October 1, 2018

Caroline N. Simpson


You are a single woman, about to embark upon your most challenging and dangerous mission. Equipped with a libido and the instinct to bear children, your objective is to find the perfect mating ritual in the Galápagos Islands. You bravely face elaborate courtship dances, rough foreplay, and single parenting—but will you return to the U.S. with the partnership pattern that works for you?



You are a blue-footed booby.
A male approaches you
and begins to dance,
taking giant steps in place
to flaunt his turquoise feet,
indicators of his health.
If red throat pouches
are more of a turn-on,
skip to Chapter Two.

He offers you twigs and grasses,
symbols of the nest
you will build together.
Impressed, you dance too,
face-to-face walking
on a treadmill.
You mirror each movement,
a connection found
in how much you can act
like one another.
His dancing escalates—
wingtips, tail, beak
all point skywards.
When you match
his sky pointing,
the bond is sealed.
He whistles; you honk.
Even after nesting begins,
you continue to dance.
If you would rather
he stop trying to get it on,
so you can focus
on being a mom,
skip to Chapter Three.

You both incubate the eggs,
taking breaks only to hunt.
While you are off to eat,
he strays from the nest,
dances the booby-two-step
with other females,
but when you return,
he comes back immediately.
If you prefer a partner
who can abstain
from flirting with others,
go to Chapter Two.

Your family stays together
six months, one season.
Once the juvenile leaves the nest,
you both move on to new mates—
no empty nest syndrome for you.
If you prefer a partner
to grow old with,
rekindling the romance
once the kids are gone,
skip to Chapter Six.



You are a great frigatebird
soaring above a sea of males,
fishing for your mate.
If you prefer he
be the one to choose,
skip ahead to Chapter Three.

He perches in a bush,
having spent twenty minutes
inflating his throat pouch
into a red balloon.
When he sees you,
he loses control,
spreads his wings,
erupts in a shrill cry
and a fit of head-shaking,
the bloated red throat waggling.
It is not the size of the sac
that gets your attention,
but the nesting spot he chose.
If the quality of his nest
is not how you shop for lovers,
return to Chapter One.

You are impressed.
You alight between
his spread wings.
He wraps one around you;
the match is made.
You are seasonally monogamous,
but it might be two years
before your parental duties end,
and you can move on.
If a two-year commitment
gives you reason
to doubt your choice,
because it is the size
of the throat sac that counts,
return to the beginning
of this chapter.
There are many more
fish in this sea.



You are a Galápagos giant tortoise,
watching two males fight for you—
up on their legs,
stretched necks,
gaping mouths.
The smaller one retreats;
the victor claims his prize.
If you find dominance displays infantile,
skip to Chapter Six.

The foreplay is rough.
He rams his shell into yours,
nipping your legs.
He awkwardly mounts you,
stretching and tensing
his neck and legs
to stay balanced.
The queue of males behind you
must wait two hours
for this fellow to finish up.
His concave belly
atop your convex shell,
you fit together like spoons.
He hoarsely bellows and grunts,
groans rhythmically atop you.
If you prefer softer, sweeter sex sounds,
skip to Chapter Six.

Six hours later,
you complete copulation
with the last male in the queue.
You are exhausted,
but the hard work is behind you.
Once you lay your eggs
in a nest hole filled with urine,
you leave the sun
to do the incubation.
If you prefer more active parenting,
with both of you involved,
jump to Chapter Six.



You are a waved albatross.
Courtship is an elaborate dance,
a series of displays repeated
in different orders until perfected—
bill circling,
sky pointing,
shy looking,
drunken swaggering,
bill clapping.
Multiple males approach you
to show off their moves,
but the dancer
with grace of carriage
and youthful spring,
he who can make
even a complicated choreography
distinct to see,
is the one who attracts you.
If you prefer a simpler
yet equally engaging dance,
refer to Chapter One.

You are partners for life,
living into your late thirties.
When your chicks hatch,
you put them in small nurseries
while you both go off to hunt.
If you prefer one of you
stay home with the kids,
return to Chapter One
(but be careful—
it’s a recipe for adultery).

Each year after months apart,
you return to the island
where you first met
and dance again.
If he can’t find you immediately,
he is unfaithful.
If you prefer to be the adulterer,
skip to Chapter Six.



You are a Galápagos sea lion.
You bask on the beach
with girl friends
while your bull swims
up and down the coastline
barking long and loud
at any males near his harem.
If gifts are more
your language of love,
return to Chapter One.

He has been so busy
defending his territory
that he has not eaten in weeks.
He is exhausted,
and his sexual performance
has declined.
You watch the bachelors
he chases away
swim to a beach
down the coast.
When he is not looking,
you sneak off underwater
to visit the bachelor colony.
Young, horny, strong,
these males are everything
your bull is not.
With satisfied libido,
you return to the harem,
your absence unnoticed.
If sexual satisfaction
is an important determiner
in your choosing a mate,
return to Chapter One.

One year after conception,
you give birth to a pup,
synchronized with other
newborns in the harem.
Your babies grow together,
napping and learning to swim.
After a few weeks,
you mate again,
but your primary role is mother.
You tend to the pup
for three years.
In that time,
many bulls come and go,
leaving your children
and closest girl friends
the most important
beings in your life.



You are a Galápagos hawk.
You soar through skies
screaming kee-kee-keeu,
but when you find a mate,
your call softens
to kilp-kilp-kilp.
You breed year-round
whenever the feeling
comes over you,
a few times a day
on a perch or in flight.
Your partner is monogamous,
but you sleep around—
up to seven males per season.
If you cannot handle
the emotional complexity
of an open relationship,
refer to Chapter Four.

Even with your promiscuity,
the commitment to him
is for life.
You use the same nest each year.
He stays close to home,
helping to incubate,
even feed the chicks.
The nest is never left
to fall apart.
You both add new twigs,
switching out old materials
with new and better ones
until it is four feet across.
If a bigger, better house
is not important to you,
and remodeling is not
how you want to spend
quality time together,
return to Chapter Five.



You are a single American woman
on a vacation cruise
in the Galápagos Islands.
He is an Ecuadorian sailor
working on your yacht.
The dance begins at the airport
and escalates on the boat—
lingering eye contact,
up-down eyebrow flashes,
kissy lips,
“muy guapa,”
waist squeezing,
hands brushing calves,
entering your cabin
to touch you all over.
The courtship dance lasts
several days in secret.
If he is caught by the captain,
he will be fired,
arrested by the police.
If secrecy is not a turn-on,
return to Chapter Five.

After four days,
you meet him
late at night above deck.
You climb down
the back of the boat
into the engine room
for the culmination
of the mating dance.
The next morning,
he dismisses touch,
avoids you for two days.
On the last day,
he pursues you again—
calls you wife,
expresses sadness
for your leaving.
As he drops you off
at the airport,
your eyes remain locked
until you can no longer
see each other.
If you prefer less push and pull,
a more consistent mating dance,
return to Chapter One.

You arrive at the end
of your Galápagos adventure.
If you have yet to find
within these chapters
the perfect partnership pattern
that works for you,
stay on the islands.
Revisit the chapters.
Unlike previous animals,
you can easily hop
between adaptations.
Stay longer in some chapters
and skip others altogether.

Or if several adaptations
are of interest to you,
and you would like them
all in one chapter—
a sexually satisfying,
monogamous, lifelong partner;
the sharing of parental duties;
an exciting courtship dance
that lasts for life;
and a community of friends
to raise your children with—
close this book.
Continue to evolve.

from Rattle #60, Summer 2018


Caroline N. Simpson: “My experiences living and traveling abroad are a great source of inspiration for me. Seeing my world through the lens of another culture—or in this case, animal species—is at the heart of my work. When visiting the Galápagos Islands, I was struck by how each species stuck to one mating style, yet humans have adopted a myriad of ways of partnership. When writing, I embrace questions, and through my pen, let the mystery propel me. From penning this poem, I discovered that I am still on the islands, revisiting the chapters, hopping between adaptations.” (web)

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April 23, 2018

Athlete Poets

Conversation with
Stephen Dunn

Rattle #60The stereotypes about athletes and poets might make it seem like an odd combination, but poetry lives everywhere, and stereotypes need to be broken.  The summer issue of Rattle features 22 poets who break the mold—professional athletes from the NFL and NBA, tennis pros, soccer players, weightlifters, marathon runners, and more—capped off with a wide-ranging conversation with semi-pro basketball player and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Stephen Dunn. As these poets explain in a particularly interesting contributor notes section, poetry and athletics fit together like a hand in a ball-glove.

The open section will make you laugh and cry as always, with a little more formal verse than usual, and an epic “Choose Your Own Adventure” poem by Caroline N. Simpson, which also adds a splash of color art for the first time in years.


Athlete Poets

 James Adams  No Name
Audio Available  Elison Alcovendaz  What Are You Doing Now?
Audio Available  Chaun Ballard  Midnight Lazaruses
Audio Available  Erinn Batykefer  Gimmie Shelter
 T.J. DiFrancesco  Magicker
Audio Available  Stephen Dunn  Little Pretty Things
Audio Available  Peg Duthie  Decorating a Cake While Listening to Tennis
Audio Available  Michael Estabrook  Grand Illusion
Audio Available  Daniel Gleason  Shadow Boxing Late at Night
Audio Available  Tony Gloeggler  Some Long Ago Summer
Audio Available  Alex Hoffman-Ellis  Modern Day Gladiator
Audio Available  A.M. Juster  Heirloom
 Benjamín N. Kingsley  Fall
Audio Available  Laura Kolbe  Calisthenics
Audio Available  Michael Mark  Golf with Bob
 Tom Meschery  Two from Searching for the Soul
Audio Available  Jack Ridl  Can We Know?
Audio Available  Laszlo Slomovits  Strangers
Audio Available  Brent Terry  What Happens in Church
Audio Available  Martin Vest  Should I Spill My Beer
Audio Available  Arlo Voorhees  The NFL on CTE
Audio Available  Guinotte Wise  The Why of Bull Riding


Audio Available  Timothy DeJong  Dog at the Farm
Audio Available  Kim Dower  The Delivery Man
Audio Available  Joseph Fasano  Hymn
 Alan C. Fox  Help
Audio Available  Conrad Geller  Elemental Intelligence
Audio Available  Athena Kildegaard  Allurement
Audio Available  David Mason  A Cabbie in America
 John Lazear Okrent  After Seeing a Picture in the New York Times …
Audio Available  Caroline N. Simpson  Choose Your Own Adventure …
 Anne Starling  Compassionate Friends
Audio Available  Katherine Barrett Swett  Marginalia
Audio Available  Stephen Taylor  Prenuptial Agreement
 William Trowbridge  Oldguy: Superhero vs. The Riddler
 Bro. Yao (Hoke S. Glover III)  Winter’s Blues


Stephen Dunn

Cover Art

William C. Crawford (web)

November 20, 2015

Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2015: Artist’s Choice


Photograph by Ana Prundaru
Photograph by Ana Prundaru. “Kamakura Beach, 1333” was written by Mary Kendall for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2015, and selected by Prundaru as the Artist’s Choice winner.

[download broadside]


Mary Kendall


The sea washed scarlet that night.

The tide rushed in—swelling and breaking—washing
all traces out to sea on the waves of Kamakura Beach.

You know nothing of this, you who long for adventure
and pleasure—youth who search desperately for meaning
in lives that are too rich, too busy, and still so poor.

Your small boats arrive in early evening, the carmine sunset
at your back, and you quickly gather driftwood, tinder, and
fallen black pine branches to burn. You light the fire.

A trail of smoke begins funneling up to the starry sky.
The fire burns hot and one by one, you feed it twigs, boughs,
pine cones bursting into streams of sparks and wild flames.

And in your wanton rambling, one girl grows silent—she alone
hears the hallowed chanting, the cries of battle, the shrieks
of arrows piercing skulls, the stench of life exiting too abruptly.

She wanders over shallow rocks, her hand touching stone,
knowing the pain hidden in the silence of eight hundred years.
The rest of you are unaware … you laugh too loudly, move

too fast, not noticing the shifting colors of the setting sun.
Listen and you will hear the shogun cries of warriors and farmers
that once shook the sacred sands of Kamakura Beach.

Can you smell the fierce fires, the burning buildings,
the blazing rafters crashing and lighting the darkening sky?
Can you hear the screams of those buried here long ago?

Time slipped by like swifts at dusk darting in the fading sky.
The fire raged on and on, and lives were ravished in a
single breath. It was our fate to die on Kamakura Beach.

With Samurai mind and clean, sharp blows, the sacred sword
was swift. One by one, we died … each of us choosing honor,
this bleak beach now strewn with bones, bodies and blood.

You who come to visit—feel the cool churning lapis blue water,
and see the late sun boldly brush red on sand, water and waves.
Remember us—we who lie buried on Kamakura Beach.

Let your fires roar, let them spark in comets to the stars.
Under the dark night skies long written in indigo and ink,
we will walk together here on Kamakura Beach.

Morning tide will come—swelling and breaking—washing
your presence out to sea—remembering our final night,
a night of fire and blood, bone and bodies on Kamakura Beach.

The sea washed scarlet that night.

Ekphrastic Challenge, October 2015
Artist’s Choice Winner

[download audio]


Comment from the artist, Ana Prundaru: “It was incredibly difficult to choose from so many witty, bittersweet and artful pieces, but in the end one stood out: Mary Kendall’s ‘Kamakura Beach 1333’ depicts the ambiguity of our surroundings and weaves past and present in her narrative, walking a fine line between everyday pleasures of casual outings by the beach and devastating circumstances of wars. I was deeply touched by the unexpected imagery and raw emotions, which made me feel vulnerable and powerful at once.” (website)

For more information on Mary Kendall, visit her website.

Note: This poem has been published exclusively online as part of our monthly Ekphrastic Challenge, in which we ask poets to respond to an image provided by a selected artist. This October, the image was a photograph by Ana Prundaru. We received 115 entries, and the artist and Rattle’s editor each chose their favorite. Timothy Green’s choice will be posted next Friday. For more information on the Ekphrastic Challenge visit its page. See other poets’ responses or post your own by joining our Facebook group.

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September 20, 2011

Review by Magdalena Edwards

by Ernesto Cardenal
Translated and Introduced by John Lyons
Foreword by Anne Waldman

Texas Tech University Press
BOX 41037
Lubbock, Texas 79409
ISBN 978-0-89672-689-5
2011, 141 pp., $21.95

I first read the Nicaraguan poet, Catholic priest, and social activist Ernesto Cardenal (1925 – ) for a college seminar where we discussed his “Prayer for Marilyn Monroe” translated by Robert Pring-Mill in the then recently published and now classic volume edited by Stephen Tapscott Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology (University of Texas Press 1996). Cardenal’s poem, his plea to God to receive Marilyn Monroe with kindness and his closing line demanding God to answer her final telephone call, struck me as refreshingly contemporary after reading so many poems by the four twentieth-century pillars César Vallejo, Vicente Huidobro, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz. I also connected instantly to the excerpt from his meditative sequence in 16 parts “Gethsemani, KY,” translated by Thomas Merton, the poet and Trappist monk with whom Cardenal studied:

Like empty beer cans, like empty cigarette butts;
my days have been like that.
Like figures passing on a T.V. screen
and disappearing, so my life has gone.
Like cars going by fast on the roads
with girls laughing and radios playing. . .
Beauty got obsolete as fast as car models
and forgotten radio hits.
Nothing is left of those days, nothing,
but empty beer cans, cigarette butts,
smiles on a faded photo, torn tickets
and the sawdust with which, in the mornings,
they swept out the bars.

Tapscott’s selection does not include other parts of the sequence, and I regret not seeking the complete text on my own at that time, in particular to read part 14, also translated by Merton, with its echoes of Wallace Stevens’ “The Snowman”:

I do not know who is out in the snow.
All that is seen in the snow is his white habit
and at first I saw no one at all:
only the plain white sunlit snow.
A novice in the snow is barely visible.
And I feel that there is something more in this snow
which is neither snow nor novice, and is not seen.

Fortunately the entire sequence of “Gethsemani, KY” is included in the volume Pluriverse: New and Selected Poems edited by Jonathan Cohen and with a foreword by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (New Directions 2009). Though Pluriverse is lamentably not a bilingual edition, the translations by Jonathan Cohen, Mireya Jaimes-Freyre, John Lyons, Thomas Merton, Robert Pring-Mill, Kenneth Rexroth, and Donald D. Walsh give us a cohesive group of mostly translator-poets and mostly repeat Cardenal translators. Cohen’s informative and lively Introduction delves into the volume’s origins:

The present volume is the most comprehensive collection to date of Cardenal’s poetry in English. He approved the selection, and participated in deciding the sequence of the poems, which for the most part follows the chronology of their compositions. He has a long publication history in English translation in the United States that goes back to the early 1960s, to the time of his earliest book publications in Spanish. Merton was among his first translators…

We also learn that “for this book Cardenal himself preferred just translations, rather than a bilingual format, in order to allow for the inclusion of more poems.” If only the newest English collection of Cardenal’s work The Origin of the Species and Other Poems translated and introduced by the Irish poet-translator John Lyons with a foreword by the American poet and co-founder of the “Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics” Anne Waldman offered us a parallel roadmap.

And here begins my short list of dissatisfactions with the collection The Origin of the Species:

1. The collection is not bilingual (and we do not know why).

2. The collection is not clear about where the poems come from. Some are new, some are old. The new ones, in some cases, appear for the first time ever in any language in The Origin of the Species. It would be nice to know which poems are which. If one digs around in the volume, the most one can determine is that the first 20 poems comprise the sequence The Origin of the Species and the final 13 are older poems (how old, from where, we don’t know). Is it significant that the book has a total of 33 poems, given that Cardenal was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1965 at the age of 40 and that he is now in his mid-80s? We don’t know.

3. I wanted more from Anne Waldman’s Foreword. The best part, for me, is the inclusion of a poem by Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003), the Chilean poet and novelist exiled in Spain, titled “Ernesto Cardenal and I” (a title that unavoidably echoes Borges’ stellar poem “Borges and I”). The poem begins: “Father, in the Kingdom of Heaven / that is communism, / is there a place for homosexuals? / Yes, he said.”

4. I wanted more from John Lyons’ Introduction. Why does he not summarize his translation experience with Cardenal and his work? Lyons translated the massive and significant Cosmic Canticle (Curbstone Press 1989) among many others. Lyons mentions Cosmic Canticle in the opening and describes it as a “masterly four-hundred-page meditation on the origins of the cosmos,” which clearly engages with The Origin of the Species, but he does not tell us of his role in both books as the English-language translator. Lyons tells us that Cardenal has frequently been nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature and that in the late 1940s he spent two years in graduate school at Columbia University where he was exposed to “the North American poetry tradition, from Whitman to Pound, to William Carlos Williams and to Marianne Moore,” which has influenced his work deeply. He also calls Cardenal’s poems “meditations,” but this is subtle in comparison to Robert Pring-Mill’s offering in his Introduction to Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems (New Directions 1980). Pring-Mill explains that Cardenal’s “accustomed method of composition involves long periods of meditation: drafting, redrafting, cutting up, and re-assembling numerous versions, on the way toward the final process of montage (often working on several poems in parallel, with the composition of the longer ones sometimes lasting over several years).”

5. There are so many interesting references – geographic locations, poets and figures from Latin America and elsewhere, scientific phenomena, and historic events – woven into Cardenal’s poems, it would be useful to have notes elucidating some of these at the end of the volume.

Part of my frustration with the new volume might come from personal experience: I had the privilege of hearing and seeing Ernesto Cardenal recite his poetry from one of the windows of the Moneda Palace in Santiago, Chile, on March 23, 2001, to the expectant crowd, myself included, below. He wore his black beret as always and he read alongside the American poets Adrienne Rich and Rita Dove (both of whom I interviewed for the newspaper El Mercurio in preparation for the international poetry festival Chile-Poesía), Brazil’s Ferreria Gullar, and Chile’s Nicanor Parra and Raúl Zurita, among others. I do not remember the lines he read, and unfortunately there is no YouTube video to refresh my memory (though there is footage of Adrienne Rich talking about poetry in the Bellas Artes Museum and then reading at the University of Chile). I would argue, and I think that Cardenal would agree, that it does not matter: every poem is one. Moreover, it is the transformation through poetic language that we seek. My point is that Cardenal is a charismatic figure; his voice has a quality that can hypnotize the listener, draw one into the journey at hand. On that Friday night at the Moneda Palace in downtown Santiago, the starry sky, the dramatic lighting cast on each of the renowned poets as they read from separate windows, the historic weight of the site itself, all of this contributed to a transfixing and transformative experience for the crowd. I wish that readers of the new volume of Cardenal’s work could catch a glimpse of this.

My criticism notwithstanding, the new poems speak for themselves. Cardenal’s opening poem, also titled “The Origin of the Species” to mark the bicentenary of Darwin’s birthday (Lyons tells us in his Introduction), ends:

Evolution unites us all
the living and the dead
Darwin discovered it
               (that we come from a single cell)
that is we are interlinked
               if one rises from the dead
               we all rise from the dead

There is a quality to The Origin of the Species, specifically in terms of the lyrical argumentation regarding the living and the dead or the beginning and the end, that recalls T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (1943) even though the presentation of Cardenal’s volume is nowhere near as compact and clearly framed. Eliot cites Heraclitus in his opening epigraphs, the second of which says, “The way upward and the way downward are the same.” The first quartet, “Burt Norton,” opens: “Time present and time past
/ Are both perhaps present in time future,
/ And time future contained in time past.”

Eliot’s poetic voice in the Four Quartets is uncertain, dogged, and saddened by the tragedy of humankind’s forgetfulness. The “perhaps” in the opening lines gives us a hint of this. The opening of the third quartet, “The Dry Salvages,” is more forceful:

I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognized as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable,
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget…

The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the hermit crab, the whale’s backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men. The sea has many voices,
Many gods and many voices.

Cardenal’s Origin poems are comparatively joyous, a celebration of Darwin’s work and the awesome truths contained therein, an attempt to persuade the reader of our common origins and immortality through nature and her complicity with God or that beyond us. “White Holes” is not dissuaded by death:

Day will come when the sea will boil
and the earth’s crust will melt
along with all the dead it once held.
The sun will grow and draw close to the earth
and will explode with a light they’ll see
millions of light years from here,
and all the dead will go in that light.
Fear of death is an optical error.
The starry sky, what does it tell us?
That we’re part of something much larger.
Individual eternity like
part of a community of eternities. And
individual consciousness which emerges
and is diluted in the universal.
               Ontologically together.
               The union of the universe.

Humankind is not spared Cardenal’s criticism, however. In “Cell Phone,” the final poem in the 20-poem sequence comprising The Origin of the Species, the poetic voice tackles the average consumer’s mindlessness (a critique that can be coupled with Eliot’s lament of our forgetfulness) regarding the consequences of mining for coltan (fundamental to the production of cell phones) in the Congo:

You talk on your cell phone
and talk and talk
and laugh into your cell phone
never knowing how it was made
and much less how it works
but what does that matter
               trouble is you don’t know
               just as I didn’t
               that many people die in the Congo
                              thousands upon thousands
                              for that cell phone
                              they die in the Congo
in its mountains there is coltan
                              (besides gold and diamonds)
used for cell phone

Cardenal does not return here to his earlier arguments: “That we’re part of something much larger” (“White Holes”), or that “since everything is related to everything / human destiny does not / differ from that of the entire universe” (“Reflections on the River Gijalva”). By the time we reach “Cell Phone,” the final poem of the sequence, those arguments should all be stored in our minds (lest we fall to mindlessness and forgetfulness, to the poets’ horror).
Part of what makes The Origin of the Species a pleasure to read is the way Cardenal incorporates his relationships —with Darwin’s theories and curiosity, with fellow poet Thiago de Mello and his service to his community through the restoration of the Amazon Theater, with Robert Graves’ The White Goddess and the subsequent visit to the scholar’s house in Majorca, Spain, among many others— into his poems. The poems themselves demonstrate how we are all part of something much larger, how we are related to one another. Cardenal depicts his interrelatedness with the world through his intellectual, spiritual, and personal adventures and encounters, and they are interesting, inspiring, transformative. Cardenal displays humor, ease, humanity in his verses.
In “The White Goddess” Cardenal writes:

So it was a very special book about woman, by
a man certainly very much in love with his wife.
About whom not long before Time had said: “He is one
of the most intelligent and erudite men
in the world.” And it was the book I’d been reading
on the sun-lounger on deck, watching the wake
from the stern
                              —Poseidon’s curly hair—
of the French boat heading for Le Havre. From
New York to Le Havre. My first trip to Europe.
And this was the reason why I was now
on this blue Mediterranean midday in
the out-of-the-way village of Deyá, Majorca
where Robert Graves lived, and the reason why
book in hand I knocked on his door.

Graves himself opens the door and invites Cardenal into the house, whereupon the scholar’s wife insists on serving him a bowl of the chicken soup they are eating for lunch.

He fetched the globe in the living room and spun it
round until placing his finger on Nicaragua and
he called his children so they could see
where I was from: “Here we are . . .
and here is Nicaragua.” And the children bent over to see
the tiny Mediterranean spot where they were,
and the other equally tiny spot, amazed
that it was so far away.


Magdalena Edwards is the editor of Marco Codebò’s Narrating from the Archive: Novels, Records, and Bureaucrats in the Modern Age (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press 2010). Her thesis on Raúl Zurita’s Purgatorio (1979), written while an undergraduate at Harvard, led to a stint with the “Artes & Letras” section of Chile’s leading newspaper El Mercurio. She recently received a PhD in Comparative Literature from UCLA. Her essay “Anniversaries, Anesthesia, and Elizabeth Bishop” was published by The Millions in August 2011, and she has an essay on Norman Rush forthcoming in the Los Angeles Review of Books. She is completing a memoir and an article about twentieth-century poet-translators in the Americas. She works with the novelist Mona Simpson in Santa Monica, where she lives with her husband and two sons.

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