Imágenes para una anunciación
Images for an annunciation
translated by Don Cellini
The first international congress in honor of the Mexican poet Elías Nandino (1900-1993) was held in Guadalajara in October 2008. Nandino was a physician and poet who is known, not only for the poetry he published during his lifetime, but also for his support of young poets throughout his career. Through his workshops and his editorship of several prestigious literary journals, he fostered many up-and-coming writers in Mexico. In honor of this dedication, the annual prize Premio Nacional de Poesía Joven “Elías Nandino” was established.
At that first conference in Guadalajara, I had the opportunity to meet Roxana Elvridge-Thomas, the very first recipient of the Elías Nandino Young Poet's Prize in 1990. I found that, in addition to being a talented poet, she was also a kind and compassionate woman. After the conference I began to look for her work on-line and found several poems and the entire text of Imágenes para una anunciación (2000). I also discovered that, since her receipt of her first award in 1990, she had received many other awards: The National Prize for Young Journalists “Elena Poniatowksa” in 1993; the National Essay Award “El Privilegio de la Palabra” in 1998; the National Prize for Poetry “Enriqueta Ochcoa” in 1999 for her book Imagenes para una anunciación; The National Essay Award “Federico García Lorca” in 1999; and the Poetry Prize “Daniel Robles Sasso” in 2010. Not only was she kind and compassionate, but also very humble.
I located copies of other works via inter-library loan and on-line book sellers. I was hooked. After I had read everything I could find, I approached her about the possibility of translating one of her works into English. She was enthusiastic about the possibility, but was clear that Imágenes was her best work, the work for which she had received the most attention, and the single work of which she was most proud. We agreed: Imágenes it would be.
In addition to this work, Elvridge-Thomas has published other books of poetry: Memorias del aire, 1988; El segundo laberinto, 1991; La fontana, 1995, La turba silenciosa de las aguas, 2001, Fuego, 2003; Umbral a la indolencia, 2009; Pequeño bestiario ígneo, 2010. She has also published books of literary criticism including: Xavier Villarrutia…y mi voz que madura in 2003 and Gilbert Owen, Con una voz distinta en cada puerto in 2004. Born in Mexico City in 1964, Elvridge-Thomas received her undergraduate degree there and currently teaches full-time at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, also in Mexico City.
Imágenes para una anunciación is a challenging work. In broad terms, the poems in the collection deal with pairs of opposites: the sacred and the profane, the joyful and the painful, the divine and the human, the luminous and the shadow-filed. The entire collection is unified by the poet's use of musical tempo indications as the subtitle of each poem. The opening poem, “Morning Angelus” for example, carries the notation “allegro” indicating the quick, bright, happy tone of the poem. Later poems carry notations of “adagio” or “lento,” each suggestion how the poem might be read. These notations not only help the reader judge the tone of the poem, but also add an additional layer of meaning to each poem as well. Like an oratorio, for example, Imágenes includes arias, recitative, and chorus.
Thematically, the book divides itself nearly in half, with the poem “Envío de alcatraces” linking the two sections. The first half is placed with a monastic setting. “The Morning Angelus” begins the section and it ends with “The Evening Angelus.” These are two Catholic devotional prayers traditionally offered in churches, convents, monasteries (and sometimes in the home); the first is recited at 6:00 each morning and the second at 6:00 each evening. Between these prayerful points, there are poems filled with references to the divine, to nature, to bakers and gardeners working within the monastery.
In the second half of the work, the poet turns her attention to the profane rather than the sacred. Each poem is titled with the name of a cat, perhaps cats found in the monastery garden or barn or granary. These animals form a metaphor which allows the poet a unique point of view from which to contemplate human characteristics. These are far from the joyful bakers of frosted cakes or cookies with surprises baked inside. Her cats are playful, but also mischievous and malicious. Musical notations and markings also suggest personalities: “Dorfán” is solo airado (solo, angry) “Migaro” is recitativo oscuro (slow and dark). Once again, the poet has included time markers for us. Where the first part was set between morning prayer and evening prayer, the second half includes “Mañana en el jardín/ Morning in the Garden” and “Toque del cenit/Reaching Noon” as time markers as well.
Finally, if we take a clue from the work's title, Images for an Annunciation, we might consider each of the poems as a single image or snapshot. The Annunciation is the announcement of the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she was to become the mother of God. While retaining her virginity, she would conceive the child who would become Jesus. This image has been the subject of great painters down through history. Consider a soon-to-be mother contemplating the world into which she is about to bring a child. Surely she imagines all the possibilities for that child, both the good and the bad, both the potential for success or failure and all the options between. Such are the images which Roxana Elvridge-Thomas asks us to consider in her work Imágenes para una anunciación/Images for an Annunciation.
I am grateful to the poet, Roxana Elvridge-Thomas for the opportunity to translate her work. I also appreciate corrections, information and insights she offered on the final draft. I am also grateful to the other poets and writers who gave helpful suggestions as the draft developed, particularly Kristin Abraham, Cindy Bily, Matt Falk, Katherine Fishburn, Elizabeth Johnson-Miller, Joyce Kessel and Carol Kilgore. It is a privilege for me to be able to bring this work to an English-reading audience.
From the book:
Imágenes para una anunciación
Vuélvete paloma, que el mensajero arde en un bosque.
En el límite dirige su gozo.
- Ahoga en los alveolos terso aullido.
- Hace elocuentes a las járcenas.
Inmóvil presencia - existir vigoroso - pliega con su escápula el silencio.
Entre el follaje nos mira. Su rostro, como el del
jardinero que poda un árbol, muestra su piedad atrás
de un nido de tórtolas. Su aliento de irisa de
columnas; maslos nuevos de un matojo de geranios.
- Estás o vuelves o reapareces en el extremo límite.
Soy dueño de lo afín. De lo errabundo mi mano hace
luz. Si uno ambas palmas, en nuestra mirada la
cadencia se parece un alcatraz.
- No te ocultes en la almendra, no impregnes de su
piel tu vestidura, mira que el canto de tu apego
(No salgas, ay, jamás paloma al campo, que no
podremos retener sus rizos.)
Despliega ahora lo entornado, deshabita de aromas de
Dónde ha ido tez marrón de esa semilla donde
- ¿Qué somos, paloma, al no escucharte?
Adolecer perpetuo, sombra de la faz de su belleza
(Para Elsa Cross)
Images for an Annunciation
Come back, dove. Let the messenger burn in the forest.
He casts his gladness to the limit.
- He smothers the smooth howling against the roof of his mouth.
- He makes the overhead beams eloquent.
Immobile presence - vigorous existence - he folds the silence in his scapular.
He looks at us through the foliage. His face, like the
gardener pruning a tree, shows his devotion behind a
nest of turtledoves. His breath like rainbow
columns; new stems of the geranium plant.
- You are or you return or reappear from the outer limit.
I am the owner of all kindred things. My hand creates
light from the uncertain. If I bring both palms together, the cadence would look like a calla lily.
- Don't hide in the almond, don't impregnate
your vestment with its skin, see that the song of your attachment
loses its hull.
(Oh, dove, don't ever flee for the countryside, we will
not keep your curls.)
Now unfold what's been left ajar, the aroma of
the flat stones removed.
Where has the brown complexion gone from the seed where you
- What are we, dove, that we can't hear you?
Perpetual infirmity, shadow of beauty on your face
when you leave.
Roxana Elvridge-Thomas (Mexico City, 1964) received her bachelor's degree from the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, and her master's degree from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. In 1990 she received the National Young Poet's Award “Elías Nandino” and in 1993 the National Prize for Young Journalists “Elena Poniatowski.” She received the National Prize for Essay “El Privilegio de la Palabra” in 1998 and the National Prize for Poetry “Enriqueta Ochoa” in 1999. In 1999 she also received the National Essay Prize “Federico Garcia Lorca. In 2010 she received the Poetry Prize “Daniel Robles Sasso.” She was a member of the Sistema Nacional de Creadores de Arte 2004-2007 and is currently a full-time member of the faculty in the College of Humanities at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana.
Elvridge-Thomas is the author of several books of poetry and literary criticism including: Memorias del aire, 1988; El segundo laberinto, 1991; La Fontana, 1995; Imágenes para una anunciación, 2000; La turba silenciosa de las aguas, 2001; Fuego, 2003; Pequeño bestiario ígneo, 2010. She has also published Xavier Villaurrutia…y mi voz que madura, 2003; and Gilberto Owen. Con una voz distinta en cada puerto, 2004.
Don Cellini is a member of the faculty of the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at Adrian (Michigan, USA) College. He has published two books of bilingual poetry: Approximations/Aproximaciones, 2005 and Inkblots, 2008 (both from March Street Press) as well as a book of prose poems Translate into English, 2010 (Mayapple Press). His translations include Elías Nandino: Selected Poems in English and Spanish, 2010 (McFarland Publishers) and the e-chapbook Como esta tierra ciega/Like this Blind Dust (Language and Culture.Net). For further information or to contact him go to http://www.doncellini.com
Imágenes para una anunciación
Images for an annunciation
is a 56 page hand-sewn paperbook with spine - $14.00.
From the US
From Other Countries