Special Juan O'Neil Issue Vol I
This Series Editor: Heather Ferguson
Editor: Klaus J. Gerken
Production Editor: Heather Ferguson;
European Editor: Moshe Benarroch;
Contributing Editors: Pedro Sena; Michael Collings;
Jack R. Wesdorp; Oswald LeWinter
Klaus J. Gerken
Juan O'Neil Memorial issue VOL I
Translation of Macchu Picchu
A link to Sasquatch Writers' Performance Series site site:
Klaus J. Gerken
Juan O'Neill Memorial
I only met Juan twice, once in the Spring of 2003 when Heather Ferguson
intoduced us, along with Sara Jane Jorden. What followed was a lively
discussion of poetry past and present. Juan that day was a formitable
presence (even with his 'Dalai Lama' look as he would tell me at our second
meeting--he had shaved is head--a photo is available at on the site).
The second meeting was 12 March 2006, just 3 days before Juan died. I went
to Sasquatch at the Royal Oak on Laurier East to introduce myself to Seymour
Mayne, but as soon as I arrived I was made to feel warmly at home by the
poets and participants gathered there, and especially Juan, who had now grown
hair and beard. I was amazed at his knowledge of my literary journal,
Ygdrasil, and he immediately persuaded me to give a talk about the magazine,
interjecting with positive and conclusive questions about Ygdrasil's history
Juan has been an obelisk in the Ottawa literary community for decades. His
passing will be a tear in the heart of that community. He will be sorely
missed. I am sad not to have had time to know him better.
Juan's translation was passed on to me by his literary executor, Heather
Ferguson, this morning. Upon seeing the excellence of the translation I have
decided to publish it today, the day Sasquatch is holding a special memorial
and celebration of his life and acheivements.
JUAN O'NEILL's translation of:
THE HEIGHTS OF MACCHU PICCHU
From air to air, as through an empty net, I made my way between streets and
atmosphere, offering, in the advent of autumn with its largess of leaves like
a shower of coins, and amid the sprouts of springtime, my greetings and
farewells to that which the greatest of loves places before us like a long
moon in a dropped glove.
(Days of the splendour of unrestrained bodies: steel reduced to the silence
of acid: nights unravelling to the last, uttermost particle: wounded stamens
of the nuptial homeland.)
Someone was waiting for me among the violins; someone who found a world like
a buried tower sinking its spiral form deeper than all the strident
sulphur-coloured leaves; and I thrust my hand deeper yet, turbulent and sweet,
a sword sheathed in meteorites, into the gold of geology, into the most
genital portion of the mundane.
I placed my forehead among the deep waves and descended: a drop in a
sulphurous peace; and like a blind man, returned to the jasmine in the garden
of humankind's wasted spring.
A blossom can give to another blossom its high pollen and a rock maintain its
disseminated floral patterns inside its battered suit of diamonds and sand,
but humankind crumples the petals of light that we obtain from certain marine
sources, and hacks away at the palpitating metal that we hold in our hands.
Soon, amid the clothing and the smoke on the sunken table, like a shuffled
deck of cards, there appears the human soul: quartz and sleepless nights,
tears in the ocean like pools of cold. Kill it, but that is not enough.
Torment it with paper and hate. Work it into the rug-pattern of daily
existence. Tear it to pieces among the hostile raiment of wire.
No: in passageways, in the air, the sea, on the road, who (like the
flesh-coloured poppy) guards his blood, weaponless? Rage has utterly
exhausted the sad merchandise of the dealers in beings, and on the heights
where the plum trees grow, dew has for a thousand years been leaving its
transparent calling-card on the branch that awaits it: O heart, O shattered
brow among the pitted expanses of autumn.
Often in the winter streets of a city, or in a bus, or a ship sailing into a
sunset, or in that densest of all solitudes, a night of festivities to the
sound of shadows and bells, and in the very grotto of human pleasure, I have
wanted to stop and search for the eternal, unfathomable vein that I had
touched in a stone or felt in the lightning-bolt set off by a kiss.
(That which in grain is a yellow history of small pregnant breasts repeating
and repeating a mathematical formula of unceasing tenderness in the germinal
layers, which are always identical and which become ivory upon husking, in
water is a transparent homeland: a bell that tolls all the way from snowy
isolation to bloody waves.)
But I was unable to seize more than a hurried bouquet of faces, or masks,
like empty gold rings, like clothing scattered by a raging autumn wind that
has shaken the wretched tree of the frightened races.
There was no place for me to rest the hand, fluid as water surging from an
imprisoned spring or firm as a lump of coal or crystal, that could have
returned the warmth of my proferred hand.
What was humanity? Where in its idle chatter among shops and train whistles,
in which of its mechanical movements could one detect the indestructible,
the imperishable: life?
Existence, like grains of husked corn, poured into the bottomless granary of
lost actions, of squalid happenings, of nine to five, or six. It was not a
single death that came to all of us, but many: each day a small death: dust,
worm, a lamp going out in the muddy suburbs: a small death with fat wings
that pierced us like a short lance-thrust, beseiging through bread or knife:
the drover, the child of the ports, the dark captain of the plough, the
ratlike denizen of crowded streets.
We grew feeble waiting for our death, our daily dread: and each diminishment
was like a dark chalice from which we drank, trembling.
Many times, mighty death issued its invitation,
tasting like the invisible salt in sea-waves,
and of the great rises and falls disseminated in them;
or of vast structures of wind and drift.
Then I came to the razor-sharp edge;
to the place where the air is narrow;
to the shroud of plants and stones;
to the steep spiral path;
to the stellar emptiness of final footsteps.
But -- great sea, O death!-- wave after wave came,
Yet you did not come.
You came on a clear night, galloping.
You came as the sum total of the night's numbers.
You did not come to scrounge in pockets.
You came dressed in red,
on a dawn-colored carpet of pent-up silences,
flaunting or burying a treasure of tears.
I could not bring myself to love in each fellow being
that tree with its burden of small autumns
(its deaths of a thousand leaves),
its encumbrance of false deaths and resurrections,
without land, or abyss.
I wanted to swim in truly ample lives.
I wanted to swim in the wide mouths of rivers.
When, little by little, I was denied by men,
who closed their doors and ports to me,
so that the fountains of my hands would not touch
their wounded non-existence,
I started to go from street to street,
river to river, city to city, bed to bed,
travelling through the desert with my salt-caked mask.
And when I reached the last humiliated houses,
alone, without lamp, fire, bread or silence:
I rolled and fell, dying of my own death.
It was not you, grave death, bird of iron plumage,
whom the poor inheritor of the habitation carried,
along with his hurriedly-eaten meal, under his empty skin.
It was something else: a poor petal of a vanished chord;
an atom of heart that had not been committed to the fight;
an icy dewdrop that had not fallen on his face.
It was something that cannot be reborn: a fragment
of small death, with neither peace nor territory;
a bone and a bell that had died in him.
I raised the iodine-soaked bandages and sank my hands
into the pathetic suffering that death was slowly killing;
and all I found in the wound was a cold draft,
wafting through cracks in the soul.
Then, up the earth's staircase,
through the brutal morass of lost jungles,
I climbed to you, Macchu Picchu.
High city of terraced stone: at last a dwelling-place
for him whom the mundane had not smothered
in the vestments of sleep.
In you, two parallel lines meet:
you are the cradle of lightning and of man,
rocked in a needle-sharp wind.
Mother of stone, breath of condors.
High reef of the human dawn.
Shovel lost in our first sand-pile.
Here was the abode, here was the place.
Here the fat grains of corn rose up
and fell as red hailstones.
Here golden fleece was shed by vicu¤as
to clothe love, graves, mothers,
kings, prayers, warriors.
Here man rested his feet at night next to talons,
in the high charnel-house of the eagle's nest;
and in the dawn, walked through the fine mist
with footsteps of thunder:
his feet that had caressed the stones so often
as to be able to recognize them at night, or in death.
I look at the vestments and the hands;
the vestiges of water in this echoing cistern;
this wall softened by the touch of a face
that saw the earth-lamps with my eyes;
that oiled the vanished timbers with my hands;
for it is all gone: clothing, skin, vessels,
words, wine, bread: all gone, fallen to earth.
And the air wafted its orange-blossom fingers
over the sleepers: weeks, months,
a thousand years of air, of blue wind, of iron mountain,
that were like soft hurricanes of footsteps
illustrating the lonely sanctuary of stone.
Dead of the common abyss, shadows of the deepest chasm:
Death, on the scale of your greatness;
Death, absolute and all-consuming, came;
and from the carved stones,
from the scarlet tops of pillars,
from the stepped aqueducts,
you fell, as in a single autumn,
in a single death.
The empty air no longer grieves;
it no longer remembers your feet of clay;
it has forgotten the jars in which you filtered the sky,
when the sharp knives of the lightning stabbed it and it bled;
and the mighty tree was devoured by the fog
and felled by the rampant wind.
The hand that once had clasped the air,
in one instant loosed its grip and fell
from the heights to the end of time.
You are no longer spiders' legs,
bits of thread, scraps of cloth;
when you went, it all went:
customs, clipped syllables,
masks of blinding light.
But a permanence remained, of stone and words:
the city, raised up like a cup in the hands of all:
living, dead, silent;
sustained by so much death, a wall;
by so much life, a shock of stone petals:
the permanent rose, the abode:
this Andean reef, colonized by glaciers.
When the clay-colored hand became clay;
when the diminutive eyelid closed
on an abundance of hard walls and castles;
when man curled up in his hole,
precision remained, unfurled:
peak of the human dawn;
highest vessel of silence:
after so many lives, a life of stone.
Rise up with me, love of the Americas.
Together, let us kiss the secret stones,
where the silver torrent of the Urubamba
sprays the golden cup with its pollen,
and where the stone-grown vine, the hard garland,
abides in emptiness over the silence of the mountain casket.
Come, spark of life, on the wings of the earth;
while you, savage waters, crystalline and cold,
beating the air, dislodging fought-over emeralds:
Descend from the snows.
Love, love, until the night falls swiftly,
from the ringing flints of the Andes to the red-kneed dawn;
Love: behold the blind son of the snow.
O Wilkamayu, storm god of the sounding loom:
When you weave your strands of thunder
into a gossamer of white spume, like wounded snow;
when your tilting whirlwind roars its song,
pummeling the sky into wakefulness:
in what tongue, new-born from the Andes' spume,
do you speak to the ear?
Who was it who chained the cold lightning-bolt
and held it captive on the heights,
bathed in its glacial tears,
while it brandished its swift sword,
and battered its warlike stamens,
as it was borne on its warrior's bed,
to a shuddering end of stone?
What does its imprisoned afterglow say?
Did your secret rebel lightning-flashes
set forth with a full load of language?
And who now breaks off bits of frozen syllables,
dark mutterings, golden eloquence,
deeply-buried mouths, vanquished screams
from your thin trickle?
Who cuts the eyelids off flowers
that peer at you from the earth?
Who casts dead branches into the cascade of your hands
to shatter fragments of night into more fragments
in the carbon of geology?
Who shreds the connecting branch?
Who buries once again your farewells?
Love, love: do not dwell upon boundaries,
do not worship the buried head.
Let time come into its fullness,
in its hall of broken fountains;
and, between the racing waters and the walls,
capture the canyon's life-breath,
as on parallel canvasses of wind,
gathering from the blind creases of the mountains
the stinging message of dew.
Rise up, flower by flower, through thick layers,
and crush under your heel the shredded serpent.
On the escarpment, where jungle meets stone
in a shower of green stardust, a scattering of vegetation,
the Valley of Mantur opens like a living lake,
or a new floor laid down in the house of silence.
Come to my true self, to my true dawn.
Come to the crowned heights.
For the dead kingdom still lives;
and across the face of the clock,
the bloody shadow of the condor passes.
Stellar eagle, mistlike vine.
Lost bastion, blind sword.
Orion's belt, communion bread.
Torrential stairway, huge eyelid.
Triangular tunic, stone pollen.
Granite lamp, stone bread.
Mineral serpent, stone rose.
Ship-burial, stone fountain.
Lunar horseman, stone light.
Quadrant of the equinox, stone vapor.
Final geometry, stone book.
Iceberg crafted by the wind.
Coral-reef of submerged time.
Wall softened by fingers.
Thatch beaten upon by wings.
Splintered mirror, seat of storms.
Thrones overturned by vines.
Rule of the bloodied claw.
Wind-storm halted by a slope.
Frozen cataract of turquoises.
Patriarchal bell tolling for sleepers.
Shackle of the tamed snows.
Iron reclining on its own monuments.
Storm, inaccessible and contained.
Mountain-lion paws, blood-spattered rock.
Tower of shadow, assembly of snow.
Night raised on fingertips and roots.
Window of the mists, hard dove.
Night-plant, statue of thunder.
Mountain-spine, roof of the sea.
Architecture of lost eagles.
Cord from the heavens, honeybee of the heights.
Level of blood, crafted star.
Bubble of mineral, quartz moon.
Serpent of the Andes, brow of amaranth.
Dome of silence, pure homeland.
Bride of the sea, tree of cathedrals.
Branch of salt, black-winged cherry tree.
Teeth of ice, cold thunder.
Scratched moon, threatening rock.
Wind-whipped tresses of the cold.
Volcano of hands, dark waterfall.
Silver wave, time's destination.
Stone within stone: But where was humanity?
Air within air: But where was humanity?
Time within time: But where was humanity?
Were you, city, also made of the broken shards
of incomplete people: Hollow eagles,
pounding their souls to pieces on the path to the grave,
as on today's streets and byways and autumn leaves?
Poor hands, poor feet, poor lives...
Did the light of your day unravel
like rain on the tormenting darts of the bullfight?
Did it feed empty mouths, petal by petal, dark food?
Did hunger, humanity's ever-growing coral reef;
hunger, the secret plant, the root known to woodcutters;
hunger: Did it rise, as from the sea-floor,
to scale the heights of your towers?
I ask you, dust of the roads:
Show me a spoon.
Allow me, architecture, to poke at you with a stick
and find a fossilized stamen;
to climb your airy staircases until I come to emptiness;
to scratch at your guts until I find humanity.
Did you, Macchu Picchu, pile stone upon stone
on a foundation of rags;
coal upon coal on a foundation of tears;
put fire to gold in which a red drop of blood trembled?
Give me back the slave you buried.
Spew up from your earth the hard bread of the poor.
Show me the serf's clothing and his window.
Tell me: When he was alive, how did he sleep?
Did he snore with his mouth open,
like a dark hole on the wall, worn away by weariness?
The wall, yes, the wall!
Did every stone stair press down on him as he slept,
with the crushing weight of moons?
O Ancient America, buried bride:
Did your fingers too, reaching out from the jungle
towards the high emptiness of the gods,
under the nuptial canopy of light and manners,
mingling in the thunder of drums
and spear-butts pounded on the earth;
did your fingers too, did they too:
They, who traced the abstract rose
and the lineaments of the cold;
tore open the bleeding breast of the young corn
and translated it into shining cloth
and hard hollownesses;
did your fingers too, buried America,
conceal in your depths, in your bitter belly,
like an eagle devouring you:
Let me plunge my hand through the confused splendor,
through the night of stone,
and feel the pulse of the forgotten one's old heart,
like a bird imprisoned for a thousand years!
Let me forget today's joy, vaster than the sea;
for humanity is vaster than the sea and its islands,
and we must immerse ourselves in it,
as into a deep well, to emerge with a secret treasure
of water and submerged truth.
Let me forget, O rock, these powerful proportions,
these transcendent measurements, this stone hive;
and let my hand slide away from right angles,
to trace a hypotenuse of blood and sackcloth.
When the condor's red wings beat furiously on my temples,
like the hooves of horses shod in rusty iron,
and the hurricane of carnivore's feathers
sweeps the gloomy dust from the diagonal staircases,
I do not see the swift beast;
I do not see the blind pattern of its claws;
I see the ancient Being, the one who served,
the one who sleeps in the fields.
I see a body, I see a thousand bodies,
of a thousand men, a thousand women;
scourged by the whirlwind, black with rain and night;
heavy with a statue's stone heaviness:
John Stonecutter, son of Inca;
John Coldeater, son of a green star;
John Barefeet, grandson of turquoise:
Rise up and be born with me, Brother.
Rise up and be born with me, Brother.
Give me your hand from the depths
of your disseminated pain.
You will not come back from under the stones.
You will not come back from subterranean time.
You will not come back with a hardened voice.
You will not come back with carved eyes.
Look at me from the depths of the earth:
Worker, weaver, silent shepherd,
tamer of totemic guanacos,
stoneworker of the daring scaffold,
water-carrier of the Andes' tears,
jeweler of the mangled fingers,
farmer trembling in the seed,
potter poured out in his clay:
Bring to the cup of this new life
your old buried sorrows.
Show me your blood and your furrow.
Tell me: Here is where I was punished,
because the jewel did not glitter or the earth
surrender its stone or its grain on time.
Show me the rock where you stumbled.
Show me the wood on which you were nailed.
Show me the old flints, the old lamps,
the whips adhered to wounds down through the centuries,
and the blood on the glittering axes.
I come to speak for your dead mouths.
Bring together out of the earth
all the silent lips spilled there,
and speak to me from the depths through this long night,
as if I were there with you, anchored.
Tell me everything: Chain by chain,
link by link, step by step.
Sharpen the knives you have saved,
and plunge them into my chest, into my hand,
like a river of golden lightning-bolts,
like a river of buried tigers.
And let me weep, for hours, days, years,
blind centuries, stellar aeons.
Give me silence, water, hope.
Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.
Let your bodies fasten themselves to mine, like magnets.
Come to my veins and my mouth.
Speak through my words and my blood.
This translation copyright (c) 2006 by the Estate of Juan O'Neill
Sasquatch Writers' Performance Series
All poems copyrighted by their respective authors. Any reproduction of
these poems, without the express written permission of the authors, is
YGDRASIL: A Journal of the Poetic Arts - Copyright (c) 1993 - 2006 by
Klaus J. Gerken.
The official version of this magazine is available on Ygdrasil's
World-Wide Web site http://users.synapse.net/~kgerken. No other
version shall be deemed "authorized" unless downloaded from there.
Distribution is allowed and encouraged as long as the issue is unchanged.
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