CHILDHOOD

                               UNDER LAPACHO TREES

 ALAIN SAINT-SAËNS 

 Corresponding Member 
 of the Academy of Letters, 
Bahia, Brazil 

 

Front Cover Art Design:
 ANA MARÍA CALATAYUD

                                                    ISBN: 978-1-937030-56-8

'I have known Professor Tracy K. Lewis for years. We have translated some same novels or books of poetry in different languages. He is an excellent translator and a sound literary critic. Furthermore, Professor Lewis is also a distinguished and renowned poet in three languages (English; Spanish; and Guarani, the Paraguayan native  language). I deeply admire his wonderful poetry. Nobody better than great American poet Tracy K. Lewis could have translated my poems with such a noble heart and a divine touch of grace.'

 Alain Saint-Saëns

ALAIN SAINT-SAËNS

DEDICATING COPIES OF

INFANCIAS BAJO LOS LAPACHOS

AT THE ALLIANCE FRANÇAISE

IN ASUNCION, PARAGUAY

DURING AN EVENT SPONSORED BY

 THE SWISS AMBASSY,

MARCH, 18, 2014.

 RENÉE FERRER, THEN PRESIDENT
OF THE PARAGUAYAN ACADEMY
WITH ALAIN SAINT-SAËNS,
MARCH 18, 2014.

 ALAIN SAINT-SAËNS WITH ALEJANDRO GATTI, CRITERIO EDICIONES EDITOR.

Translated from French and Spanish

First Edition

by American Poet

 TRACY K. LEWIS

State University of New York

 at Oswego, USA

 

 

'Alain Saint-Saëns paints a dolorous picture of abused children in this text, one which rings with truth and poetically saves them from obscurity. This poet's critique of the adults is savvy and relentless, while these figures remain a force of power and desire that weaves a web of helplessness around the vulnerable under their control. The crimes are treated in a skillful way, eliciting double meanings, as in "father/Father".

Alain Saint-Saëns' images from Paraguay certainly resonate with scenes in so many cities around the world, including Chicago. The translation aptly conveys the spirit of the original without restraining itself to a literal rendering.'

CYNTHIA T. HAHN,

Poet and Professor of Romance Languages,

Lake Forest College, IL (USA)

 

         LUNA NARANJA

 

Luna naranja, noche mágica,

Luminosidad onírica,

Todo duerme, tiempo suspendido.

Furtiva y silenciosa,

La anaconda curiosa

Digiere un perro perdido.

 

                Del verraco huraño

El deseo de la cerda

Arruina el sueño.

Ofendiendo la mirada,

El gordo sapo azorado

Osa un mohín lánguido.

 

Zinedín, mi niño,

Triunfando sale de un sueño,

Todo mojado de sudor.

Un gallo, en lo alejado,

Sobre sus espolones alzado,

Saluda el pálido resplandor.

 

                                          ORANGE MOON

 

Orange moon, wizard night,

Light of dream,

All’s asleep in pause of time. 

Noiseless furtive anaconda

Darkly browsing

Casually digests an errant dog. 

 

Lust for she-pig

Trumps the churlish boar’s

Intended sleep,

While wounding sight

A toad leers fatly

In its sluggish fright. 

 

Zinédine my child

Exits sleep triumphant

Steeped in sweat,

And somewhere else, a rooster 

Rises on his spurs

To crow the inchoate sun. 

 

SOLDADITOS DE PLOMO

 

Acosta Ñu, lugares malditos,

Tres mil quinientos soldaditos,

Hijos de Paraguay tan valiosos

Contra bárbaros odiosos

Lucharon como hombres,

Cayeron gentilhombres.

 

¡Qué nadie sobreviva al día!

¡Qué se mueran todos, sin misericordia!

El verdugo brasileño bajó los ojos

Cuando madres paraguayas gloriosas,

En los brazos sus sangrantes hijos,

Quemaron orgullosas y silenciosas.

 

De Brasil no hubo descargo,

El tiempo no trajo olvido.

A veces el viento sopla tanto

Que se escucha como un llanto.

Agosto dieciséis, sin embargo,

Regala el soldadito el oído.

 

                                         LITTLE TIN SOLDIERS

          

Evil battlefield, Acosta Ñu,

Three-thousand and a half of children,

Gallant sons of Paraguay it threw;

Against barbarity

Of full-grown men

They fell in manhood premature. 

 

No quarter, kill them all! 

Let your mercy die along with them!  

So saying, gazed with sunken eye upon the pyre

The butcher from Brazil,

While Paraguayan mothers, brave and silent

Fed their children’s corpses to the fire. 

 

No regrets came ever from Brazil,

No closure where the children bled,

No sound but dirges of the miming wind

Recalling spasms of the dead. 

16 August, slaughter of the soldier-waifs

Who now in memory at least, are safe.  

 

 

TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE

 

          I’m doubtless not the first in pointing out the fortuitous resemblance between the Spanish words traducción (translation) and traición (betrayal), nor in bringing to light what the second term reveals about the first.  Far from fostering a slavish copy of the original, what the translator of literary texts does is to alter them, to subvert them, and finally to “betray” them.  Beyond simply re-painting a house, the translator’s task is to re-construct it with a new floor plan and a new architectural style. 

           What’s more, this reconstruction is involuntary and unavoidable; we are forced to betray the original because replacing one language with another necessarily means replacing the very materials of which the text is made.  Not even the simplest, most direct substitutions—“tree” for “árbol” for example—can be exact equivalences, since each word differs from the other in spelling, in sound, in rhythm, and in the connotational aura which surrounds it.

           For Paraguayans, “árbol” is a subtropical construct, exuberant with fruit and greenery, shadowed perhaps with the Guarani sounds of ka’i and urutau, whereas North Americans might visualize “tree” in the magnificent garments of autumn, or in the melancholy nakedness of winter.  And if this is so for individual words, what can we say of sentences, paragraphs, poems, or entire novels? 

           When Alain Saint-Saëns invited me to translate his book of poems Enfances, therefore, he was actually inviting me to transform it into something else.  Complicating matters was the fact that Alain gave me his text in two languages, French and Spanish, and I had to consider both versions in producing mine.  For that reason, I am a traitor twice over to the same piece of literature! 

          The paradox of the translator’s craft, however, is that his or her “betrayal” occurs in a context of the most sublime faithfulness: I transform the text while respecting it profoundly, I transform the text precisely because I believe it deserves an analogous presence in my own linguistic universe.  Saint-Saëns’ poems express a vision eminently worthy of expression in any latitude, a vision which justifies the hard work of seeking its correspondent language, however inexact, in my own small corner of the English-speaking world.  I thank Alain for the chance to re-create his text in English and in so doing to complete a triangle that joins three languages, three countries, and one entire world of beauty, anguish, and deeply-felt human emotion.      

 

                                                                                                                                                      Tracy K. Lewis

 

 

    

Poems That Hurt

 

            Childhood Under Lapacho Trees by Alain Saint-Saëns is composed of sixteen poems that hurt.  The little kid who on a rainy day, camouflaged by the storm, is crushed like a caterpillar on the sidewalk, who is to cry for him?  Nobody.  The poet does not say it.  He just cries for the poor child in his poem. 

                                   Squashed undesired bug,

                                   Street child by the roadway, dead.

And the little girl who is begging by day and sexually abused by her father by night, as she lives a dreadful secret purgatory, the end of which can only be desired death?  She hurts too. 

            Won’t the same happen, predicts the poet, to the innocent girl who stole a cup of milk from his window, and who, without any doubt in his mind, will be raped and gotten pregnant by some drunk?  Will her youth not be cut off almost overnight, turning her into a poor single mom with a child who will likewise be trapped in the same endless nightmare and the same cycle of poverty? 

                                    Who then in satyr’s mirth of alcohol

                                   Will mount her on a drunken cross

                                   To break her back of youth?

            Hope, however, emerges with Natí, who will be able to go to school.  Education, for the poet-teacher Saint-Saëns, is the way out for such as Natí, as it would be for the young girl impregnated by the village priest,

                                   Saw her faith un-grounded,

                                   Her nubile belly stroked and rounded.

            It also hurts when the poet focuses on his own son and watches over his sleep.  In a pair of poems, we watch over Zinedín’s bed along with his father under an orange tree, or look at the babysitter who as in a Renaissance painting sleeps peacefully with the boy on her shoulder, while he dreams of the Three Wise Men.  The child’s naïve imagination is beautifully drawn in another poem, in which the poet describes his child inserting a dinosaur toy in the family manger.  In yet another poem, the poet, dazzled by the Brazilian city of Vitoria, hopes to go back there one day to see his son frolic in the waves: 

                                   He sees and waves again

                                   Will crowd upon the shore.  

Innocence, dreams, water, toys, mother and father:  these are in contrast to the naked reality of the lives of street boys, or that of Jesús, the quadriplegic child with AIDS: 

                                  Fouled blood his only crime,

                                 He sees not, nor hears,

                                 But only these eleven years

                                 Awaits in comfort of his faith

                                 Some gesture of his God. 

            And that is what hurts.  Zinedín, the poet’s little son, will one day have to face the crude reality of his country, which like the curious anaconda digesting a stray dog in one of the poems, eats up and eradicates faith and the hope of a better world.  Life in the streets is a cruel universe for the children with whom Zinedín will live, and the poet’s hope is that his son can transcend the reality around him.  That is why the poet tells us his son paints, paints the future: 

                                 His world of forms

                                And colors elsewhere made,

                                What pale of day first breaks

                               When man becomes not

                               Flesh but something more? 

With that painting, he changes and transforms his world, and that of all children, including the horrid world of the street kids.  That is why the poet says that the painter, 'de simple mortal,' is transmuted into an 'arcángel.'  Emerging from dirty water, horror, incest and rape, the street children bear within their little tortured bodies a genuine, pure and sparkling soul.  From mere mortals they can become archangels through the magic touch of a dreamer. 

            These poems hurt, but more than that they call us to reflect on what kind of society we live in, and what model we are building for forthcoming generations.  There is a social concern in this book that renders it into a devastating critique against a society that creates and reproduces countless abused children.  Paraguay, a culture that revels in loud parties and the giving of presents, celebrates Children’s Day.  That, however, is also the anniversary date of the cruel slaughter of some thirty-five hundred child soldiers by Brazilian troops at the Battle of Acosta Ñu during the War of the Triple Alliance.  Alain Saint-Saëns, the poet of suffering children, invites us in a final poem to question the way we teach our own history: 

                                   Evil battlefield, Acosta Ñu,

                                  Three-thousand and a half of children,

                                  Gallant sons of Paraguay it threw;

                                  Against barbarity

                                  Of full-grown men

                                  They fell in manhood premature. 

            I pray these poems, a real mirror of a wounded and suffering Paraguayan society, will find their reflection in the hearts of the men and women who read them, and help thereby to solve the problems they courageously denounce.  Freedom and justice are not a given; they must be built and re-built every day. 

 

              

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leni Pane
Paraguayan Academy of Spanish Language

 

 

Alain Saint-Saëns is a Corresponding Member

 of the Academy of Letters, Bahia, Brazil

Alain Saint-Saëns is a poet, a playwright, a novelist, a literary critic, and a translator. He recently published three major academic studies, Luis Ruffinelli, eximio teatralizador, 1889-1973 (2018);  El trébol de cuatro hojas. Poetas paraguayos (2017); and Paladín de la libertad. Juan Manuel Marcos poeta (2017); (Paladin de la liberté. Juan Manuel Marcos poète. French version, 2015).

His books of poetry are: Cantos paraguayos. Poemas de libertad (2009); France, terre lointaine. Poèmes de l'errance (2011); Curuguaty. Poema lírico (2012); Infancias bajos los lapachos (2014); El Banquete de Tonatiuh. Poema lírico (2015); Un coin de France. Le Lycée International Marcel Pagnol (2016); A Bahia de todas as gaivotas (forthcoming in 2018).

As a playwright, he recently authored, The Wagon (2018); Artigas (2017); Soledad. Vida y muerte de una poeta (2016); Romeo y Julieta en el Marzo Paraguayo (2016); The Jump (2015);  Pecados de mi pueblo (2013); and, Ordeal at the Superdome (2010). Ña Celestina. Asunción madre indigna (forthcoming in 2018).

His published novels are Hijos de la Patria (2015); and Dos viudas y un huracán (2016).

He translated recently from Spanish to French, L'hiver de Gunter by Juan Manuel Marcos (2011); Ignominies. Poèmes et Psaumes by Renée Ferrer (2017); Cupidité by Maribel Barreto (2018); and Poésie Complète by Rubén Bareiro Saguier (forthcoming, 2019); from Portuguese to Spanish, Un río en los ojos, by Aleilton Fonseca (2013); from Portuguese to French, Sesmarie, by Myriam Fraga (forthcoming, 2019); from English to French, Loin, très loin de la maison de ma mère by Barbara Mujica (2005); and from French to Spanish, El hombre de todos los silencios, by Ezza Agha Malak (forthcoming, 2019).
 

                                                                                                                                                 

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