Suzanne Jill Levine
Some Translations
Poem Among Friends
By Octavio Paz

TWO from Erotismos
by Severo Sarduy

Friendship is a river and a circle
The river flows through the circle
The circle is an island in the river
The river says: before there was no river,
                                                    After, there is only the river.
Before and after is what erases friendship.
Does it vanish? The river flows and the circle is formed:

We live between oblivion and our memories: this moment
is an island beaten by a time that never ceases.

Friendship erases time and thus sets us free.
It is a river that shapes its circles as it flows.

In the river our footsteps vanish in the sand.
In the sand we seek the river: where have you gone?

Octavio Paz writes: This poem was written in Delhi, the night of November 16th, 1985, during a reunion of old friends. Following Urdu and Hindu traditions, it consists of a six-verse stanza concluded by two final verses. Paz wrote the first and sixth lines in Spanish,  Agyeya (Sachchidananda Vatsayan) the second and third in Hindi, and the fourth and fifth were written, also in Hindi, by Shrikant Verma. The poem has three endings: the last two lines—the coda—were written three times by the three poets. Paz dedicates his version to the memory of Shrikant Verma, a generous friend who died while still young.

  Yes, mirrored in his solitude.

If only he could exchange his whole sea for a verse,
for a single verse he wrote
when he resided on earth...!

If you traverse Isla Negra without sinking into the weight of your words
you will see that there are no islands
nor the color black in the wild wind;
in Isla Negra all is as imaginary
as the sirens his ghost
can no longer hear.

And you will discover why the translator is in love with the sea
and how her long laugh is the beacon of the lighthouse on earth
where many languages can finally be
walking around.
  First summer on Fire Island in Seaview
where the long island was wide
and its vast secret gardens
hid mansions peopled by the shadowy rich.

Fire Island where I grew
from that leggy ten year old

into a slim honey-eyed adolescent
a foxy young girl who held the future like a prize
& had her hair cropped short like an artichoke
it was the Swinging Sixties
mom, dismayed, said “it will grow back”

the first summer of my lithe taut body
with a sexual life of its own
angel wings in the high dunes, that hairy man
who began to chase with a rapt smile

I ran down to the beach. At first a game
behind his sunglasses but then serious
panic crept in an encroaching fog

while the beard man
got closer and I barely
cleared him to the fog’s edge

and found my beautiful sister again
on the beach with the dune grass waving
waiting    I watch the sea now
on this beach peopled with strangers.

Where are my own
Where is
our place in the sun
when the moon-white sand
on a balmy night caressing cool silk

young girl who moved like a bird
in the morning air while her sister
shaded her eyes of love against the glarers.

  Entering you, head against head,
hair by hair, mouth against mouth
I inhale the air you breathe—
Memory a stillness in the dying
afternoon light—endless ray
piercing burning bones, touching
your body’s edge: day’s light
catching the shape
a wide void where
erases marks in the sand, your face
as sounds devour the day
                                          your thick
texture turning to ashes
in the hungry night of the senses.
  You, all loving
love only one
in the mirror.

The other

put out her cigarette
while you impatiently
looking out
fanned the smoke
at the day’s sky.

One Week

an eternity it seems
since I’ve seen you
blow-dry your hair