They first saw without seeing, heard without hearing,
and had all things in the mind muddled as dreams.

*****— Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

These things are, we conjecture, like the truth.

*****— Xenophanes (tr. Karl Popper)



We didn’t go to Bomarzo
save for in the threads of those long conversations
that always led us to the same sources,
that hung from the wisteria of some pergolas
which perhaps never existed in Bomarzo.
They lingered in the silent
recollections of the astonishment and fear
before a threshold we crossed
with our eyes shut,
as if in the cavern of the mind
undesired encounters lurked
with the faces of our former selves,
and the stuttering of memory
and of expression,
the words we lacked,
the faintest inflection like a weak ankle,
were from the fear of finding ourselves again
in what was thought already abandoned.

At the foot of the medlar tree,
on that bench that the weeds reached
scratching our legs,
we asked ourselves
if in the gardens of Bomarzo
someone had spoken thus
about the self and the not-self,
about that which goes from one to the other
and exists beyond the one and the other.
And there appeared beside the wire of the fence,
like harpies,
clumsy, noisy poultry
marking a perfect counterpoint
to the arrogance that lay behind the question.

always on the edge of a precipice,
at every step a new obstacle
for each challenge of Fortune,
pushing to the limit the provident Hand
that could suddenly turn against you.
Or perhaps it kept on guiding
the dice cup you rattled to deposit,
implacable, four aces
upon that helpless table
on the shores of the town.
Or if you called, with a gesture, to a bird
which after a minute came to approach
where we talked
between the lines
about the weight of the real,
about the spine about to break
under that formidable weight.
Like Nietzsche in Turin.
And we scattered to the winds
like fairground freebies,
we went over the already-tried remedies,
the failed pharmakon—or pharmakos:
scapegoat or sacrificial lamb.
But no Crucified one
between those cardinal points of the real
saved us now from our own disaster.

We diverted the conversation
behind any ill wind.
How it frightened us to reach the crux,
and with what skill we interposed
other arguments,
asking ourselves if the double entrance
to the Cave of the Nymphs
offered a way out,
if the dead who wandered
in the sub-lunar shadows
returned here in the droplets of water,
or what could rescue
from the mirror’s nightmare
a suicide trapped between two worlds.
A dead fly, stuck to the beveled edge,
made one reflect on the altered eye,
on the failed perception,
that distortion growing on the edges of the real
forging a more-perfect delusion,
giving an ambiguous shape
to the brutality of that vision:
the pharmakos slobbering, destroyed.

And did it end in the real? Was truth the real?



Our dreams ended in Bomarzo.
It was a reservoir where we could leave them,
like living things,
knowing that on returning to them
they would have changed,
they would be coated with a precocious toxic pollen
or with fragments of insect wings and dry leaves.
What did they feed on?
Did the Child dwell there,
little Eros rescued from the muck,
who thrived through chastity?

The dreams were in themselves the great dream.
Wrapped up in chrysalis fabrics,
fine membranes of light,
that wouldn’t dare let pass
the brutal battering ram of reason.
They nested clusters like nocturnal butterflies–
that the cat caught
the same night they were born.

in the window that looked onto the setting sun,
in the fatigue of the hills with their long shadows,
in the sunny terraces
or the seclusion of brief passages
from one room to another,
when the sun and its demons plummeted,
and one only wished not to know.
Thoughts crawled rebelliously
gathering to their places
the fragile prey of the dream,
imposing as law
routine discontent,
biting sourness
filtered through the mind’s cracks.

where we let settle like tealeaves
the floating dreams.
They took turns around the room
with its penumbra,
its milky light falling through the window
until it enveloped
a small altar to Aphrodite.

They would return, those afternoons on the Aegean,
rocks without sand nor beach.
The abrupt sea pillaging
through strata of memory.

What was the point of inflection?
After some moment the scale’s needle yielded
and the already-lived began to weigh more,
and memory thickening, just like the body,
turned its back on the present.
When shall the avidity
for those days so hated and feared,
so pleasurable and glorious,
which mark their pulse like teeth
be forgotten?

two-headed deities
with one face fixed on the dreams
and the other on enigmas,
still un-sated by form,
by the uneven destinies,
by the twist of fate trapping at the edge
with its train of evils
our own life,
we wondered.

And was that door this same door?



Bomarzo overwhelmed us.
One day we would go to feel its humid air
and to know that we had always been there–
in a way not unlike, perhaps, that of its stones
or the forms trapped in its rock.
They were not just a topographic accident
those outcroppings in the rock
embracing forever their volatile dreams,
capturing them as matter seizes
divine particles.

Interwoven the two planes,
the gaze fluctuated from one to the other
like from the foot to the abyss, without distinguishing
in what way the path upwards
and the path downwards are one and the same;
but no one would have to descend bearing offerings,
if the gods of death
were dead themselves,
and the cypher of the world faded
just like those chalk paintings
on the sidewalks of Saint-Michel.
The gods of death were forgotten
and it was as if they came
to unleash here their hordes,
or as if it were certain that sacrifice arose
when gods and men separated.

The disappearances left absences in the air.
We almost saw the people setting off.
They unfolded where they were
and suddenly a chair became empty,
a balcony, deserted.
Something made us see death
prematurely in certain faces.
We didn’t say anything–
but our life
prolonged like an impunity
before the many who departed
carried off by the waves
or alcohol
or a fortuitous blow.

Dangerous closeness, that of those gods.
Also that of the dead
who seemed to now shelter within us
and make us speak of unknown stories.
The soul skidded
over a fine leather chair,
remembering the high back
of those ducal chairs,
and repeated the same cadences;
a touch, an inflection
filled us with splinters,
trapped us in other forms.

The limits became errant, aleatory
a fiery embrace of the day and the night
*******(although they are one),
of chaos and order
*******(although they are one),
of inside and outside,
of life and death,
of the divine and the human–
Wandering limits,
trespassed on one shore and the other.

And the mind fixed in its aporia
had only left to crumble.



A garden with bifurcating paths.
To one side,
time sustained memory
sheltering us in its mirrors and wells,
in its box of trinkets.
To the other, the instant that is born from itself
and invents itself in its repeated decline
burning what has remained behind,
that narrowing portion of the present.
But the soul anchored in its safe waters.

We followed the evolution of the bees
in the flowers of the lemon tree,
speaking of the inconstant moon.
Gardens intoxicated like Bomarzo,
with the scent of its moss,
the whiteness of the stripped bark–
and those smooth lichens covering
Neptune’s torso and thighs,
Persephone’s sex.
And everything about to burst–
Even now that you sustain this chat
from the end of an impossible cord,
and I, at the other,
like placing the ear to a can
from those old childish telephones,
I try to guess what you would say
if your voice would not have slid
through the mouth of the Orcus.

An open door to levitations,
untimely departures,

*******Ogni pensiero vola…?

Bomarzo, another face of Arcadia,
with its reminder
of the dismemberings,
the mistaken paths,
the hawk’s plummeting flight
and its unerring talons.
The more vibrant the foliage,
the closer to the ambush.
The fresher the breezes,
the blacker the lips
with which we wanted to talk of the weather
or of fashion.

*******Et in Arcadia, Ego

Perhaps you now wander
in another enchanted garden
like a multicolor wood grouse,
just like the one in this engraving
that lets a blue background shine through.

And from the walls
the fallen centuries ooze
feigning that time passes,
that everything goes somewhere.



Thoughts that are just mist.
The mist of those forests that we couldn’t cross
descended to the lake.
A lake woman, you said, a lagoon,
and that fog seemed like a lover
going down to her skin of water,
hiding her in its embrace.

Not like a lover came
the fog that filled the heart,
vapor that the mind itself generated
and took us back to Sinaia,
to that autumn in the Carpathians
where the golden leaves of the sunset
were followed by curtains of fog,
by precipices.
And here, by day, in full spring
we couldn’t see the other shore of the lagoon.
The same power of concealment
pushed us to lose ourselves.
The car almost bumped against a tree
or a containment fence above the ravine–

We remembered the wandering of Perceval,
and our dead friend
who had leapt to the precipice
like a Romantic poet
deaf from laudanum,
wrapped in the noise of his own torrent.
Or perhaps some goddess of the mist
called to him,
the abyss magnetized
with its changing voices,
its half-open veils.

We trembled in the forest
with our feet stuck in the mud,
and the wind like a voice from another world,
that wind that didn’t dissipate the fog
but sliced through our bones.
Were we that flesh of gods or not?
Was love–
that madness lodged in every fiber,
blind to the surroundings–
playing with the burning hoops of chance?

At night the water dripped
through the crack of a knot in the wood,
a great black knot like the knot of fate,
or the net that held us trapped.
Other knots were eyes that watched us,
planetary systems,



We slept too much.
To wake toward the real
was to start lost battles once again.
And the exact course of events
could be foreseen,
no more relevant
than a group of monkeys delousing each other.
That oversleeping was a dark delirium,
a folly;
wading the heaviest waters
without knowing which direction;
it provoked migraines.
It was a burning shadow.
One side and another
were the same faces of the real,
and we didn’t want either of them.

A clash of opposing winds
was endured
trying not to cede territory to that dream
and its desire of not being,
of not knowing;
to that yearning for darkness
arm wrestling
with the remains of an instinct for life.
And the thin boundary forking in two.
We wanted to fade away forever
like inhabitants of Xanadu
at a crossroads of worlds.

Tingling in the palms of the hands,
sweat on the back,
And on discerning the ground of the real,
a blunt vertigo
lacerated the skin.
One step couldn’t follow the next,
and when the sun obliquely touched
the half-open conscience
that stretched
until it wore itself out,
the weightless grace was forgotten,
as if the weight of the body
listed toward the opposite side
of the soul.

The vertigo lodged in the belly,
bit the neck, paralyzing–
like a cobra hypnotizing a mouse.
And with the terror,
the seduction of fatality,
the victim’s blind impulse
to be reached.
The temptation of the leap
open for those four seconds
in which flight and freefall merge.



So many questions rolled downhill.
To investigate if the stain
that appeared on things
was in them,
or was a kind of lesion on the vitreous or the cornea,
a scratch that followed behind the eye,
imprinting itself wherever vision settles.
That small shadow was in everything,
that asterisk or spider
sticking its legs into the real,
what seemed to us to be the real.
Cut slant, it could become something else
or be forgotten for a while,
but it returned like a reminder
of that malignant nucleus
that could grow from within
and overflow in a tumor,
poisoning everything.
It was like intelligence
exercising its critical knife-edge on the world,
on any thing it confronted.
It saw in everything the imperfection,
the unfinished.
Something inferior to itself had to be found.
And wasn’t it (as the master said)
just like the dog who gnawed a bone
savoring the blood of its own gums?
Or perhaps it was reality that raged
in our fragile minds.

There were no answers,
just questions piling up,
questions postponable
until “tomorrow” or “perhaps” or “maybe never.”
That range of uncertainty safer
than the final deadline
of our own lives,
for time fell
with its unbroken line like a noose,
tying the foot or the wing to its rigor.
By the time we realized, so much had flowed
down through that drain.
Outside, a slight voice
like threads from a torn cloth
(the rags of the pharmakos)
was heard in a long plaint.
A human voice or cat’s miauing
(or water stumbling through narrow pipes).



We chased
names that have traveled through history,
words which in being pronounced
give back to us resonances more unusual
than that delicate fountain of Leda’s
in the middle of a mining town.
Those names left dust in the hands,
as if trying to join the broken pieces
of a vase or a stele,
and feeling that through the gaps
something vanished forever.

Lovers whose blurry faces
we couldn’t now distinguish from those crowds
who have passed before our eyes,
dead friends
mixed in the sedimentary layers
of our own memory,
ancestors whose gazes endure
from a daguerreotype.

So much of ourselves remained behind as well.
Things forgotten before they took place.
And that thing which caused sleeplessness and rages,
for which we would have sold our souls,
seems now a vulgar drama,
and everything is reduced
to a bracelet with a broken clasp–
or a pottery shard:
rows of naked hoplites with their lances,
the penis curved just like the beard.
And the lost fragments,
like the bones of warriors
and endless women,
remain alive perhaps in our own blood,
repeating their same gestures
in these lives founded
on two or three fixed ideas.

And don’t these very lives
seem like Ocnos’ rope?
As fast as he wove it an ass
devoured it from the other end.
And the interminable task of weaving that noose
whose length was reduced by that beast’s chewing,
invited us to not reflect
on the meaning of existence itself.
Colorful or dark sections
sliding equally
toward those incorruptible teeth.
Only exempt was
the endless weaving of the rope itself.


Elsa Cross

Born in Mexico City in 1946, Elsa Cross is a poet, essayist, and translator. She has published over twenty collections of poetry, and her collected poetry, Poesía completa 1964-2012, was recently published by Fondo de Cultura Económica. Among the many honors and recognitions of her work, she won the Premio Nacional de Poesía Aguascalientes in 1989 for her book El diván de Antar, the Premio Internacional de Poesía Jaime Sabines 1992 for her book Moira, and the Xavier Villurrutia Prize in 2008 for her book Cuadernos de Amorgós. She has an MA and PhD in Philosophy from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where she holds a professorship and teaches philosophy of religion and comparative mythology.

Lawrence Schimel

Lawrence Schimel (b. New York, 1971) is a poet and translator living in Madrid. Writing in both Spanish and English, he has published over 100 books as an author or anthologist, most recently a collection of 100 microfictions titled Una barba para dos (Dos Bigotes, 2016). He has translated books of poetry by Luis Armenta Malpica, Luis Aguilar, Miguel Maldonado, and Care Santos, among others. He is also the publisher of A Midsummer Night's Press, whose imprints include Periscope, devoted to women poets in English translation.

Bomarzo. Copyright (c) Elsa Cross, 2009. First published by Ediciones Era, Mexico, 2009. English translation copyright (c) Lawrence Schimel, 2016.