“Suite and Incarnating War” by Tracy K. Lewis.

My Approach to Poetry Composition and Poetic Translation

For me, the impulse to write poetry begins with a fundamental posture of amazement: a sensation that people, all life forms, the elements, inanimate objects, and language itself, are works of wondrousness. Some would call this religious, spiritual, animistic, or pagan, but to me it is simply the genesis of what we call poetry. That is why metaphor is a principal building block of poetry, because the metaphorical act, the finding of commonality between things that the humdrum world considers unrelated, is an act of miracle-finding, of magic.

If someone criticizes this as simply a restatement of the ditsy cliché that “everything is beautiful,” I would ask them to consider how radically different it is from the way the “normal” world usually operates. Poets are radical figures in that world because they do not buy into the usual banality of utilitarianism. Rather than putting a price tag on roses, the poet extols them. And if the poet is angry at abuse and injustice in the world, it is because those things violate the miraculousness of life and humanity.

I stated that the poet’s amazement extends to words themselves, and even to the music of words. This of course guides the act of composing a poem, and also of translating one. It is miraculous that we humans put words on the world, and even more so that we have devised thousands of systems of words, i.e. languages, to do that. Each language is a luminous sphere all its own. I write and translate poems in English, Spanish, and Guarani, because moving across linguistic boundaries only enhances the sense of marvel I have been describing.

Suite: Three Villages, Three Languages



Tava’i rekove

  • Ko’ê. Che retû ipytu vera
  • narãyvotygua, che retû,
  • ohavi’u che py’a apynguakua
  • ikuãnguéra tatatinaguigua reheve,
  • che mombáy. Apáy
  • che rupa kaigue tanimbúgui.
  • Che akãngyta ikueráivagui
  • apuã.
  • Che rataypy po syi
  • oikuave’ê chéve mandi’o, ka’ay.
  • Umi narãndy yvytumi
  • ohuguaitî che vevúi,
  • panambi sa’yju perere
  • ogueropurahéi kirirîhápe
  • che resa. Che pytuhê
  • ka’aguyndive, aguahu
  • pu’yme jagua tapeyguándive,
  • añemongeta guaraníme
  • umi ysyrymi ita’índive.
  • Añemonde ararapópe.
  • Asê.


Village Life

  • Sunrise. Its bright orange-flower
  • breath kisses me,
  • grazes my heart-nostrils
  • with fingers of mist,
  • rouses me. I awake
  • from my spent bed of ashes,
  • from the pillow of my tedium
  • I rise.
  • A hearth soft-handed
  • hands me manioc and yerba tea.
  • Small winds of orange groves
  • come to meet my lungs,
  • butterfly wing-beats a yellow
  • song in silence
  • on my eyes. The forest
  • breathes with me, stray dogs
  • join me in sound-less howl,
  • the pebbles of the brook
  • banter with me in Guarani.
  • I clothe myself in the horizon.
  • And go out.



Vendedor callejero

  • Plaza ésta, derrotero furtivo
  • de roedores; losas éstas,
  • mosaico de penurias.
  • Párroco que pule
  • de comas su sermón
  • y de polvo sus gradas,
  • mientras en ellas se recuesta
  • un borracho en coma propio,
  • sudando caña. Y yo,
  • mueble de más
  • en tanto aposento,
  • tronco de más
  • en tanta alameda,
  • me muevo a paso
  • de babosa trajinando
  • cachivaches y monedas,
  • exhalando cortesías
  • en fórmula. Me muevo
  • apenas. Pero algo,
  • apenas algo entre
  • tanta nada, brillo
  • momentáneo en la brisa,
  • brizna de una voz
  • lejana, me alza del hastío,
  • de pronto me convoca
  • a donde todo—plaza,
  • párroco y alameda—
  • desemboca en la mano
  • abierta de lo azul,
  • y de la mía
  • cae la moneda, para
  • volverse aire,
  • semilla,
  • vida.


Street Vendor

  • Plaza, furtive concourse
  • of rodents; flagstones,
  • mosaic of penury.
  • Priest polishing
  • the commas of a sermon,
  • the dust of a staircase
  • where lies comatose
  • a drunk in a cane-
  • liquor sweat. And I
  • in all these rooms
  • but one more chair,
  • in all these parks
  • but one more girth
  • of tree, ply there
  • slug-footed my
  • trade in trinkets
  • and coins, exhaling
  • courtesies. I move
  • barely. But something,
  • barely something in the wash
  • of nothing, a momentary
  • glisten on the breeze
  • or chaff of distant voice,
  • lifts me out of torpor,
  • calls me sudden someplace
  • where it all—plaza,
  • priest, and park—
  • just outflows in the open
  • hand of the blue,
  • and out of mine
  • there falls a coin,
  • which turns to air,
  • then seed,
  • then life.


Café, Summer

  • Coffee sips brown and sweet,
  • slips like liquid earth
  • down tongue and throat
  • to a mind somewhere in my gut
  • processing this place,
  • this curbside table
  • where sun hangs its beam-fruits
  • sudden in the sycamore shade
  • and the barber kitty-corner
  • trades in haircuts and homilies
  • about potholes and the price
  • of gas. Words my
  • only means to hold
  • this golden clutch of street
  • and sun in memory, lest
  • it go its way where
  • all the others went,
  • cups of coffee
  • nameless down the throat,
  • words the bricked-up
  • edifice of this. But words
  • strain always,
  • make but other words, nor
  • ever quite attain
  • that thing that mocks me
  • in the shade-bestowing leaves
  • and lees of cast-off
  • cups, these glowing streets,
  • that…Something…Else…

Incarnating War

  • Genitalia neither in-
  • nor ex-ternal, not binary,
  • this thing, except as
  • opposite of good, it
  • wears a uniform hung
  • with dead babies, medals
  • slouching unearned
  • on a bed of flab,
  • epaulets puffed bouffant
  • in a wind of vanity,
  • boots shiny as the spilled
  • wombs of widows,
  • spit-licked clean of the dust
  • of usurped kindergartens
  • and barnyards,
  • lapels hard as dried blood,
  • creased crisp as tombstone edges,
  • all these it wears,
  • but the body beneath
  • is the frightened plasm
  • of a tumor
  • unable to stop
  • growing…

Liverpool, 6/8/22