Ten Poems from Optical Instruments


I pry out the seeds with my fingers and all
my memories spill onto the frosty marble
counter. Little, lit up like ruby-red carnival lights,
rough as the cat tongue of Time
inviting us to sit at the table to gobble us up
in a mouthful. The pomegranate returns
late autumn, ready to ruin us, on whichever night
we are in the kitchen, distracted by dinner: very lightly
it stains our fingers that pensive, murky color,
the color hours take on that won’t
clot—the open color of memory.

Dining at Hotel Europa

Now that you have finished up,
you think you can fold your napkin, rise
from the table, and climb upstairs to rest
like a prayer that’s been attended to.
Silence awaits you there, a pit
hidden at the center of your own
flesh. All night this muffled
noise, like a rodent between
clean sheets in the closet. Without
appetite, you keep eating, they say,
every dish served, sweet or sad,
soup made of nettles or petals. Perhaps
since you are alive, or else well-bred.

Fiat Lux

It’s been many years since night stopped being as dark
as a wolf’s throat. Now nights are frightening
for other reasons—maybe
because of the impossibility of
absolute darkness. Neighboring televisions
illuminate insomnia with their milky
reverberations, while never turning off
the phosphorescence of heavenly bodies,
of nocturnal animals, the dangerous radiation
our memories emit. I’m lying in bed, incapacitated.
Who could have imagined that light
would be a curse? I am lying in bed,
while light filters through the blinds’
hundred slits, one hundred tiny slits
elongated like verses constantly
reminding me of the curse of fiat lux.

Reflections Before Shutting Down the Computer

How much time do they have left—books as
we still know them? The smell of pages
bound in the necessary order arouse emotion,
the unequivocal weight of the matter
supported between our hands, the changeable
light—at times concave, at times convex—
while passing over each page. Imagine
the perplexity of all those beings born
with the soul of paper—
such as woodworms, spiders, mites,
insomniacs sucking the white blood
of cellulose—when books no longer exist
on the shelves. I’m also thinking, of course,
of the benefits derived from the change:
houses will expand, space extended, and
walls will appear where we no longer suspected.
In this way, we’ll have more cubic feet
to fill with our solitude.

Reading Basho

Full-moon night. Clouds moving
like translucent jellyfish through this
dark aquarium’s impervious silence.
We creatures live under sorrow’s
waters, so it’s arduous work
for our lungs to expand, then simply relax.
I go to the railing and wait for the plop
of the frog diving into the pond,
concentric circles that leave things
as they were when they drop to maximum
depth. Full-moon night with Basho.
I wonder: how many syllables must I remove
to make a perfect haiku out of my life?

The Book of Hours: October

Like dry angels, the leaves are falling, three
beats of their wings, three somersaults in the air
before losing their equilibrium and slipping
out of the wind’s taut cord. As though someone
wants to dismantle reality, piece by piece—
umbrellas, geranium cuttings, plastic
bags flying like empty souls—
to transport them to another
less painful dimension, where it’s not
necessary to begin over every year, to repeat
the same gestures, to sweep away once more
the leaves, calendars, griefs
you crumble like a handful of salt
under the weight of your shoes. Where life
is not a faded circus tent showing the same
shoddy, predictable numbers year after year.
Where it’s not necessary to be endlessly rehearsing
until the final fall, already without wings.

The Book of Hours: December

From the window I am watching the square:
London plane trees whose four remaining, exhausted leaves
have not yet decided whether to take their last flight. Four
also the number of days hanging from the calendar,
ready to fall when no one is looking. All
is about to loosen and return to earth
with the season’s cold unfavorable winds.
The process is slow, almost
imperceptible. You must stay up entire nights
till your gaze grows accustomed to the stillness,
before confirming that life loses its petals,
loses its days, its oxygen, its birds,
its bodies, its answers. Even the dead celebrate
Christmas, sitting among the toys.
Behind the window I think about them
as a way to think about myself.
Life loses its leaves, indifferent
to everything, like a huge deciduous tree.

The Book of Hours: January

The cold makes us more intimate and vulnerable.
We are ancient wounds out in the open
from a few days walking on small feet
along the fragile slopes and rooftops of the heart.
A propitious moment for secluding ourselves at home—
like secrets secluded in the warm, silent
mouth—hearing the thick gurgling
of hours cooked by slow fire,
paying attention to pencil wood
growing, to the shelves’ creaky bones,
winding the rusty mechanism of
memory, passing the duster here and there,
lowering the striking contrast of colors
that hang crooked on the wall, occupying
the least space possible—a simple point
in the midst of the coordinates of air
and blood—getting under the comforter,
curling up, almost disappearing.

The Sky Over Berlin

Don’t ask me how or why. Now and then
pigeons go astray, they go through
a window, a curtain, a mirror left half
open, and nothing can prevent their scattering
through the transparent sky of the soul, the way
watercolors disperse under the serendipity of water
drops. Don’t ask me how or why
these mistakes happen, or if they even are
mistakes. How could I know whose hand
opens mirrors, whose hand precipitates
water? Sometimes, life chooses the wrong
piece, white moves for black, and then
an eagle appears under a coat, a word
on a bee’s lips, a sad angel
sitting in a laundromat. They say
it happens to everyone, not only
those with wings. Comforting to know.
Comforting to know error is a part
of us, sustains us like air or blood,
that the best encounters are really
losses or confusions, accidents happening
three thousand feet above sea level over forgotten
cities, there where words ascend
like effervescent globules, and disappear.

In Alphabetical Order

Leaf through the dictionary at random:
who has planted calendula next to
calendar, linden by the lintel
of the page? Words shed
their shoes, as they should, to celebrate
the Sabbath. Sorrow is not that far away
from sordid, nor is mortality from marble,
nor leaves from lead, which makes them fall
beyond their meaning. I pass my fingers
over the dusty spines of memory and search
for a standard that lets me order
the disorder. Please tell me,
which letter do I need to look for
you: yarrow, yaw, yawp, yew?


Gemma Gorga

Gemma Gorga was born in Barcelona in 1968. She has published six collections of poetry: Ocellania ("Birdology," Barcelona, 1997); El desordre de les mans ("The Hands' Disorder," Lleida, 2003); Instruments òptics ("Optical Instruments," València, 2005); Llibre dels minuts ("Book of Minutes," Barcelona, 2006), which won the Premi Miquel de Palol (2006); Diafragma ("Diaphragm," Girona, 2012); and Mur ("Wall," Barcelona, 2015), which won the Premi de la Critica de Poesia Catalana. Her other recent books include her essay on India, Indi Visible (Barcelona, 2018) as well as her own translation from English to Catalan of a book of poems by the contemporary Indian poet Dilip Chitre: Vint esmorzars cap a la mort ("Twenty Breakfasts to Death," Vic, 2012). She is also the co-translator into Catalan of a selection of Edward Hirsch’s poetry. She is Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Spanish Literature at the University of Barcelona.

Sharon Dolin

Sharon Dolin is the author of six books of poetry and the translator of Gemma Gorga’s Book of Minutes (Field Translation Series/Oberlin, 2019), and has received translation grants from PEN and Institut Ramon Llull. Her most recent poetry collections are Manual for Living and Whirlwind, both from the University of Pittsburgh Press. Her fourth collection, Burn and Dodge, won the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry. Her current project is to translate and edit a volume of selected poems by Gemma Gorga. Poems from that work-in-progress have appeared or are forthcoming in Agni, Cincinnati Review, ACM: Another Chicago Magazine, Guernica, Henniker Review, Image, The Los Angeles Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and World Literature Today. A Brooklyn native, she lives in New York City where she is Associate Editor of Barrow Street Press. She directs Writing About Art in Barcelona each June: www.sharondolin.com.

Copyright (c) Gemma Gorga, 2005. English translation copyright (c) Sharon Dolin, 2019.