Four Poems from “Still Lives (Voices)” by Pedro Serrano, translated from the Spanish (Mexico) by Anna Crowe

Mario Rangel Faz

Translator’s Note

These four poems are from a sequence of thirteen, or rather twelve plus a Chorus, called “Naturalezas Muertas (Voces)” (“Still Lives [Voices]), from Pedro Serrano’s collection, Ignorancia (El Equilibrista, Mexico 1994) and published also in his selected poems, Desplazamientos (Editorial Candaya, Barcelona 2006). Each poem is a portrait of a friend of the poet, a “still life” brought vividly and sonorously to life in the voice of that individual, almost like a version of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, but in words rather than music.

Floating, taking part in actions without knowing them, without
tasting them.
Floating outwards, round about, in circles,
like static in the sky,
seeing the dust those footsteps leave, bleeding,
leaving themselves behind,
seeing the paths down in the valley, the criss-crossings that they make.
Ceaselessly circling around all this lovesick carrion,
obsessively circling
and never touching anything ever.

Flotar, asistir a los actos sin saberlos, sin
Flotar afuera, alrededor, en círculos,
estática en el cielo,
ver el polvo que dejan esas huellas, que sangran, que
se dejan,
ver los caminos en el valle, el trizadero que conforman.
Dar círculos continuos ante tanta carroña enamorada,
endemoniadamente dar los círculos
sin tocar nunca nada.

I see myself in the mirror, and scrape at my face.
One, two, three, the same features, always the other one,
always the same one, strong, hard-faced, cold.
The same surface muddying into blackness, dis-
integrating, narrowing.
Just think of all that patience repeating itself in black blood,
just think of the weeping, the four stubborn smears that sketch my face.
It’s as though I’m flaying myself so I can be repeated there,
spending and scraping at myself.
I am this gash, this warped, resentful wood,
this never-ending switching of sheets of paper,
this chewed-over resentment that
withers, depicts, and withers me.
One, two, three, always those other features, always
the other one, the same one,
in a draining away that chafes, chafes, and
that never tears itself up and goes naked.

Me veo en el espejo, me rayo.
Uno, dos, tres, el mismo trazo, siempre el otro,
siempre el mismo, fuerte, duro, seco.
La misma superficie que se encharca de negro, se
pudre, se aprieta.
Ah, la paciencia repetida en la sangre negra,
ah, el llanto, ah los cuatro tiznes tiesos de mi rostro.
Pareciera que me desuello para allí repetirme,
gastarme, rayarme.
Soy esta cuchillada, esta madera rencorosa, enroscada,
este trasiego inacabable de papel en papel,
este resentimiento masticado que
me seca, me pinta, me seca.
Uno, dos, tres, el otro trazo siempre, siempre
el otro, el mismo,
en un agotamiento que se raspa, se raspa, se
nunca se rasga y se desnuda.

What are the whereabouts of this babble of tongues,
this suicide flight of words,
this hermit-crab that is my story?
As though the music of a language might save me,
as though I might conjugate myself or flow wildly along!
As though I could cast it all off, break loose,
melt into a city with no name, no past,
run like a salmon towards its origin,
disinherit myself,
slide out from all this jostle.
There learn to lisp,
in all innocence, in the ignorance of the echoes.

¿En dónde está este desbarajuste de lenguas,
esta suicida huida de palabras,
este cangrejo ermitaño de mi historia?
Ay, como si la música de un idoma me pudiera salvar,
como si yo pudiera conjugarme, fluir furiosamente.
Como si yo pudiera soltarlo todo, desprenderse,
desaparecer en una ciudad sin nombre y sin historia,
huir como un salmón hacia su origen,
desafanar al fin este trasiego.
Aprender allí a balbucear,
en la inocencia, en la ignorancia de los ecos.

Feeling the unevenness, the surface of the landslide, its settling.
The thickest condensing of impurities, of amalgams in that place.
Feeling on your tongue the sharp stab of adrenaline,
the dark dizziness of your breathing and shuddering, the shivering,
the dense smell and stickiness of this fear that’s held in check.
Finding some peace in the heavy atmosphere of this suffocation,
in the dampness and darkness of this cave reaching your hand out to touch,
to finger the many kinds of unevenness and slopes it emanates from,
feeling its cold and its heat, both held in tension, its sour oozing,
its surface and its trembling.
Going deeper, therefore, into the purification, into the scene,
into the communion and abandoning of minerals to their fate,
to the intimacy of wood, and of the almond.
Then understanding the pain.
Then setting it like a jewel.

Sentir el desnivel, la superficie de su deslizamiento, su asentarse.
La densísima condensación de impurezas y de amalgamas que allí hay.
Sentir en la lengua el punzón azul de adrenalina,
el mareo oscuro de la respiración y del reverberar, el escalofrío,
el denso olor y la pastosidad de este miedo estancado.
En la pesada atmósfera de ese ahogo hallar la paz,
en la humedad y en la oscuridad de esta cueva pasar la mano, palpar,
tocar los desniveles e inclinaciones de donde emana,
sentir su frío y su calor enrarecidos, su saliva amarga,
su superficie y su temblor.
Adentrarse así en la purificación, en la escena,
en la comunión y el abandono de los minerales a su suerte,
a la intimidad de la madera y de la almendra.
Entender entonces el dolor.
Engastarlo entonces.


®Andrea Acuña PedroSerranoPedro Serrano (b. Montreal 1957) is a poet who teaches at UNAM in Mexico DF, and director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre in Canada. His translations include the anthology of British poetry La generación del cordero with Carlos López Beltrán, Shakespeare’s King John, Edward Hirsch’s Aligeren la oscuridad, and Gabriel, A PoemLa construcción del poeta moderno on T.S. Eliot and Octavio Paz, was published in 2012 by Conaculta. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2007 and the Prix international de poésie Antonio Viccaro, in 2016. His book Peatlands, translated by Anna Crowe and introduced by W.N. Herbert, was published by Arc in 2014. He writes in Mexican Spanish.


Anna Crowe (b. Plymouth, England, 1945) is co-founder and former artistic director of StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival. Her work has been recorded for the Poetry Archive and translated into several languages. Figure in a Landscape won the Callum MacDonald Memorial Award, was a Poetry Book Society Choice, and was translated into Spanish by Pedro Serrano. Her third collection, Not on the Side of the Gods, was published in 2019 by Arc Publications. She was awarded a Travelling Scholarship by the Society of Authors and her translations include three books by the Catalan poet Joan Margarit published by Bloodaxe Books. Her translations published by Arc Publications include Peatlands by  Serrano, Six Catalan Poetsand Lunarium by Josep Lluís Aguiló. Her translation of Maps of Desire by Manuel Forcano was chosen as a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation. She lives in St. Andrews, Scotland.