Poetry by Caio Meira

under the savanna sun

the same sun

scorches this September morning, withering surfaces both alive and dead

they say it hasn’t rained here in over five months

with the humidity below 10%, with the grass so dry, nearly straw, i wait on this lawn for someone i haven’t seen in years

under this sun

i rush through the daily motions, dehydrated, or i lift the car hood to put more water in the radiator, or i wait for the green light to carry on with my life
but it’s no use

now i speak like it comes from nowhere

music, language, color, skin, the terra roxa inside my lungs, even the path my legs might one day walk through this city

the turn things take in a distant square or street

but the sun remains the same, an indifferent star burning its endless orbit

the same sun drenches the nomad crossing the Mojave desert, or rots the leg of a writer delivered to death at the border of Tanzania with Kenya

in Botafogo, on the balcony to the left of Maracanã’s radio booths, in rays, sweltering within a Bangu 2 prison cell

in the smoking carburetor, in the chlorophyll which sustains this yellow ipê tree, or in the vitamin D that strengthens my femoral lap

so i can walk or just stand, waiting

the same sun squandered on the peak of a single mountain (glimpsed from here through a postcard)

it would be better to find a bar and order a glass of water
before succumbing to the drought

that fries my hair, cracks my knees, and dulls a wait

before watching fiery vortexes cross the central highlands on the nightly news, and the other modes of solar presence

in bricks, in asbestos tiles, in empty water tanks, in the tie knot loosened during a sweaty coffee in the central market, in the pequi pit spat out beside the washed, green cajamangas ready to be eaten with salt, in the faint reflection of a shy lake in dirty water, last refuge for unlikely gray swans

it’s the same at night, in the hum of the fan blowing hot air around the room

to learn with the sun and not nurse false hopes

no one will emerge from memory to account for lost hours

they were all burned, forgotten, broken, dismembered

some may be dead, but i wasn’t invited to a single burial

those that live solemnly disregard all the squares and streets that lead to this moment

they don’t care, they don’t budge, they don’t tire

grabbing a fistful of dry brush mixed with dust and ants, smelling or even eating it, doesn’t mean growing closer to the land or to the people

in distant orbit, light-years of heat strike those bones

close to the bone

i wake and sleep beneath my skin, above earth’s crust, on layers of buried cities

i maneuver films and surfaces through other films and surfaces when i go out, or when i lean against this windowsill that bids the night farewell

i wake and sleep between intangible membranes, with enzymes, auto-regulators, and imponderable combustions

i metabolize faces and theories amid the confusion of absurd memories, between greasy secretions, tubes, sockets, and accumulated stories

sometimes i feel that rumbling in my stomach and don’t know if it’s hunger, or the memory of hunger, or just spasms from the veracity of the void

i don’t even know what kind of boundary my skin represents, if it separates me from the dawn, or joins me to it

if the cold i feel from that glass belongs to me, or if it’s me that belongs to the cold, or to the glass, or if the point at which everything converges appears only to disappear

i know only that i’m permeable to this morning, which pours its reds over buildings and hills, over walls and trees

in-between breaths of a solitary basketball player

a quarter to two in the afternoon

along the ball’s unclear trajectory, a blind flight of ongoing ideas bouncing off the walls and the floor

ah!, if i hadn’t broken so many promises of intimacy, or missed out on so many encounters and risks

maybe i would be a millionaire and equally unfulfilled, maybe i would be happy cultivating mushrooms in Nova Lima

i have no radar to guide me through the dark, and in the clarity of this afternoon the Easts and myths surge blurred

they stay contours, edges, ridges

and between one line and another, lots of foolhardy crushed worms

and between the floor and the hoop, the weight and circumference where i throw myself

maybe i should play the mega-sena jackpot

and if i won that jackpot (ah!, if i won that jackpot), i would spend the money with parisian whores, bribing a senator of the republic or buying cocaine for my friends

but what can become of someone who suddenly wins thousands of dollars

would i walk until evening, catch the metro in Botafogo, and head to the city center to find a book at the used bookstore?

would i sleep on the bus, with my face smashed against the glass, and not get off at my stop?

to get lost, be hungry, silently carry a herniated disc, have an ectopic pancreas, reflux esophagitis

i don’t know how long my knees can withstand all these strains
there are so many shots, fights, kicks, runs

and pointless things that compose me, inhabiting my steps and my guts
there’s still so much to do

to listen to pop singers that see gods every day, or eat combs, or decipher the mystery of the pyramids, the configuration of the stars

to not even try answering the English tabloid about the meaning of life

but that’s one more thing you can ask the first dog on the street that he’ll tell you

small sutra of total ignorance

i don’t know how to migrate south when summer comes, or how to walk over hot coals

chariots no longer roll from my mouth

i’m confounded by the rules of rhetoric, the way to make shadows, species of exotic fish, ceremonial objects and dates

i know that i have 32 teeth, read newspapers and books, go to the market and the movies, listen to classical and pop music, and am capable of reciting my document numbers by heart, along with a few poems learned long ago

my friends’ advice keeps coming back to me in pieces that roam my sentences somehow, at the end, leaping from my throat

i can’t, despite great effort, distinguish the trivial from the vital, the things worth countless hours of fatigue mixed with pleasure

no balance can be struck

despite my eyes and feet considering themselves self-sufficient in the assessment of distance, i always end up stumbling into a person or rock

…but i prefer to keep quiet

on this January morning, the weight of everything weighs upon me, with my eyes still blurry from sleep, my ears guarding the acoustic of silence, and my mouth, my tongue, my saliva, my fibro-cartilages, my glottis, my howls, the closed window, the flexes, the gastric pulp, the peristalsis, the acid reflux, the anxiety, the shape of my pelvis in the foam, the clock radio’s squeal, the ceiling’s outline, and the humming that jump-starts my laryngeal nerve

scattering among force vectors, decisions laced with doubts, to lie a certain way in bed, to change neighborhoods, to frequent universities, dance halls, brothels, analysts, to move about the house, to deal with domestic things, to go back to sleep or outside to watch the sunrise, to open wide my arms, puff up my chest and tilt my head back, into the dust and the wind, and to feel, in my spine, the simultaneous dislocation of my life

what does neurosis, scoliosis, or myopia matter, slow or swift acts, the caliber of mercury in the thermometer, or phases of the moon, if i’m unappealing in the nude, with no sound, no smile, no accomplishment, just nails and hairs proceeding in a sporadic manner through trips, through vaccinations, through binges, through books, those things that impress friends neither at the bar nor on the phone

one of these days i won’t be reborn without time to even improvise a tombstone or speech, and even if i have a ballpoint pen in my bag and a handkerchief in hand, even if i try to keep my mouth shut, to look away or just smile sympathetically, even if i reach an urgent compromise with a town hall supervisor, even if i bite my tongue, protest or renounce my lineage, things will be decided, significantly, and whatever the sum of the numbers of my name is (in fact, that fact will be indifferent to my having or not having a name), i’ll already be stuck with the rest of the wretches

if it wasn’t for the Sorbonne and the soap that softens her skin

1.

over and over again, AVL wants to be a poet: she conjures up those clean words, that don’t piss in public bathrooms, cloth hems that don’t drag in the mud, inserted by fingernails that were never covered in grease

she wants to find the sentence that’s illuminated, but not by supermarket lighting or a rayovac halogen flashlight, she wants light streaming onto the page of a book, in a lost city, glowing from within, as she says

clever, she visits paris once a year, has the latest version (imported) of aesthetic science, studied piano for eight years, and hasn’t listened to pop music in forever

despite being an expert in litotes, dactyls, and trochees, she refuses to deal with the differential and rods that make her car run

i’ll tell her: when the motor doesn’t start, you’re going to end up showing everyone your ass

(AP later comments that AVL would be a writer if it wasn’t for the Sorbonne and the soap that softens her skin)

2.

AVL argues that a truck engine isn’t a feminine thing, she prefers heels, hats, and the correct fin de siécle pronunciation of habits

i don’t know, what could be more feminine than a maverick ‘72, avocado-green, with the radiator broken (a plastic bottle filled with tap water in the trunk, to raise the level at each stop)

the feminine doesn’t work like that in the dictionary, or in the saucy declarations on the pages of a magazine, or in a college thesis

i spotted the feminine the other day, on tv, when B. complained that it had been a while since anyone felt her up (i still didn’t know if she was the maverick’s owner)

or when FB told me, on the beach, that sex is as good as cheese bread and coconut water

How and When the Fraud Is Discovered

May happens in his body, taking root, filling his eyelids with blue and with aqueous cold. The most modern of cries, disseminated by speakers and bold letters, still vibrates in his eardrums: no, he doesn’t want to buy anything, doesn’t want to learn about theories of appropriation, or about the draw of metals and other capital virtues of success. When he wanders around downtown, like now, stopping from storefront to storefront, what he most wants is to lose himself among colors and forms, to fill himself with abysses. It’s true, when he finally gets home, he’ll have to do this and that, fix the door hinge, type up the day’s quota, each key stroke worth R$0,007, distribute reprimands and kisses among his children, worry about the non-progress of theses, books, reviews, and other promises. On the street, however, the longest distance between two points is always an outrageous headline, a new edition of Hilda Hilst’s book, a different umbrella handle. He goes into a store and asks if they have the new Suzanne Vega CD, or an old one of Diana Krall’s; no, they don’t have it, he already knew that. He longs to eat a sfiha, or drink a coca-cola, but he’s trying to diet and lose 10 pounds. He does the right thing. He even tells himself that being hungry for a few hours is fun, because he can feel that his stomach’s alive. As he walks, something he intends to jot down when he gets home keeps running through his mind:

May ajar on a rainy day (that’s the title)

nothing but time seeks me

seated on a bench, eager for the city center

to counteract the uproar from the noise of insides, either mine or the metro’s

neither tricks nor altercations disturb me

only the slow punch of what passes by and accumulates in the elusive bustle of my innards

and on the green slats under my butt, the sustenance of my bones and muscles filling the emptiness

nothing separates me from fullness, from the stream pouring out of the stone lions’ mouths

deserted by people and cars

nothing sees me on both sides of my retina

no fright nor intercession among the rhythms of wheels, asphalt, semen and trash thrown on the street

elevated, on this painted green bench, nothing lasts long

only rain

but what do clothes, caps, tattoos, certificates, constipation or the color of untidiness matter

who cares about memory and its kites, balloons, dull books, and ways of gripping my genitals

nothing conspires, no plot

just the water itself

and the smallest grain of sand carried by wind

But he has doubts, worrying it’s too lyrical, centered around images, and he’s fleeing from images in poems, seeking more solid, palpable things. When he gets to the Marques de Herval building, he decides to pop into the Berinjela bookstore, to see if they have Kafka’s Letters to His Father. One day he too will have to write a letter to his father who, despite being dead, still haunts him. They don’t have it. He looks through the new books. No, someone came through there before him. He leaves. Climbing the spiral staircase, another fragment comes to mind, one of those that’s still unresolved, which also haunts him (perhaps he can insert it somewhere):

in the bus that goes to Rio Branco

in the speed and in the braking

in the exchange

awake, fed, aging along with the joints, the washers, the seat’s black leather

with the driver’s tired arm, with the screech of the motor

in rotation and translation

until it arrives at Praça da Bandeira and uncertainly descends

seeing the bus drive off

deviating from my senses

from my liver, from my intestines, from digestion, and from hunger
and to walk until I’m home

If he could actually board a bus on Rio Branco, any bus, without worrying about the destination, who knows if he would be able to keep writing the poem, or if he would suddenly abandon it…Only then does he realize the incongruity: whoever catches the bus on Rio Branco can’t be going to Praça da Bandeira, since it’s in the opposite direction. Though it doesn’t seem very important, it bothers him. When was it that he came up with such nonsense? For him, it’s one more clear sign of dishonesty, which he needs to delve deeper into, digging out something more genuine from his insides, something that doesn’t catch a non-existent bus, that doesn’t head in a false direction. Then he hops in a taxi and says to the driver: “Praça da Bandeira, please.” It’s his way of being more honest.

the odd lady

my long mouth, long nose, long hip, long gaze, long quiet, step

no, slender step, slender fear (the body’s print), slender bones, slender sex, black, pink, pale, the slight delay, the slight pressure and tunics, diaries, papers, trunks, hidden letters, caring for the private garden, window, piano and my room

that small intimacy, scattered among rooms, outskirts

on my sunny, humid, bright day, breathless in the rising sun and slope, uncommon in the flat countryside

emerged from shadow, carrying an imponderable scent of the sea, beyond the door creak, and some odd trill

between imperceptible shifts, between the senses and the sense, between my eye and what it sees, between my ear and what it hears, between thirst and water, beneath the skirt, in the flexing of my knees, in the twist of wrist and ankles, in the itch

the slender life, at a slant, the obscene nun who wears my clothes, my night, my bones, and bends over rolls of papers tied with the satin ribbon of silence

the third death of m.m.

1.

i always said this is a place where they pay cash for a kiss and a coin for the soul

and so be it, you can slap me, it won’t be the first time or the last

i refused more than one marriage for money

but i go on hawking my smiles, even the ones i don’t have yet, flesh undulating, muscles clenched

and i let them slip a hand under my skirt without raising my voice

look, i’ll give it up for anyone who pays a week’s rent or promises to put my name in lights

even if they raise doubts about my talent

if i don’t act like a dumb child, manipulated by every unscrupulous guy

or if, in fact, there’s something unparalleled about my presence, beyond my voluptuous backside and the angulations of my breasts

despite everything, i cling to this invincible argument: for me, all things are possible

2.

only light settles on the curves of my face

yellow dye over my dark roots and a newly posed calm between my gaze and my nod

no shadow of vomit, barbituates, stimulants, tranquilizers, appetite suppresants, of stains on my fingers and on my teeth

no trace of insomnia, nail biting, incontinence, of marks left by the anonymous weight of so many bodies over mine

no memory of names, people, clinics, alleys or backseats

or of waking frightened in an unknown bed

my body cannot contain anything more

only pale skin, a shiver of wind, the plain and intentional wrinkles of my brow

and the last touch, incessant investigation

until when

3.

i acknowledge the crudeness of my ravaged body

as life now abandons me without fanfare

tomorrow, journalists and other scum will say how tragic my death was and blahblahblah

little do they know

that it’s the easiest of all my adventures

little do they know, to get out of bed and go on living was hard enough

they can’t see any virtue in the ignorance

or intensity of my lies

to hell with tributes, masses and prayers, fuck retrospectives in the ass, the special editions, the commemorative stamps

i was always clear, crossing the street in skin-tight mesh and no panties i prefer the whistle of the bricklayer’s assistant

i desired common men, rude, even violent

every story ended with me sleeping alone, wrapped in fragrance and nightmare

i understand, confronting my body emptied of all pain

the tragedy was glimpsing a path so soon and following it no matter what

little do they know how peaceful this last decision was, made in the late afternoon, leaving the bath

i’d already given everything i had

so after the phone calls and pointless notes in my diary

i sat at the edge of the bed and, almost without wanting to, unleashed a terrible burst of laughter

Bios

Caio Meira

Caio Meira (b. 1966) is a contemporary poet from Goiâna, Brazil who has lived in Rio de Janeiro for the past 30 years. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology, and earned a doctorate in literary theory and poetry, all from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Meira has published three books of poetry in Brazil: In the Hollow of the Hand (UERJ, 1993), Soil Body (Sette Letras, 1998), and Things the First Dog on the Street Can Tell You (Beco do Azougue, 2003). In 2010, Meira’s unpublished manuscript Romance-Poems won the Funarte (National Foundation for the Arts) Prize awarded by Brazil’s Culture Ministry. This fourth poetry collection is set to be published in April of 2013. Meira also writes prose, essays, and literary reviews, and is a prolific translator from French into Portuguese.

Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren

Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren is an MFA candidate in poetry and literary translation at Columbia University and the blog editor for Words Without Borders. Her original poetry has been awarded an Academy of American Poets Prize, a Hopwood Award, and an artist's grant from the Vermont Studio Center; she was also a finalist in Narrative's most recent 30 Below Contest. Her poems and translations appear/are forthcoming in journals including Narrative, Asymptote, Guernica, Two Lines, The Common, and Upstairs at Duroc.

From Things the First Dog on the Street Can Tell You. Copyright (c) Caio Meira, 2003. English translation copyright (c) Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren, 2013.