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September 26, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Translation 4 — Jorge Fernández Granados



the snake changes her skin

in other words she leaps

from one proportion to another



her ever-changing mutating reconstructive





or dies in scale

reborn reshaped

remembering with greater diameter (and hunger)

with more snake her snake solo


all snakes might be the dream of just one

snake which we still haven’t seen


upon the dark earth

ghosts of old skin

remind us of her


Coatl means “snake” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.

Jorge Fernández Granados (born 1961) is by virtually unanimous regard the best Mexican poet born in the 1960’s. He has won all the national prizes: the Jaime Sabines for his first book Resurrección (1996), the Aguascalientes for Los hábitos de ceniza (2000), and the Carlos Pellicer for Principio de incertidumbre (2008)

My translations of Granados’ poems have been published in Two Lines, Parthenon West, Luna, River City, Passport, Mandorla, Nimrod and Connecticut Review and a generous selection of his work was included in the important anthology Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry (Copper Canyon).  C.M. Mayo’s bilingual press Tameme published Ghosts of the Palace of Blue Tiles (2008), a beautiful chapbook of my Granados translations. Copper Canyon can’t decide whether they can risk the certain financial loss of publishing Granados.

I met Jorge Fernández Granados in 1995 at a party at the house of Thelma Nava, the widow of the important left-wing poet Efraín Huerta (father of the great David Huerta) Jorgee was being discovered and feted for Resurrección. I was headed south toward Tierra del Fuego non my epic Caminante journey. Jorge and I hooked up again in Chiapas, where Jorge was given his prize. I met his parents — his father, a plastics manufacturer, entirely baffled by his son’s poetic acclaim. Resurrección is a book of 48 octaves in 17-syllable lines. It’s very stormy, set in the Languedoc where Granados had never been, and its imagery was maybe a little over-the-top, but something in its musical intelligence made me want to translate it. And Granados’s octaves gave me a form for Caminante.


Take me where dream deflowered a prison of words.

seek me in the sudden wound of November’s hail.

My house will burn in every freezing star,

and I’ll return from the virgin bed of death

to ground my soul in the footsteps of my village.

We’ll be the water running over your sealed skull,

the funereal raincloud or the breath

of the tiniest name in the traveller’s astonished mouth.


Jorge Fernández Granados suffers from an auto-immune disorder which has left him nearly blind, but he is immensely erudite in the classical Mexicabn manner, and his conversation is wise and luminous. Jorge and I met in his favorite restaurant in the barrio of La Condesa, a place he knew very well After awhile, Jorge excused himself; the route to the men’s baño was circuitous. He came back to the table laughing gently. “That señor over there,” he smiled, “got lost on the way to the baño. I offered to guide him. It was a little while before he realized that the blind was leading the blind!”

In Los hábitos de la ceniza (The Trappings of Ash), Granados turns his mind to the ancient village not so far from Mexico City where his grandparents lived an immemorial rural life-style, with chickens in the yard and fences of agave. He christens this pueblito Xihualpa. When asked by an interviewer where Xihualpa was, Jorge replies “I myself am still looking for it.” Many of these poems are highly evocative and anecdotal narratives, opening up the form to a conversational free verse.  This one is a sonnet:


Ancestral House


It was a house of yellow zones

and simmering light upon fronds.

Sun-drenched interminably

in the sharp wheat of memory.


Corn-husks and pear-trees, ritual rain,

honey and flour timelessly to dusk,

falling in love with leafy autumn

deciphering fruits of sound.


House of festive birds and emigrants

warped in their slow generations,

pecking at the sun in the pond.


In submerged light a grove of trees

sums into age, branch upon branch,

in a downpour that never lets up.


Jorge Fernández Granados’ newest book, Principio de incertidumbre (Uncertainty Principle, 2008) hangs its hat on Heisenberg, the poems uncoiling to an open form splayed on the page, meansured by an insistent voice in natural rhythms, taking on the full texture of reality: the murders in Juárez, women, dreams, the crowd around us with its smilers, hedonists, travellers, witnesses and charlatans. Here he is on common objects:




if just for one day everything that exists could have a word


if objects could talk for example we would fall silent in fear

and mute things would burst out in meticulous babbling


they would tell another version of the truth and i suspect

that they wouldn’t need words like “future,” “hope”

or “heroic”


although they might well surprise us with the delicate but

definite meaning of others such as “fidelity,” “patience”

or “dignity”


subjected otherwise to happenstance what might seem

abnormal to their understanding would be our desperate

need to name since they simply assume their place in

mute solitude like the gods


if the objects (all of them) in one rebellious moment testified

to what they know our world would probably collapse


for perhaps it is sustained by taking advantage of their slavery

their vow of silence


and every day they remind us face to face that everything is

lost or saved without saying a word


(speech is only a hereditary wound)


There is no way that Jorge Fernández Granados is a neglected poet — in Mexico. So far, here, he’s remarkably unknown. I would be happy to change that.


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