Punctuation: poems by Rogelio Guedea, with translations by Roger Hickin. Lyttleton, Aotearoa New Zealand: Cold Hub Press (2018).
RRP: $25. Pb, 48pp.
Reviewed by Patricia Prime.
Punctuation by Rogelio Guedea is translated by Roger Hickin, so we begin with a book that is two books, in English and Spanish. What stories they are – striking vignettes of ‘A wall that separates us from things’ (“Things and us”, p 7), the man who is two men (“Two men”, p 9), the provincial encroached by worldliness; of intimacy, love, dying, and above all a determination to relate to and render the stories of intersecting lives.
In “Distances 1”, Guedea likens his body to ‘some strange city’, as he tries to come to terms with its alienation:
It’s three days since my left hand
would reach down to touch the toes
of my black shoes.
Five since my shoulders would hunch up
to touch my ears. (p 11).
Guedea has a keen eye for the spirituality he finds in the death of a relative, as in the ending of “Uncle Jorge”:
You would die that evening, they warned us,
and I would be dancing at my brother’s wedding:
gazing at infinity. (p 17).
It is not all wry irony with Guedea, though, as violence brims in “The dead of Colima”:
If we lined up all the dead who’ve been murdered in Colima
in the last four months,
the head of each one touching the foot of the next
et cetera, et cetera,
there would be enough of them to encircle the whole state,
as if they were a wall or a rampart. (p 19).
Here Guedea establishes himself as a poet who can express both beauty and violence. The body is not only subject to violation, but also to tenderness. “Two stories” progresses through the easy sensuality of ‘a hand that writes our / story from somewhere else’ into the revelation of
That hand is not God, though it might be,
Nor is it from the future, though it might be.
Not from the past either, but you never know. (p 23).
Guedea wrestles with scale – pitting individual experiences and violence against each other. In “Good morning” (p 25) he addresses all those corrupt people whom he has come across: hitmen, corrupt politicians, employers who screw their workers, and many others, but he concludes in exhaustion: ‘To all I say a friendly, solicitous good morning, but I forgive no one.’
It is a world where ‘his words seek reality’ (“Words and reality”, p 27). Yet against the backdrop of a battered history and uncertain future, Guedea finds greatest solace in the company of a loved one, as in “Names”:
Essence is invisible, like your hands
beneath the white sheet
or your eyes’ inward light.
Like your hands that slide in search of me
beneath the white sheet, unseen but felt. (p 29).
In “C’est fini” (p 35), he writes: ‘It’s not true / that everything is born to die’ and relates all those things that do not die: trees, wind, stone, the year which is ‘not replaced /by next, but mixes into it, / is lost in it, and does not die.’ Although, in “And yet”, he expresses the thought that one day the person he loves my not be there anymore. The poem ends:
Day and night I’m
full of thoughts of having
nothing and yet I’m thinking:
that I do not have you and you are with me,
that you leave and you accompany me,
that one day you will cease to be you
so that I might exist. (p 37).
The poems in Punctuation fuse Guedea’s lyrical gifts with his fascinating contemplation of the physical relationship with the spiritual. In a lesser poet’s hands, such a venture would feel pretentious, or annoyingly earnest. But Guedea’s flight of imagination, his accessibility and wit, make these poems fulfilling to read.
We would like to thank Roger Hickin for the work he does in New Zealand publishing / translating other languages.