Selected Poems from Combustible Material

[translated poetry]

First Afternoons in Lesbos

Remember those afternoons in November.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++ The rain
would make the patio a cloister, and the smell of the earth
would reach the window from which we leaned.
It was then that the house was our refuge,
the island where we made our hands mature,
our bodies barely debuted.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++ It would rain,
but in another world. In ours, carnal gardens
would bloom, wooded groves in the making;
and the rose of your womb would defy the autumn.

Remember those afternoons… You slept in the wake of embrace
just like an ambivalent spring angel,
your forehead awash in lilies and kisses.


Tangiers and You

In the tangled streets of the medina,
there where you hide, your hands
mutilated by embrace, your lips
mutilated by love;
amid the arches of the souk, in dirty
café terraces, in the corners
of shadow and of disaster, there I search for you
my little love, star with no tomorrow,
hapless, lost, forlorn.
I’ll find you even in the sadness of this luckless
that so much resembles you and me,
in body
and in soul.


Tracing My Steps

I would retrace every one of my steps
to catch the joy that escapes,
to contradict you, transient life,
uniquely mine, love, river of brilliants.
I would repeat my mistakes,
complete and totally confused,
with the same words and the same
blunders and conceits and wounds.
Ephemeral life, the only one I have,
I would retrace every one of my steps.


Combustible Matter

Is man combustible matter,
so sudden a flame,
at once hardly ash,
a miraculous hot coal that cannot last,
a flicker of fire and its embers.
Love that burns one moment and with its ardor
exhausts itself in the next,
a resplendent flag that flares up
in the brevity of farewell
the light of one candle, lofty and thin,
a delicious bonfire without more fuel
than it can burn. Combustible matter.


Future Imperfect

What objection to this, love?
If my flesh and yours were not of this same
combustible material, if there existed an oasis,
water to quench and purify
the two of us, if our skin’s
memory were suddenly erased,
we could erect a barrier.
But now it’s too late to ignore.

I make no promises nor do I offer you a life;
I invite you only to accept a future
where fire consumes the peace of households.
A future: dangerous, fearsome and violent;
the only future left for you and me to keep.



Primeras Tardes en Lesbos

Recuerda aquellas tardes de noviembre.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++ La lluvia
hacía del patio claustro, y el olor de la tierra
subía hasta la ventana donde nos asomábamos.
Era entonces la casa aún más nuestro refugio,
la isla donde hacíamos madurar nuestras manos,
nuestros cuerpos apenas estrenados.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++ Llovía,
pero era en otro mundo. En el nuestro, jardines
de carne florecían, arboledas en ciernes;
la rosa de tu vientre contradecía al otoño.

Recuerda aquellas tardes… Dormías tras el abrazo
lo mismo que un ambiguo ángel de primavera,
con la frente poblada de besos y de lirios.


Tánger y Tú

En las enmarañadas calles de la medina,
allí donde te escondes, mutiladas
las manos que abrazaban, mutilados
los labios del amor;
en los arcos del zoco, en las terrazas
sucias de los cafés, en los recodos
de sombra y de desastre, allí te busco,
pequeño amor, estrella sin mañana,
malhadado, perdido, desolado.
Te hallaré en la tristeza de esta ciudad sin
que tanto se parece, en cuerpo y alma,
a ti
y a mí.


Sobre Mis Pasos

Volvería otra vez sobre mis pasos
para alcanzar la dicha que se escapa,
para contradecirte, vida huidiza,
única mía, amor, río de estrellas.
Volvería otra vez a equivocarme,
íntegra y totalmente confundida,
con las mismas palabras y los mismos
tropiezos y egoísmos y dolores.
Vida efímera mía, la que tengo,
volvería otra vez sobre mis pasos.


Materia Combustible

Es el hombre materia combustible,
una llama tan súbita,
una ceniza apenas enseguida,
un milagro de brasa que no dura,
un amago de incendio y su rescoldo.
Amor que arde un momento y que se agota
de sí mismo en su ávido prodigio,
bandera esplendorosa que flamea
el tiempo breve de una despedida,
luz de una vela, altísima y delgada,
hoguera deliciosa sin más leña
que la que ardió. Materia combustible.


Futuro Imperfecto

¿Qué podría objetar, amor, a esto?
Si mi carne y la tuya no fuesen de una misma
materia combustible, si existiese el remanso,
el agua que apacienta y purifica
entre nosotros dos, si la memoria
de la piel se borrase de repente,
podríamos alzar una barrera.
Pero es tan tarde ya para ignorarse.

No te ofrezco una vida ni te prometo nada;
te invito solamente a aceptar un futuro
donde el fuego consume la paz de los hogares.
Un futuro temible, peligroso y violento:
el único futuro que te queda y me queda.


Translator’s Note:

Of the five poems selected for this issue of Lunch Ticket, four are from the anthology, Combustible Material, a collection comprising thirty-three poems in English translation awaiting publication.

As is too often the case, the specific grammar that create felicitous wordplay in one language can frustrate their casting into another. For example, in “Tangiers and You,” I found it necessary to play with word-order in several places, perhaps most obviously in the last three lines of the poem, but also and even more importantly in the first three lines, in the placement of the repeated word “mutilated,” which carried enormous importance for the poem’s gravity.

As with all poems, the selection of each translated word is important. Yet perhaps because of their personal nature as well as their brevity, each of these poems seemed to demand even more particular care. Along those lines, I’d like to bring attention to one word in particular. In the poem, “First Afternoons in Lesbos,” the penultimate line reads “lo mismo que un ambiguo ángel de primavera,” which I translated as “just like an ambivalent spring angel.” In choosing to translate “ambiguo” to “ambivalent” I attempted to convey the wordplay that occurs in Spanish but is lost in English. In Spanish, “ambiguo” translates most directly as its cognate, “ambiguous,” but it also means “bisexual.” Rather than translate to “bisexual,” I chose to translate this as “ambivalent” to convey the dual meaning of the original that would have otherwise been lost.


Carmen Morawski is a writer and literary translator whose poetry translations of the 2012 Cervantes award winner, Jose Manuel Caballero Bonald, resulted in the first-time publication of his poetry in English translation in the Hayden Ferry Review. A finalist for the Bellingham Review’s 2016 Annie Dillard Award for Creative Nonfiction (for her essay “Ecija Siete”), she is currently an MFA student in creative writing in prose fiction at the University of East Anglia, and working on her first novel.


Josefa Parra Ramos is an award-winning Spanish poet. Considered to be a feminist writer, Parra Ramos’s poems often deal with desire, sensuality, and geographies of the body and of the land. Many of her poems evoke the Arabic heritage of the south of Spain—specifically, Jerez de la Frontera, the city where Parra Ramos was born, and where she now lives and works—as well as North Africa, where she often travels to read her poetry. Though her poetry has been translated into French and Arabic, these are the first of her poems to be translated into English.