THE HOTEL, AFTER RETURNING FROM A VOYAGE OF EXPLORATION, TRANSLATORS ARE ANGELS

THE HOTEL

Ahead of him, ascending the wooden stairs,
showing him the hotel, his room, ironically
remarking, in her secretive accent, slowly,
that for some reason she can’t understand
why tourists like Oporto. In her maid’s uniform
she is Fancy. He knew the hotel already
from his Melbourne dream, that sad night
when, envisioning himself arriving back in Portugal
by ship, disembarking to enter a rainy promise,
he’d fallen asleep listening to Madredeus:
O Teresa Salgueiro! Sweet Angel of Fado!
She, the maid, was the woman he might have loved
were the world not cynical, his dissociation
cliché. Her skirt shimmied up the back of her knees.
No music that night, only, in the next room,
coquettish and noisily kissing, an American tourist
with a local man she’d met earlier in the evening.
The poet had to admit that he wasn’t Ricardo Reis,
hadn’t returned from Brazil, wasn’t worth a novel,
and knew: Loneliness is only one’s own absence.

 

 

AFTER RETURNING FROM A VOYAGE OF EXPLORATION

On the pillow John Mateer’s sleepy head
is a goldfish bowl aswirl with Venetian water,
and on that galleon, that luminous toy,
he is at the helm, telescope to his eye,
swearing he can’t see Australia.

And when his caravel glides into the Tejo,
as poised and cerebral as a black swan,
he calls for a glass of port and a pastel de nata,
then takes to his bed in a quiet hotel in Alfama,

and dreams the dream:
that one day there will be a poet
named John Mateer, just as there was once,
off the edge of maps, a monster
called Australia.

 

 

TRANSLATORS ARE ANGELS

Translators are angels, I whispered
into the ear of my guardian-angel in King João Library.
They stand beside us, hearing our thoughts,
only muttering what’s necessary. Smiling slightly,
listening carefully to the speaker who’d mentioned my name,
she said: We are perfect nobodies; nameless,
voiceless, winged incandescence, except when we’re bad.
Then she turned to me: Like now, if I don’t tell you what he said –

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