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Green ghost fires in the black rooms.
(Translation of Tu Fu’s verse by Kenneth Rexroth.)
I learned to sing in the desert
To interpret those voices
To transcribe the sound of hours
scratching between bones and teeth
I held the piano in my hands,
then put it away under my tongue
locked away in a little box
Childhood was pursuing me
a spiral staircase like a snail’s shell
a half-opened door
with jaws in its depths
My eyes inhabit a desert without stars
There is a green breeze in the open black window
In the black window there are green wings
in the black there is green
the lights of insomnia
When someone turns on the lights
in the green room there are black feathers
I descend to the bottom on a spiral staircase
A rip in the belly
The trembling sets in
at the knees
My hand touches
the body with the gutted hollow
When it comes tonight, my body won’t be empty
It will come for me, and I will be breathless
the tide has taken away my breath
the typhoon is coming for me
Since when do puppets pray?
Mamá, and what is this thirst?
what about this silence?
: and your blue flowers
the violet of your lips?
Mamá, what if I open my eyes
in the middle of a dream?
Green Fires of the Spirits is “at once one book and many,” Verónica González Arredondo announces in the thin-as-a-damselfly-wing, half-paragraph long introduction to the book in which “[Sky]” first appeared in Spanish. Verónica’s poems, all referencing the weather or water and other elements, are occasionally reminiscent of the best of Octavio Paz, and the reader may find strains of Issa or Tu Fu, notes from a Victorian parlor, or motifs of Modernist imagists such as Ezra Pound. Yet the crisp and unflinching music of this poetry forges a new, and altogether original, score that is unique in world poetry. Through a series of short reflections, narrated in the voice of a young girl from the deserts of Northern Mexico, Verónica González Arredondo debuts an unmistakably beautiful and haunting style all her own. Her poems take me back to the original Grimms’ fairy tales, with all the grizzly bits intact, revealing a chaotic and inexplicable universe through the eyes of a child who sees all too clearly its beauty and horrors: “Childhood was pursuing me/a spiral staircase like a snail’s shell/a half-opened door/with jaws in its depths,” (“[Sky]”). Though the writing in Green Fires is often light, magical, and entrancing, this is also a world where teeth hide in flowers and jaws are waiting at the bottom of the stairs; where a cherry tree may produce both cheerful red fruit and ash as gray as the fog that transports us back to WWII, the Holocaust, or Hiroshima; an airy dream of dragonflies may end abruptly when the dreamer opens a bedroom door and finds herself perched at the edge of a precipice as “the abyss returns my scream.” For three years, I had wanted to translate poetry that addressed immigration from Central America and Mexico, while acknowledging the women and girls who disappear while making this journey. I found those poems here, in Verónica’s deserts that once were oceans, as she guides us through underworlds and the heavens while providing a voice for those who are often silenced.
Poet and translator Allison A. deFreese is based in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and coordinates literary translation workshops for the Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters. She has previously lived in Mexico and South America. She holds a BA from Ottawa University, an MFA and MA from the University of Texas at Austin (James A. Michener Center for Writers), and an MA in Spanish Translation from the University of Texas at Brownsville (now UT Rio Grande Valley). She has several book-length literary translations forthcoming later this year, including works by María Negroni and Luis Chitarroni (Argentina). Her translation of Verónica González Arredondo’s book I Am Not That Body won the 2020 Pub House Press (Quebec) international chapbook manuscript competition and is forthcoming this June.
Verónica González Arredondo (Guanajuato, Mexico) holds a PhD in Arts from the Universidad de Guanajuato and a Master’s in Philosophy from the Universidad de Zacatecas. She has received several prestigious Latin American literary awards, including Mexico’s National Ramón López Velarde Prize in Poetry/Premio Nacional de Poesía “Ramón López Velarde,” for her book of poems Ese cuerpo no soy/I Am Not That Body (Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, 2015) as well as the Dolores Castro Prize in Poetry /Premio Dolores Castro en Poesía, an annual prize awarded to a woman writing exceptional and socially conscious work in Spanish, for her book Verde Fuegos de Espíritus/Green Fires of the Spirits (Ayuntamiento de Aguascalientes, 2014). Voracidad, grito y belleza animal/Voraciousness, Screams and Animal Beauty, a book of essays, was also published by Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas in 2014. Verónica González Arredondo’s books of verse have previously been translated into, and published in, French and Portuguese. From 2017-2018 she held a FONCA fellowship for younger artists through the Fondo Nacional para la Culturas y las Artes/National Fund for Arts and Culture.