Two Poems

by José Watanabe (Translated by Germán Campos-Muñoz and Chris Meade) Issue: Spring 2018

Animal de invierno

Otra vez es tiempo de ir a la montaña
a buscar una cueva para hibernar.

Voy sin mentirme: la montaña no es madre, sus cuevas
son como huevos vacíos donde recojo mi carne
y olvido. 
Nuevamente veré en las faldas del macizo
vetas minerales como nervios petrificados, tal vez
en tiempos remotos fueron recorridos
por escalofríos de criatura viva.
Hoy, después de millones de años, la montaña 
está fuera del tiempo, y no sabe
cómo es nuestra vida
ni cómo acaba.

Allí está, hermosa e inocente entre la neblina, y yo entro
en su perfecta indiferencia 
y me ovillo entregado a la idea de ser de otra sustancia.

He venido por enésima vez a fingir mi resurrección.
En este mundo pétreo
nadie se alegrará con mi despertar. Estaré yo solo
y me tocaré 
y si mi cuerpo sigue siendo la parte blanda de la montaña
que aún no soy la montaña.

Winter Animal

Again it is time to go to the mountain
to look for a cave to hibernate.

I go without lying to myself: the mountain is no mother, its caves
are like empty shells where I collect my flesh
and forget.
Once again I’ll see in the slopes of the ridge
mineral veins like petrified nerves, perhaps
in ancient times they were crossed
by the shivers of a living creature.
Today, after millions of years, the mountain
is outside of time, and doesn’t know
how our life is
nor how it ends.

There it is, beautiful and innocent amid the fog, and I pass into
its absolute indifference
and I curl up committed to the idea of becoming another substance.

I have come for the umpteenth time to fake my resurrection.
In this rock world
no one will rejoice when I wake up. I will be alone
and I will touch myself
and if my body is still the soft part of the mountain
I shall know
that I am not yet the mountain.

La oruga

Te he visto ondulando bajo las cucardas, penosamente,
pero sé que mañana serás del aire.

Hace mucho supe que no eras un animal terminado
y como entonces
arrodillado y trémulo
te pregunto:
¿sabes que mañana serás del aire?
¿te han advertido que esas dos molestias aún invisibles
serán tus alas?
¿te han dicho cuánto duelen al abrirse
o sólo sentirás de pronto una levedad, una turbación
y un infinito escalofrío subiéndote desde el culo?

Tú ignoras el gran prestigio que tienen los seres del aire
y tal vez mirándote las alas no te reconozcas
y quieras renunciar,
pero ya no: debes ir al aire y no con nosotros.

Mañana miraré sobre las cucardas, o más arriba.
Haz que te vea,
quiero saber si es muy doloroso el aligerarse para volar.
Hazme saber
si acaso es mejor no despegar nunca la barriga de la tierra.

The Caterpillar

I have seen you rippling under the hibiscus, arduously,
but I know that tomorrow you shall belong to the air.

Long ago I learned that you are an unfinished animal
and just like then, now
kneeling and trembling
I ask you:
Do you know that tomorrow you shall belong to the air?
Have you been warned that those two bothers, now invisible,
will be your wings?
Have you been told how much it will hurt when they open
or that you will only feel a sudden lightness, a disturbance
and an infinite shiver ascending from your ass?

You are unaware of the great prestige of aerial beings
and maybe, when looking at your wings, you will not recognize yourself
and you may even want to quit,
but that can’t be: you must go to the air and leave us behind.

Tomorrow I will look over the hibiscus, or higher.
Allow me to see you,
I want to know how much it hurts, lightening up to fly.
Let me know
if perhaps it’s better never to detach one’s belly from the earth.

José Watanabe

José Watanabe (1946-2007) was born on a large sugar cane farm in northern Peru. His father was a Japanese immigrant and his mother was a Peruvian of Andean origin. In a very intimate way, Watanabe fused his two deep cultural backgrounds in brief but intense poetic work, collected in  Álbum de familia (1971), El huso de la palabra (1989), Historia natural (1994), Cosas del cuerpo (1999), Antígona (2000), eHabitó entre nosotros (2002), Lo que queda (2005), La piedra alada (2005), Banderas detrás de la niebla (2006). Watanabe also wrote stories for children and was involved in the film industry as a screenwriter, production designer and art director.


Germán Campos-Muñoz joined the faculty of Appalachian State University in 2014. He has published articles on the connections between the Classics and Latin America in Latin American Research Review, Hispanic Review, and Dieciocho. His current book project is a transhistorical study of the powerful role of the Greco-Roman tradition in key moments of Latin American cultural history. Dr. Campos-Muñoz teaches courses on World Literature, Comparative Literature, and Global Cinema.