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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Number 66: Jorge Carrera Andrade: "Life Of The Cupboard"

Life of the Cupboard

The cupboard grows old, gnawed by moths,
In the lukewarm sisterhood of friendly furniture.
She is dulled by time and now and then creaks
As if about to die. If the children are noisy
At their round games, the poor thing suffers like a grandmother
Who wants to doze alone in her tepid silence.
She has forgotten the odor of ripe fruit
And of that grapejuice every Sunday
And, little old thing that she is, remembers something
Only when the house canary grows lyrical.
Little thieves in search of apples
On summer nights have damaged her doors
And now the poor cupboard is empty...
But when the lamp opens its yellow eye
She stops being motionless and mute as if perhaps
She remembers in ecstasy the image of two children,
My cousin and I absorbed in a picture book,
Seated at the tall old pine table,
Or that sunrise in which her soul
Took flight to the star upon which lost lovers gaze.

--Jorge Carrera Andrade (trans. by H.R. Hays)

Hap Notes: In the current pantheon of Latin American poets (Borges, Neruda, Paz, Vallejo) Jorge Carrera Andrade ( 1902-1978) is often ignored and that's a shame because he writes with a descriptive vision unlike anyone else. Who else would describe grasshoppers as "on crutches" or chimneys as commas or say "the velvet theatre of night"? Almost every poem he writes holds a verbal treat, a strange summing up, a singular vision.

The poem is taken from his book Wreath of Silence (La Guirnalda del Silencio). First off, younger readers may not know what a cupboard is, or rather, think of cupboards as a built in feature of a kitchen so I've added a picture to illustrate. I don't know that this is what the cupboard was like, it could have been shorter or more decorated, but cupboards were not included as "built-ins" in many homes before the 1930s. My grandparent's kitchen had two cupboards, one short for pans with a shelves over it for storage and one much like the picture. So many extraordinary visions in the poem; now what do you think a wooden cupboard would remember when she hears a bird sing?

The children in the poem are probably the second or third generation of kids who have played around her. She has seen this family grow up and looks more enlivened by the "yellow eye" of the lamp remembering her younger more functional days, seeing the poet and his cousin reading a picture book when they were children. Of course the cupboard would be a woman- nuturing, and part of a "sisterhood" but her life has become tepid/luke warm- not full of the fire of sunrise anymore when she was useful each day.

Carrera's poetry was more famous in the U.S. in the 40s when the first book of his poetry was published in English. He was lauded by Archibald MacLeish, Carl Sandburg and William Carlos Williams. He had a lot of diplomatic posts in Ecuador (France, Nicaragua, Belgium, the U.K.) and was once Secretary of State. After he retired from politics in Ecuador he taught at the State College of New York (SUNY) at Stonybrook for two years before retiring in Quito (he was born there) where he was director of the National Library.

Some things that a foreign poet writes will have depths we cannot see, even if we know the language. (How many times I have struggled over those "eye apples" in Rilke's "Archaic Torso" I cannot even say- it just confounds me.) Some of the delight of Carrera's work I'm positive I'm missing because I'm so truly enchanted by the translations already- if that makes any sense at all.

The amazing part of Carrera is that each poem holds some wonderful nugget, even in translation, that transcends the natural barriers of two languages meeting. To many, Ecuador is considered the "center" of the vibrations of the "earth mother." Maybe that has something to do with it. His poetry talks of fire, ice, sugar, fruits, stars, insects, birds, horses and trees. His love of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador is epic. His talents are, at any rate, revelatory.

His book Reflections on Spanish-American Poetry is an enormously helpful read for understanding Latin poetry.

Here's a good Andrade quote: "I am not exactly sure what success means. If it has to do with the sale in bookstores of a large quantity of copies, I must confess that none of my works are in that category."

And another: "Regarding the global meaning of my poetic work, it gives me pleasure to quote Goethe's phrase: " all my works are fragments of a long confession." My poetry as a whole is also a confession, though on a lesser scale. It is a confession of love for the marvel of the world and-- supreme, incorrigible candor-- a confession of a feeling of universal brotherhood."

You can find more Andrade here:

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