The International Literary Quarterly

May 2010


Luis Cernuda
Sally Cline
Christine Crow
Paul Scott Derrick
Paulette Dubé
Sarah Glazer
Tomás Harris
Philippe Jaccottet
Pierre-Albert Jourdan
Susan Kelly-DeWitt
Peter McCarey
Deborah Moggach
Vivek Narayanan
Georges Perros
Tessa Ransford
Sue Reidy
Daniel Shapiro
Rebecca Swift
John Taylor
Yassen Vassilev
Alan Wall
Stephen Wilson
Tamar Yoseloff
Karen Zelas

Volta: A Multilingual Anthology
(One poem: 93 languages)

Issue 11 Guest Artist:
Catherine McIntyre

President: Peter Robertson
Deputy Editor: Jill Dawson
General Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Art Editor: Calum Colvin

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Frank Ankersmit
Rosemary Ashton
Reza Aslan
Leonard Barkan
Michael Barry
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Mario Biagioli
Jean Boase-Beier
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boulossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jenni Calder
Stanley Cavell
Hollis Clayson
Sarah Churchwell
Kristina Cordero
Drucilla Cornell
Junot Díaz
André Dombrowski
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Klaus Ebner
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Orlando Figes
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Nancy Fraser
Maureen Freely
Michael Fried
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Lydia Goehr
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Lawrence Grossberg
Edith Grossman
Elizabeth Grosz
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
François Hartog
Molly Haskell
Selina Hastings
Valerie Henitiuk
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
Kapka Kassabova
John Kelly
Martin Kern
Mimi Khalvati
Joseph Koerner
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Mabel Lee
Linda Leith
Suzanne Jill Levine
Lydia Liu
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Laurie Maguire
Willy Maley
Alberto Manguel
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Marina Mayoral
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Edie Meidav
Jack Miles
Toril Moi
Susana Moore
Laura Mulvey
Azar Nafisi
Martha Nussbaum
Sari Nusseibeh
Tim Parks
Molly Peacock
Pascale Petit
Clare Pettitt
Caryl Phillips
Robert Pinsky
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
François Rigolot
Geoffrey Robertson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Élisabeth Roudinesco
Carla Sassi
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Hadaa Sendoo
Miranda Seymour
Mimi Sheller
Elaine Showalter
Penelope Shuttle
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Julian Stallabrass
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
Rebecca Swift
Susan Tiberghien
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marjorie Trusted
Lidia Vianu
Victor Vitanza
Marina Warner
David Wellbery
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Associate Editor: Jeff Barry
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Assistant Editor: Siska Rappé
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Cipango by Tomás Harris, translated from Spanish by Daniel Shapiro  


Tomás Harris was born in 1956 in La Serena, north of Santiago, Chile. He later moved to Concepción, in the south. During the latter years of the Pinochet dictatorship (1973–90), he wrote the five books that would make up Cipango (1992), considered his most important work to date. Since the restoration of democracy, Harris has produced other books of poetry and prose, and has won accolades in Chile and elsewhere in Latin America, including the Neruda award and the Casa de las Américas prize. Early this year, Bucknell University Press published my translation of Cipango as a bilingual edition. A selection from the book appears below.

The poems in Cipango refer to the voyage of Columbus, who believed he’d reached Asia (“Cipango” or Japan), not the Americas (Hispaniola). Building on that mistaken premise, the book comments on the oppressive legacy of colonialism in Latin America—manifested in twentieth-century Chile through the military coup and dictatorship. In Cipango, torture and disappearances take place with impunity, as illustrated in poems such as “Orompello II.” The collective voice expresses fear, displacement, and despair resulting from a clash of worlds. Cipango functions as a metaphor for the violence and degradation of contemporary society. Harris’s vision is of a decadent, apocalyptic world that nevertheless contains hope for regeneration, as in the poem “Vacant Lot.”

The book is characterized by obsessive imagery; juxtapositions of contemporary and archaic language as well as of incongruous settings; the use of irony; and a dark tone. The speaker addresses personages such as Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, and the Great Khan, and makes reference to sources including Columbus’s diaries, Quevedo, Poe, Genet, Carpentier, Dracula, the film Goldfinger, and Billie Holiday; the protagonist of Nerval’s Aurélia drifts in and out of the poems. Cipango’s formal and structural elements combine to produce the effect of an epic poem.

My first exposure to Tomás Harris’s work occurred in 1993, when I was organizing a program series featuring Chilean writers who were to appear at the Americas Society in New York, where I direct the Department of Literature. I became drawn to the texts in Cipango. As I embarked upon the translation of the book, I was attracted to the poetic voice, which was dark, obsessive, and rhythmic. That voice kept me anchored throughout the process, from the opening poem (“Danger Zones”) to “Poiesis of the Better Life,” the stunning piece that concludes the collection.

Harris’s poetry grows out of the Chilean poetic tradition—a tradition that has produced such greats as Vicente Huidobro, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, and Nicanor Parra. But Harris’s poems don’t celebrate or lament like Neruda’s or Mistral’s and they aren’t playful like Parra’s or Huidobro’s. Rather, they challenge, bear witness, leave the reader with a question: “What will happen after all this?” Cipango inspires its readers through its innovative language, its relevance to Chile’s history, and its universal themes.

Daniel Shapiro


Many of the poems in Cipango are set in Concepción, which has given the book an almost prophetic quality when read today, particularly in light of the recent earthquake and its devastation of that city.


Danger Zones

Just like long and narrow strips of mud
Just like long and narrow strips of night
Just like long and narrow strips of red moss
on the skin.

The danger zones are unintelligible. Or
they’re prefigured by a red metal disk,
symbol of a moldy sun pissed on by dogs,
at the end of a dismembered street.

The danger zones are inevitable; they surround
your body in silence,
in silence they lick your ear,
in secret they stir your eyes,
without the least sound they kiss your ass
and meager neon signs hide their true identity:


Zonas de peligro

Así como largas y angostas fajas de barro
Así como largas y angostas fajas de noche
Así como largas y angostas fajas de musgo rojo
sobre la piel.

Las zonas de peligro son ininteligibles. O las
prefigura un rojo disco de metal,
símbolo de un sol mohoso al fondo de una calle desmembrada,
meado por los perros.

Las zonas de peligro son inevitables; te rodean
el cuerpo en silencio,
en silencio te lamen la oreja,
en secreto te revuelven el ojo,
sin el menor ruido te besan el culo
y los escasos letreros de neón ocultan su única identidad:

Orompello II

Orompello street dates from the Upper Paleolithic of the city.
Love has sedimented over every geologic stratum of the black,
ocher, coffee-colored walls; these immobile bodies on the corners
were already painted on the walls,
skin over stucco, bone over adobe, paint over raw
flesh: to infect us with love they date their calls
or echoes of desire and the sympathetic magic of every chalk-drawn ass,
every silicone breast they awaited like all true love does,
in silence, piercing the walls with lugubrious love.
But there were deaths on Orompello street. And Death
sediment overlaid Love sediment,
and the body of live women mingled with the corpse
of dead women,
and signs infected by love mingled with
signs infected by violence.
Every wall protects bodies from danger. But every
body standing on a corner, every body falling
half a block away like a ragged planet in black stockings
was for Orompello street a contagion of love. The history of
Orompello street is long. It mingles with the ages of bodies,
with the walls’ geology, with the hollow
vulvas of those who’ve left for the next world.
One of the dead whores will sediment into paving stones
and will no longer have a history;
the paving stones will sediment into asphalt or aluminum
and will no longer have a history;
and there will be no final history for Orompello street
which dates from the Upper Paleolithic of the city,
when the brilliant Southern Cross shone just above
the luminous red
of the Tropicana
and that same body riddled in harsh mud was a different one,
dark groaning flesh , split open, fondled, spurred,
infected by evil love,
the bodies that sedimented
skin over stucco, bone over adobe, paint over raw
flesh: and there will no longer be a final history for these women
who date from the Upper Paleolithic of the city.

Orompello II

Orompello data del Paleolítico Superior de la ciudad.
El amor se ha sedimentado sobre cada geología de muro
negro, ocre, café; estos cuerpos inmóviles en las esquinas
ya habían sido pintados sobre los muros,
cuero sobre estuco, hueso sobre adobe, pintura sobre carne
viva: para contagiarnos de amor datan sus llamados
o ecos del deseo y la magia simpática de cada culo de tiza,
de cada pecho de látex aguardaron en silencio, como
todo amor verdadero, agujereando de lóbrego amor cada muro.
Pero hubo muertes en Orompello. Y el sedimento de la
muerte se sobrepuso al sedimento del amor,
y el cuerpo de las vivas se confundió con el cadáver
de las muertas,
y los signos contagiados de amor se confundieron con los
signos contagiados de violencia.
Cada muro separa a los cuerpos del peligro. Pero cada
cuerpo detenido en una esquina, cada cuerpo cayendo
a media cuadra como un planeta traposo de medias negras
era un contagio de amor para Orompello. La historia de
Orompello es larga. Se confunde con las eras de los cuerpos
con la geología de los muros, con las oquedades de las
vulvas de las que ya se fueron al otro mundo.
Una de las putas muertas sedimentará en los adoquines
y ya no tendrá historia;
los adoquines sedimentarán en asfalto o aluminio
y ya no tendrán historia;
y no habrá historia final para Orompello
que data del Paleolítico Superior de la ciudad,
cuando la Cruz del Sur se veía brillante justo arriba
del lumínico rojo
de la Tropicana
y otro era el mismo cuerpo horadado entre el barro agreste,
contagiándose de mal amor las carnes oscuras gimentes
partidas abiertas refregadas espoleados
los cuerpos que sedimentaron
cuero sobre estuco, hueso sobre adobe, pintura sobre carne
viva: y ya no habrá historia final para estas mujeres
que datan del Paleolítico Superior de la ciudad.

Beneath the Shadow of a Limed Wall

Beneath the shadow of a limed wall,
among erotic slogans, our bodies
were barely touching. I don’t know if
we were already condemned. There were other bodies
among us, maybe not crowds,
but we weren’t alone. (Then I remembered
that Genet wanted
The Maids to be played by
teenagers but a poster still
nailed to a corner of the set would warn
the audience of the investiture and the fiction)
but we weren’t in the theater: I wanted to take
you in the dark; there were other bodies
among us, maybe not crowds; the bodies
had eyes the bodies had no eyes: I’ll never know
if there were windows or if we were exposed to the weather;
it’s a barracks like the ones in Treblinka, someone said,
but I was listening to the sounds of the city
as if on short wave. I’ll never know if there was a window,
but on the white wall a neon sign filtered
brilliant green and in the delirium
accompanying love, in the unabsolved delirium
where we all ended up, we began to imagine things:
in shadow I embraced you, thinking
I was embracing you in daylight: on the wall
the glowing green sign of the Hotel King
was the only sun.

Bajo la sombra de un muro encalado

Bajo la sombra de un muro encalado,
entre las consignas eróticas, apenas nos
rozábamos los cuerpos. No sé si previo a todo
ya estábamos condenados. Había más cuerpos
entre nosotros, no sé si muchedumbres,
pero no estábamos solos. (Yo entonces recordé
que Genet quería que la representación teatral
de Las sirvientas fuera personificada por
adolescentes pero en un cartel que permanecería
clavado en algún vértice del escenario se le
advertiría al público la investidura y la ficción)
pero no estábamos en el teatro: yo quise tomarte
el cuerpo en la oscuridad; había más cuerpos
entre nosotros, no sé si muchedumbres; los cuerpos
tenían los ojos los cuerpos no tenían ojos: jamás sabré
si había ventanas o si estábamos a la intemperie;
es una barraca como las de Treblinka dijo alguien,
pero yo escuchaba como en onda corta los sonidos
de la ciudad. Nunca sabré si hubo una ventana,
pero se filtraba sobre el muro blanco el fulgor
verde de un aviso luminoso y en el delirio que
acompaña el amor, en el delirio impune en que
terminábamos todos, comenzamos a imaginarnos cosas:
yo, en la penumbra, te abrazaba el cuerpo pensando
que te abrazaba el cuerpo en la claridad: el letrero
luminoso verde del Hotel King sobre el muro
era el único sol.

Vacant Lot

The dusks over vacant lots
always are charged with repeating images. Without human form,
modeled purely out of earth, dissolved in pure rain,
stretching over pure mud and scraps of greens
coming loose from the hills on this side of the world
unbathed by the sun, where the pure agony of sun
refracts, the pure absence of human form
in the designated places.
History ends at the vacant lots. Our pupils
widened the survey of space and our mouths
stuttered a broken-off desire, at most our teeth
bled the tips of our tongues, at most our minds
dreamed impossible bodies in the red
separation of earth and sun.
The dusks over vacant lots
always are charged with repeating images. Our bodies
thickened with the onset of shadows, became
vegetal with the rotten greens, mineralized
in the empty instant of the night, stuck to
smoke dispersing in white manes floating toward
the hole of the night; or waited, as if that final water
unnamed by images would spill from
the plazas of the night, that final water of
myths and dreams that stanched the purple stains
from our bodies with the cleanliness
of a new human form.


Son siempre cargados de imágenes repetidas
los crepúsculos sobre los baldíos. Sin forma humana,
en tierra pura modelados, en pura lluvia desmoronados,
extendidos en puro barro y en desechos vegetales
desprendiéndose de las laderas donde no baña esta
porción del mundo el sol, donde refracta la pura
agonía del sol, la pura falta de forma humana
en los lugares señalados.
La Historia termina en los baldíos. Nuestras pupilas
ensanchaban la agrimensura del espacio y la boca
balbucía un deseo entrecortado, a lo más el diente
sangraba la punta de la lengua, a lo más la mente
imaginaba un cuerpo imposible en la disociación
roja del sol y la tierra.
Son siempre cargados de imágenes repetidas
los crepúsculos sobre los baldíos. Nuestros cuerpos
se densificaban con la sombra advenida, se hacían
vegetal con los vegetales podridos, se mineralizaban
en el instante vacío de la noche, adherían a la
dispersión del humo en guedejas blancas hacia el
agujero de la noche; o aguardaban, como si de los
zócalos de la noche se derramaría esa agua final
de la que no hablaban las imágenes, esa agua final de los
mitos y de los sueños que restañaba con la limpidez
de una nueva forma humana los lamparones morados
de nuestros cuerpos.

Cipango (Poe)

We were in a pit
or in the silent representation of a pit
all this is in the spheres
in paintings of world maps
there are photographs illuminating all aspects
of marvelous things,
gold in the eyes, gold in the earlobes, gold on the asses,
a woman in black appeared,
we followed her,
five leagues, ten blocks, we crossed the quadrants
of something like an inferno or nightclub,
a powerful red spread over horrible
paintings of blood,
a hundred eyes stared at you, no, at your body,
they shone with a gloomy radiance,
they couldn’t be real,
but we’re in Cipango,
we’d entered the city at dawn,
they said it was the land of the Khan,
there wasn’t gold in the eyes,
there wasn’t gold in the earlobes,
there wasn’t gold on the asses,
neither eyes nor earlobes nor asses,
only a pit,
an Ultima Thulé of desire, no, of all punishments,
with each breath,
a flow of white-hot iron
pierced the dark hollows in our brains,
but no one was there,
the city was deserted,
everywhere lost souls suffered their pain,
even though silence wasn’t like that in Cipango,
in the distance there were murmurs,
little birds, unbarking dogs,
their staring eyes shone with a radiance more and more
silence wasn’t like that in Cipango,
their eyes gleamed from a source of Power
impossible to name,
through the glow,
the refractions,
the red,
the polarized glass,
the city was deserted,
the streets filled with beasts,
little birds,
we greased our bodies with animal fat
to lure them to us,
there wasn’t any gold,
they said this was the land of the Khan,
of Goldfinger,
now that a polarized sky covered our napes,
in the plaza the beasts began to gather,
to growl, to come closer,
their eyes gleamed in their bodies
as if from a source of Power
now impossible to name,
we were sick men breathing,
we sank into a murmur like sleep,
that’s when the turning began,
the city began turning,
Cipango a concentric circle and inside it our bodies,
at first the voracious beasts
were frozen and scared,
their staring eyes shone with a radiance more and more
then all the lights came on,
all the walls and the iron on the walls,
red lights in the windows, teeth, traffic lights,
we were in Cipango, land of the Khan,
now Goldfinger began to take shape
and the sight of him warmed us up,
the powerful red was spreading like a painting of blood,
an Ultima Thulé of all desires and all punishments,
the gold shone,
the eyes began taking shape,
night was falling in Cipango.

Cipango (Poe)

Estábamos en un pozo
o en la representación silenciosa de un pozo
todo esto está en las esferas
en las pinturas de mapamundos
hay fotografías que iluminan todo aspecto de cosas
oro en los ojos, oro en los lóbulos, oro en los culos,
apareció una mujer toda vestida de negro,
la seguimos,
cinco leguas, diez cuadras, atravesamos las cuadrantes
de algo que parecía un infierno o boite,
un fuerte color rojo se difundía sobre horribles
pinturas de sangre,
cien ojos se clavaban en ti, no, en tu cuerpo,
brillaban con un resplandor lúgubre,
la imaginación no puede admitirlas como reales,
pero estamos en Cipango,
habíamos entrado al amanecer en la ciudad,
decían que era la tierra del Can,
no había oro en los ojos,
no había oro en los lóbulos,
no había oro en los culos,
ni ojos ni lóbulos ni culos,
un puro pozo,
última Thulé del deseo, no, de todos los castigos,
al respirar,
la emanación del hierro candente
penetraba hasta las oscuras concavidades del cerebro,
pero no había nadie,
la ciudad estaba desierta,
por todas partes penaban ánimas,
aunque el silencio no era tal en Cipango,
había murmullos, a lo lejos,
avecitas salvajes, perros que jamás ladraron,
los ojos fijos brillaban con un resplandor cada vez más
el silencio no era tal en Cipango,
los ojos refulgían desde algún centro de Poder
imposible de determinar,
por los brillos,
las refracciones,
el rojo,
el cristal polarizado,
la ciudad estaba desierta,
las calles se llenaban de animales,
avecitas salvajes,
nos frotamos el cuerpo con grasa aceite animal,
para atraerlos,
oro no había,
decían que esta era la tierra del Can,
de Goldfinger,
ahora que un cielo polarizado nos cubría las nucas,
en la plaza los animales se comenzaron a juntar,
gruñir, acercar,
sus ojos refulgían en sus cuerpos
como desde algún centro de Poder
imposible ya de determinar,
respirábamos enfermos,
nos sumergíamos en un murmullo como de sueño,
ahí empezó la rotación,
la ciudad comenzaba a rotar,
Cipango era un círculo concéntrico y nuestros cuerpos dentro,
al principio los voraces animales
quedaron parados y asustados,
sus ojos fijos brillaban con un resplandor cada vez más
entonces, se encendieron todas las luces,
todos los muros y el hierro de los muros,
rojas las luces en las ventanas, los dientes, los semáforos,
estábamos en Cipango, la tierra de Can,
ahora Goldfinger comenzaba a materializarse,
nos comenzó a dar calentura por verle,
el fuerte color rojo se difundía como pintura de sangre,
última Thulé de todos los deseos y todos los castigos,
brilló el oro,
los ojos comenzaban a hacerse materiales,
anochecía en Cipango.

Poiesis of the Better Life

Deep inside the Yugo Bar
the black nocturnal butterflies
finally went mad
they didn’t harm anyone
they clustered in a tribal swarm
they were going to hurl themselves against the pipes
full of gold dust lighting the halls
we’re searching for a better life, they said
Aurelia broke away from them
adorned herself unsexed herself and went away with the black
nocturnal butterflies
a better life
she was shouting after so much cacao rum
like always she turned pale after so much cacao rum
in Cipango we bathed our mares in cacao rum
all this happened in a dream bordering dawn
we were stranded
What was in my head?
some trivial details
a pool of crude oil
black plastic bags
gold dust
all this happened after desire
in Cipango
Deep inside the Yugo Bar
the black nocturnal butterflies finally went mad
they didn’t want to harm anyone
but they dragged many away
a better life
they were dreaming in a whisper
in these Iron Age dawns
although we may speak of happiness
what will happen after all this?
We flowed into a tunnel gilded like a resplendent
at the end we saw a bitch
who couldn’t stop herself
a yellow bitch
running her tongue over her wounds
fear nested
in her animal eyes.

Poiesis de la vida mejor

Yugo Bar muy adentro
las mariposas nocturnas negras
terminaron por enloquecer
no le hicieron daño a nadie
se congregaron en sí mismas tribales
y fueron a darse contra los tubos llenos
de polvo de oro que alumbraban los pasillos
buscamos una vida mejor dijeron
Aurelia se fue de ellas
se ornó se asexuó y se fue con las mariposas nocturnas negras
una vida mejor
gritaba después de tanto ron con cacao
estaba pálida como siempre después de tanto ron con cacao
en Cipango bañábamos yeguas con ron con cacao
era en un sueño al borde del alba cuando ocurría todo esto
estábamos varados
¿Qué tenía yo en la cabeza?
algunos detalles sin importancia
un charco de petróleo
bolsas negras
polvo de oro
todo esto transcurría después del deseo
en Cipango
Yugo Bar muy adentro
las mariposas nocturnas negras terminaron por enloquecer
no querían dañar a nadie
pero arrastraron a muchos
una vida mejor
soñaban por lo bajo
en estos amaneceres de la Edad de Hierro
aunque hablemos de la felicidad
¿Y después de todo esto?
Desembocamos en un túnel dorado como alcantarilla
muy fulgurante
al final vimos una perra
no podía pararse
era una perra amarilla
se pasaba la lengua por las mataduras
el miedo anidaba
en los ojos del animal.

From Cipango, by Tomás Harris; translated by Daniel Shapiro (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2010). Spanish originals © 1992, 1996 by Tomás Harris. English text © 2010 by Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corp. Reprinted by permission.