María do Cebreiro

Neptune

-Once I tried to kiss a song
It didn’t budge, kept on playing
Right to the last chords.
-Are you serious?  With poets
I never know.  You’re all idealists.
-Do you think I could be anything else?
-You could think before you open your mouth.

(That evening over coffee she was about to ask:
-Open your eyes so I can dive in.
I can hold my breath.
-How many seconds?
-What it takes.
-You should be careful.  When divers
Go down they can lose
Consciousness.  Sometimes they drop
To the bottom.  –As if pleasure
Were stronger than life?
-The seaweed caresses them.  They never come back.
-Is life an instinct?
-Life is what we have.

-If you look at me so intently
I’ll end up thinking you can get inside me.
(They live as a couple.  They are not a couple.
Neither are they friends exactly.)

-I knew a boy.  Sometimes
We would talk.  One day I left.
If we bump into each other again

I don’t think I’d recognise him.
-Did anything happen between you?
-Do you mean, did we sleep together?
-Yes, I imagine
His hand between your legs.
-The strange thing is, he didn’t do it
To open me up.
He said he couldn’t sleep.
-Was it long ago?
-Really it was only three nights.
He wasn’t looking for treasure.  He was shy.

(They have a father.  They aren’t brother and sister
either.)

-Sometimes I think: even if I repeated myself
A hundred times
You still wouldn’t understand a thing.
-Is that why you talk? For me not to understand?
-Really I talk to keep you here.

(He goes out, does up the zip on his coat,
He has headphones.  –The music keeps the cold out.
-And if someone says hi and you don’t hear?
-There are two speeds:
Speech and silence.

-Do you set fire to skips?
Do you graffiti walls?
Do you vandalise telephone booths?

-Sometimes it bugs me that you don’t respect the
pauses.

-And does it bother you that I put you in my poems?
-Not if I am with you.

He would let himself out.  (She would let herself out.)

This free verse poem by María do Cebreiro comes from the collection Os Hemisferios (Galaxia, 2006).  The poet intersperses short elliptical verses with longer poems in dialogue under the names of the planets in the solar system.

I see the strength of the poetry in the intelligence with which she combines every day vernacular speech with a steadily building repertory of core images.  The relationships between the speakers are charged with sexual meaning.  In Uranus, which deals with a late night pick up, for example, she observes how the old chat up line ‘Have you got a light?` can’t be used by people who no longer smoke.  Fire and light are significant images, as are the images of plunging depths.  The modern vernacular often gives dispassionate substitutes: the sip of whisky that is like amber without the insect, from the same poem.

In Poesía Erótica she says that ‘women write’.  In spite of the obvious irony that twentieth-century Galician letters are dominated by men, within these poems the woman comes across as the recorder/ thinker, the one who looks creatively at the future.  Men, by contrast, are lost and impotent- one putting his hand between her legs; the other heading out to do some petty vandalism.  When men and women do not speak the same language as in ‘Sol’ they are destined to misunderstand each other, and when they do, when the language is common, the situation is not much better:

They both steal fruit
They neither need
Nor want.

To read this poetry as a man is like taking tentative steps from a secure zone- that vast and populated landscape of male poetry- into more dangerous territory.  I reflect that in the history of love poetry there has rarely been a thinking muse- the love-object has been an object, however passionately desired.  María do Cebreiro does not offer any comforting illusions for me to dress up male vanity: incomprehension is there at the root. But it is fascinating to read and trace backwards and forwards this play of light and dark, inner and outer, appearance and reality.

About Jason Preater

Working on Projects
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