm.
I carry a burden of light:
it turns the air to ashes.

Translation

Andar ligero

Screen Shot 2020-06-21 at 10.33.13

Photo by DDP on Unsplash

here

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Here
Octavio Paz

My footsteps in this street
echo in another street
where I hear my footsteps
passing in this street
where

Only the mist is real.

Original

Aquí

Mis pasos en esta calle
Resuenan
En otra calle
Donde
Oigo mis passos
Pasar en esta calle
Donde

Sólo es real la niebla

Photo by Goran Vučićević on Unsplash

Said and read – August 2020

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“Moreover, only when the weak have decent reasons to defend the system that reproduces their subservience does the empire of the powerful stand a chance to survive.” And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic FutureYanis Varoufakis

Image by S Donaghy

As I write, it is already the middle of September. I don’t know how this happens — the time slipping away so effortlessly. Perhaps the entire world feels mad, on fire, filled with a kind of crippling uncertainty that makes time present simultaneously as an accelerating blaze and a mind-numbing standstill (and the latter only because we see few resolutions or certainties that will provide comfort, that is, we fear the outcome of the upcoming US election; we watch literal fire turn large swaths of the world into infernos and then ash; we continue to grapple with the consequences of an out-of-control and still-not-entirely understood pandemic).

Just as always, reading is a salve, a form of hope, a cautionary tale, a glimpse into other worlds, other histories, lives we can only imagine.

Previous book reports: 2020 – July, June, May, April, March, February, January. 2019 – December, November, October, September, May, April, March, February, January. 2018 – NovemberOctober, SeptemberAugust, July, June, May, April, March, February and January.

Thoughts on reading for August:

Disappointingly most of what I read in August was uninspiring, and left me uninspired. A lot of things that were enjoyable or informative enough but were nevertheless mediocre. Despite having given myself time to contemplate everything, I’ve ended up without books that fit neatly into categories. Just a single list of a handful of books, making this August book report the shortest one I’ve written in a very long time.

*Capital and IdeologyThomas Piketty

“Inequality is neither economic nor technological; it is ideological and political.”

“This approach runs counter to the common conservative argument that inequality has a basis in “nature.””

A really densely packed and far-ranging book, probably not best served as the leisure-time reading for which I used it. It would be great if I were connecting it to something academic, but standalone – as great as it is – it’s a bit too much.

“To recapitulate: inequalities linked to different statuses and ethno-religious origins, whether real or perceived, continue to play a key role in modern inequality. The meritocratic fantasy that one often hears is not the whole story—far from it. To understand this key dimension of modern inequality, it is best to begin by studying traditional ternary societies and their variants.”

The book’s most valuable chapter is the final chapter, which serves as prescription pad for a more just and socialist future: Intertwined concerns – various forms of “justice” to reach equality, from educational justice to taxation, from democratic participation to universal income rights.

*Second Person SingularSayed Kashua

“She said that man was only smart if he was able to shed his identity. “Skin color is a little hard to shed,” she said, “it’s true. But the DNA of your social class is even harder to get rid of.””

Last month I mentioned Palestinian writer Sayed Kashua, as I enjoy his voice. This book was still on my to-read list at the time. I realized well into reading Second Person Plural that I had seen some form of film adaptation of it. The film, A Borrowed Identity, isn’t a direct adaptation of this book but instead is billed as an adaptation of Dancing Arabs, which I’d read last month. But Second Person is definitely tells the part of the story the film eventually takes on, in which an Israeli Arab ends up assuming the identity of the Israeli Jew he had been a caretaker for – with the blessing of the guy’s mother. The film portrays this event (taking over someone else’s identity and the relationship between the protagonist and the person whose identity he takes on) slightly differently, but the themes of co-existing cultures, fitting into a culture but only to a certain degree unless you literally become someone else… these are fascinating questions.

*And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic FutureYanis Varoufakis

Indeed, this book is about a paradox: European peoples, who had hitherto been uniting so splendidly, ended up increasingly divided by a common currency.”

I was on a Yanis Varoufakis kick in August, watching a number of his YouTube talks and interviews with other like-minded economists (there aren’t a lot of them because they have not drunk the standard endless-growth-is-good-possible-inevitable-at-all-costs KoolAid). When I feebly attempted to study economics myself it was this blind praise for capitalism as a model, as the centerpiece around which other theories only existed as faded, failed ideas that brought only misery to people, that turned me off. I was not looking for a love song for capitalism but alternatives. What reality shows us time and again, and which Varoufakis faithfully chronicles, is that people and the policies they enact, fail to enact or haphazardly enforce, cause misery. The theoretical economic systems people attempt to employ are just that — theories. It’s in practice that misery or relief or prosperity can be enacted, and it would be difficult to argue that unbridled capitalism has caused relief or prosperity for most people, even if it has done an exceptional job for the few who benefit from it.

“Capitalism, lest we forget, flourished only after debt was demoralized. Debt prisons had to be replaced by limited liability, and finance had to ride roughshod over any guilty feelings debtors were encumbered with, before “the rapid improvement of all instruments of production… [and] the immensely facilitated means of communication” could draw “all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization”—to quote from none other than Karl Marx.”

I never found the right kind of economics program at any university, so I abandoned the field. And almost 20 years later, after doing some casual self-education, I’ve learned that I was not alone. To step outside the norm and the accepted (in anything, not just economic studies) requires not only an act of defiance but also raises the flag that tells the world that you think differently, and may therefore be dangerous. This is where people like Varoufakis or Richard Wolff have walked a different path and have, at times, been “lightning rods” for daring to study, teach, lecture, and write about economic alternatives, which is akin to heresy for mainstream economists and capitalists. It’s also the unpopular direction economist Kate Raworth wanted her own economics studies to take, and she has discussed this in the introduction to her book,Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-century Economist. All focus on wanting to implement an economic system that serves goals that support human well-being rather than serving the rights and growth of capital. You wouldn’t think that would be so dangerous or controversial.

“ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE once wrote that those who praise freedom only for the material benefits it offers have never kept it long. In today’s Europe, those who wax lyrical about the sanctity of the existing rules are their own worst enemy and the handmaidens of discretionary, autocratic power. Europe’s democrats must, for this reason, beware of those speaking of moves toward political union and “more Europe” when their real objective is to preserve an unsustainable monetary architecture. Continuing to impose impossible rules opens the door to the ugly ghosts of our common past.”

Indeed this is at the heart of a functioning democracy, which has in recent years grown threadbare before our eyes.

“DEMOCRACY VS. DISCRETIONARY POWER This section ought to be superfluous. The fact that it is not reflects badly on a world that seems to have forgotten the minimum requirements for a functioning liberal democracy. So here we are, stating what, once upon a time, everyone knew well, namely that the chief purpose of law is to create a level playing field between the weak and the powerful. While a level playing field does not preclude exploitation and serious violations of freedom, it is the very least the rule of law must provide.”

A few key points from Varoufakis’s work:

“Looking down from the heights of the famous Ferris wheel at the Prater amusement park in Vienna, Harry Lime (played by Orson Welles in The Third Man, 1949) issues an impertinent theory of European civilization. Under the Borgias, he professes, three decades of bloodshed gave us the Renaissance. In contrast, five centuries of Swiss democracy and peaceful coexistence produced nothing more spectacular than the cuckoo clock.”

In addition to parallels with other modern economists, Varoufakis’s warnings about inequality and how capitalism (one of the great engines of inequality creation) will devour democracy (hasn’t it already in the form of things like Citizens United?) parallel the underlying themes of works by journalists like Sarah Kendzior. Kendzior is best-known for her work on Trump and his long-lived criminal ties, but has an academic background and expertise in the rise of authoritarian regimes. When Varoufakis writes:

“Leonard Schapiro, writing on Stalinism, warned us that “the true object of propaganda is neither to convince nor even to persuade. But to produce a uniform pattern of public utterances in which the first trace of unorthodox thought reveals itself as a jarring dissonance.”

…you cannot help but think of Kendzior’s own warnings about how Trump’s scandals are a form of smoke and mirrors that serve as a distraction from the actual criminal pursuits taking place just below the surface (well, not even out of the public eye — if anyone were paying attention or cared, we can all see the illegality). I’ve recently reread Kendzior’s book, Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America and was struck by these kinds of analysis most of all: the spectacle, the propaganda machine, spits out new craziness on a daily basis. The perpetual fatigue and exhaustion create conditions ripe for the exploitation and complete plowing under of democracy.

And in a fragile, flawed democracy based on capitalism, which is — if you didn’t realize — controlled by money, money talks… loudest and longest, and those without (which is most of us) have very little recourse.

Another thought-provoking point from Varoufakis’s work: he discusses at some length the 1991 Krzysztof Kiesłowski film La Double Vie de Véronique. His brief analysis digs into Kiesłowski’s own thematic exploration of the burgeoning European experiment. Near the end of Kiesłowski’s life, his final works dealt with European unity after 40+ years of disunity (the Trois Couleurs trilogy directly confronts and grapples with this). But the earlier Véronique teases some of the themes: The connection between the two characters (twinned souls, of sorts – one in Poland (Weronika) and one in France (Véronique) – who only briefly get a glimpse of one another) could represent the connections between these very different countries (Poland and France) and their very different historical trajectories. At the time we had only the haziest ideas of what each other’s lives were like, but we were still human — and the two heroines here have a split-second recognition of each other’s humanity, and its fleeting nature. Varoufakis takes this a step further, looking at how the past 25 years have eroded that naive hope and dashed much of the compassion with which Kiesłowski treated his subjects:

“And here is the irony: Before the border fences were torn down between Poland, Germany, France and Britain, a film like The Double Life of Veronique resonated perfectly in Warsaw, in Paris, in London and in Stuttgart. Today, a similar film would not. Véronique and Weronika would have no bond, no mystical connection. They would be pitted against each other in the context of a ruthless European Union where solidarity has been reduced to predatory “bailouts” that increase debt, “reforms” that translate into savage cuts in the poorest Europeans’ wages and pensions, and “credibility” that is synonymous with following failed economic recipes.”

I had never really thought much about these underlying themes when the films were released because at the time, as an American youth looking in from the outside at a Europe at the end of the Cold War, at the threshold of a new cooperation, it felt like a peaceful inevitability that Europe would unite – and Kiesłowski delicately captured the novelty and fragility of that. It remained to be seen then how unification would actually play out. How the unity of people is not at all the same thing as the unity of a currency.

On a final and completely frivolous note, Varoufakis wrote about people he met in 1991, one of whom was called “Grandma Georgia”. I laughed out loud seeing this, as my own grandmother was a “Grandma Georgia”, and a girl I knew in my adolescence claimed that she loved the sound of these words together so much that one day she would name a child “Grandma Georgia” (she didn’t).

*Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep EstablishmentYanis Varoufakis

A detailed and harrowing account of how Greece’s then-finance minister, economic Varoufakis tried to negotiate with the European and American establishment in the face of truly bleak odds and real human pain on display in a flailing/failing Greece. The establishment was not receptive and not negotiating in good faith, and much of this book, in addition to providing a blow-by-blow account of the crisis, explains much of the backstory as to how and why it’s not what it seemed and was not in good faith.

But that’s not all. Washington could park Wall Street’s bad assets on the Federal Reserve’s books and leave them there until either they started performing again or were eventually forgotten, to be discovered by the archaeologists of the future. Put simply, Americans did not need to pay even that relatively measly $258 per head out of their taxes. But in Europe, where countries like France and Greece had given up their central banks in 2000 and the ECB was banned from absorbing bad debts, the cash needed to bail out the banks had to be taken from the citizenry. If you have ever wondered why Europe’s establishment is so much keener on austerity than America’s or Japan’s, this is why. It is because the ECB is not allowed to bury the banks’ sins in its own books, meaning European governments have no choice but to fund bank bailouts through benefits cuts and tax hikes.”

*Selected Poetry, 1937-1990João Cabral de Melo Neto

Poetry of course

*SpellAnn Lauterbach

Poetry

*Multitudinous Heart: Selected Poems: A Bilingual EditionCarlos Drummond de Andrade

Poetry!

*The Country Between UsCarolyn Forché

What do you think?! POETRY!

*The Lunatic: PoemsCharles Simic

Need I say it? Poetry.

signs

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Signs
Circe Maia

Screen Shot 2020-06-21 at 10.56.55

Translation

Signos
Los signos de pregunta
los ganchos
de las interrogantes
como anzuelos
van y vuelven vacíos.Renuncia.El agua, el aire mismo
y hasta la luz
son claras
respuestas
a otros signos.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

madrigal

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Madrigal
Octavio Paz

More transparent
than this water dropping
through the vine’s twined fingers
my thought stretches a bridge
from yourself to yourself
Look at you
truer than the body you inhabit
fixed at the center of my mind

You were born to live on an island.

Original

Madrigal

Más transparente
que esa gota de agua
entre los dedos de la enredadera
mi pensamiento tiende un puente
de ti misma a ti misma
                                          Mírate
más real que el cuerpo que habitas
fija en el centro de mi frente
Naciste para vivir en una isla
Photo by Wai Siew on Unsplash

reflejo

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Reflection
Ángela Hernández Núñez

If for the first time I could reclaim the comforting
clarity of my awareness

If my knees could explore the intimacy of the tree

And if, while running, I loosened stones
containing living creatures

If I could say “I”
taking by surprise the universe
that we ignore until the end…

Translation

Reflejo

Screen Shot 2020-06-21 at 10.38.12

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

olvido

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Poem of Your Oblivion
Aída Cartagena Portalatín
The soul in a mansion of snow,
the garment of words left absence naked
and your name became unnameable,
shipwrecked
on the sands of forsaken lips.

Translation

Poema de tu olvido

El alma en una mansión de nieve,
el traje de la palabra dejó desnuda la ausencia
y tu nombre era innombrable,
porque había naufragado
en la playa de unos labios desiertos.

Photo by shahab yazdi on Unsplash

sola

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A Woman is Alone
Aída Cartagena Portalatín
A woman is alone. Alone with her stature.
With her open eyes. With her open arms.
With her heart open like a wide silence.
She waits in the desperate and despairing night without losing hope.
She thinks she is in the flagship
with the saddest light of creation.
Already she has hoisted her sails and let herself be carried by the North wind
in accelerated flight before the eyes of love.

A woman is alone. She holds her dreams fast with dreams,
the dreams that remain to her, and all the sky of the Antilles.
Solemn and quiet before the world that is a human stone,
in motion, adrift, lost in the sense
of its own word, its useless word.

A woman is alone. She thinks that now everything is nothing
and no one says anything from the party to the mourning
about the blood that leaps, about the blood that runs
about the blood that is born or dies of death.

Nobody comes forward to offer her a dress
to clothe her voice that sobs naked, spelling itself.

A woman is alone. She feels, and her truth drowns
in thoughts that translate the beauty of the rose,
of the star, of love, of man and of God.

Translation

Poema de tu olvido

Una mujer está sola. Sola con su estatura.
Con los ojos abiertos. Con los brazos abiertos.
Con el corazón abierto como un silencio ancho.
Espera en la desesperada y desesperante noche
sin perder la esperanza.
Piensa que está en el bajel almirante
con la luz más triste de la creación
Ya izó velas y se dejó llevar por el viento del Norte
con la figura acelerada ante los ojos del amor.
Una mujer está sola. Sujetando con sus sueños sus sueños,
los sueños que le restan y todo el cielo de Antillas.

Seria y callada frente al mundo que es una piedra humana,
móvil, a la deriva, perdido el sentido
de la palabra propia, de su palabra inútil.
Una mujer está sola. Piensa que ahora todo es nada
y nadie dice nada de la fiesta o el luto
de la sangre que salta, de la sangre que corre,
de la sangre que gesta o muere en la muerte.
Nadie se adelanta ofreciéndole un traje
para vestir una voz que desnuda solloza deletreándose.
Una mujer está sola. Siente, y su verdad se ahoga
en pensamientos que traducen lo hermoso de la rosa,
de la estrella, del amor, del hombre y de Dios.

Photo by boldbaatar dashnyam on Unsplash

scars

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Scars
Circe Maia
Open wounds
on the skin of time

Do they scar?

The days
place their bandages.
The bloody traces
are smoothed and washed.

Do the wounded heal?
—Yes, totally—

(Though at nightfall
the wound bleeds
sometimes).

Translation

Cicatrices
Abiertas heridas
sobre la piel del tiempo¿Cicatrizan?Los días
depositan sus vendas.
Se alisan y se lavan
rastros sanguinolentos¿Se recobra el herido?
—Sí, totalmente—

(Aunque al caer la noche
la herida sangra
a veces.)

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash