Bulmenia by Juan Arabia

Nacho Oliden

(Café en La Boca, 1959. Photo by Sameer Makarius)


From Bulmenia, to be published in 2022

Yo trabajo de noche, desertando al ogro insaciable
que desfigura a los jóvenes y los deja acéfalos
sin cambiar una bolsa de manzanas por mi cabeza

Trabajo como el mar, como una sombra,
donde unos gorriones saltan sobre las migas del día
y las golondrinas hacen un escándalo por un pedazo de cielo

Bebo cianuro y venenos desconocidos,
           porque esta sed no tiene lámparas
y su cáscara se multiplica como la pobreza

Trabajo como todos trabajan,
sin lograr una estrella, sin saciar una pluma
            perdiendo todos los rumbos
dando pequeñas muertes en partes desiguales sobre mi cuerpo

           Sin alcanzar tan solo uno de mis sueños
dejo embriagar a unos pocos desamparados, restos esclavizados
que han sido y que por siempre serán difamados
           secados en el aire del crimen


I work at night, forsaking the insatiable ogre
that leaves the young men disfigured and acephalous,
not trading a sack of apples for my head.

I work like the sea, like a shadow,
where sparrows jump on the crumbs of the day,
and the swallows make a fuss for a bite of sky.

I drink cyanide and poisons unknown,
           for this thirst has no lamps
and its crust is multiplied like dearth.

I work as everybody works,
not achieving a star, not satiating a quill
           losing the ways
giving slight uneven deaths on my body.

           Not reaching at least one of my dreams,
I let some helpless drunks proceed, enslaved remains
that have been and forever will be defamed
          dried in the air of the crime.


Puis, quand j'ai ravalé mes rêves avec soin,
Je me tourne, ayant bu trente ou quarante chopes,
Et me recueille, pour lâcher l'âcre besoin

RIMBAUD: “Oraison du Soir”

Arabia is configured in this monological song through the trade that has fallen to him, the craft that leads him to a perpetual activity, as the present tense of the intransitive verb "to work" depicts. At his desk, Arabia contours his own work: this is his clay which continually spins in its wheel, and to which he adds "cyanide and poisons unknown" to maintain its plasticity. Arabia “drinks” the cyanide, and its present tense in this case, accounts for the undeath, (maybe the unwanted undeath). We find what Harold Bloom calls "the suicidal version of Whitmanianism", present in certain poems such as "Walking Around", by Neruda:

Yo paseo con calma, con ojos, con zapatos,
con furia, con olvido,
paso, cruzo oficinas y tiendas de ortopedia,
y patios donde hay ropas colgadas de un alambre:
calzoncillos, toallas y camisas que lloran
lentas lágrimas sucias.
[I stride along with calm, with eyes, with shoes,
with fury, with forgetfulness,
I pass, I cross offices and stores full of orthopaedic appliances,
and courtyards hung with clothes hanging from a wire:
underpants, towels and shirts which weep
slow dirty tears.] (W.S. Merwin’s translation)

Certainly, it is Neruda with whom Arabia writes. More particularly, the Neruda of “Entierro en el Este”:

Yo trabajo de noche, rodeado de ciudad,
de pescadores, de alfareros, de difuntos quemados
con azafrán y frutas, envueltos en muselina escarlata (…)
[I work at night, surrounded by city
of fishermen, of potters, of the burned dead
with saffron and fruit, wrapped in scarlet muslin]

But neither Neruda nor Arabia work in the real night, nor the dead are the real dead (in “Entierro en el este” a burial is described), but both inhabit the other night, the night of the conscience of the crowds, the one which is image of death. Arabia hands in his poetry, hands in his tears and his razzle, dirty with cyanide and ink and the corruptive germ of the city of man, and lets them be drank by someone else, a fellow poet perhaps, but indeed a fellow sleepless “drunk”, alienated, freed from the daily order. It is a sacrifice through which, first Arabia, and then his fellow drunks, consume the “poisons unknown”, and experience and cope with language.

It is to work under the light of a lamp, in a room that is an old yellow stamp as seen from a street in Buenos Aires, but that hardly contradicts the darkness of the alley; to obey the basic daily chore to justify one’s existence. Arabia must drink cyanide in order to produce, and must produce poetry in order to exist. I think now of Rimbaud, who works at night too, like Neruda and Arabia; Rimbaud, who begins his “Oraison du Soir” by saying: Je vis assis [I live sitting down], and who, like Arabia, drinks his “fuel” in order to work, and works “holding his chop filled with strong flutes”.

And what about the poet's clay? What about Arabia’s work which has been nourishing and will continue being continually unsatisfied? The quill is not satiated, the “thirst has no lamps”, just like Rimbaud’s. The poet continues to model it in its perpetual spinning, and with it, he shapes himself. Here, Arabia and Rimbaud remind me of Stephen Crane's creature in the desert:

Who, squatting upon the ground,
He held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter–bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it's bitter
And because it is my heart.

Nacho Oliden

Ignacio Oliden (Buenos Aires, 1997) is a poet, translator and literary critic. He is Co-Editor in Chief of the literary magazine La Piccioletta Barca, and is a member of the editorial comittee of Buenos Aires Poetry (magazine and publishing house). He also participates as a regular critic in the Culture Supplement of the newspaper Perfil (Argentina). His work has appeared in print in newspapers, anthologies, and literary magazines in various countries, and his poetry has been translated into English, Italian and Greek. Among others, he has translated into Spanish the work of John M. Synge, Carl Sandburg, Anna de Noailles, and Marcantonio Flaminio, and he has published a book-length anthology of the poets of the Harlem Renaissance (Poetas del Renacimiento de Harlem, 2023, in collaboration with Juan Arabia). Mester de Juglaría, his first poetry compilation, will be published by Buenos Aires Poetry in 2023.

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