Herberto Hélder



Poemacto II

Translated from the Portuguese by Sérgio Sarano


My head trembles with all the forgetfulness.
I try to say how everything is something else.
I talk, I think.
I dream of the tremendous bones of feet.
It is always something else,
a single thing covered with names.
And death goes on from mouth to mouth,
like slight saliva,
like the fear that is always
at the unformulated bottom of life.

I know fields imagine their
own roses.
People imagine their own rose
fields. And sometimes I stand before the fields
as if dying,
and sometimes as if only now
I could wake.

Sometimes everything is lit up.
Sometimes it sings and bleeds.
I say no one is forgiven in time.
I say madness is thorny like a throat.
I say: autumn rolls along
and what is autumn?
Eyelids lash against the big masculine day
of thought.
I leave dead and living things in the spirit of the work.
My life in ecstasy like a chamber of torches.

It was – how shall I say? – an absolute house.

I play, I swear.
It was a childhood-house.
I know how crazy a house it was.
I dipped my hands in water: I dozed off,
I remembered.
Mirrors cracked up against our youth.

Now I feel the brutal, lyrical
spinning of the wheels of life.
There is in forgetfulness, in the total
remembrance of things,
a rose like a tall head,
a fish like a swift
and fierce movement.
A rose-fish inside my
misguided idea.
There are cups and drunken forks inside me.
Because the love of things
in their future tense
is terribly deep, it is soft,

Chairs were burning in their places.
My sisters dwelt at the top of movement
like awestruck beings.
Sometimes they laughed out loud. They weaved themselves
into their horrid darkness.
Inside them, rotten menstruation dreamed
of the mouth of night.
It sang very low.
It seemed to flow.
Around tables and thunderstruck shadows.
It rained on earthly nights.
I want to shout beyond earthly madness.
— It was damp, distilled, inspired.

There was rigor. Oh extreme example.
There was an essence of office,
a sensational matter in the secret of fruit trees,
like their centripetal apples,
and grapes hung on ripeness.
There was a cat’s hot magnolia.
A cat that came in through hands,
or a magnolia rising out of the hand and into the face
of the gloomily pure mother.
Ah, crazy mother around the corner, seatedly
Her hands touched the flesh over
the burning, like an ecstatic morsel.

It was an absolute-house – how
shall I say? – a
feeling where some people would die.
An insanity to smile, loftily.
To have blueberries, green leaves, thorns
with a little darkness all over.
A name in the spirit like a rose-fish.

I prefer to go insane under the arched halls
now in words.
I prefer to sing on inner balconies.
Because there were staircases and women that stood
honeycombed by intelligence.
The rosette-less body, the language
to love and to ruminate.
Singing milk.

Now I dive and ascend like a cup.
I bring up that image of inner water.
– The poem’s pen dissolved in the primal
sense of the poem.
Or the poem going up the pen,
crossing its impulse,
the returning poem.
Everything rises like a nail,
a raised knife.
Everything dies out its name in another name.

Poem not coming from the power of madness.
Poem as the inconcrete basis of creation.
Ah, to think with tenderness,
to imagine with ferocity.
Because I am a life with furious melancholy,
with furious conception. With
some furious irony.

I am an intelligent devastation.
With fabulous marigolds.
Gold on top.
Sad dawn or midnight played
on a trumpet. I am
some audible, sensible thing.
A movement.
A chair conjuring up itself in the basin,
becoming the sitting.
Or flowers drinking up the vase.
The structural silence of flowers.
And the table underneath.
To dream.


Herberto Hélder was born in in 1930 to a Jewish family on the island of Madeira, Portugal. He is considered the most original Portuguese poet of the second half of the 20th century. A famous recluse, Hélder rejected throughout his career prizes, honours, and pictures. Upon being awarded the Fernando Pessoa Prize, he advised the committee: “Don’t tell anyone and just give the prize to someone else.” He died in March 2015. Poemacto was originally published in 1961 by Porto Editora.

Sérgio Sarano is a writer and musician based in Monterrey, Mexico. He is the founder of Meldadora, a small publishing house focused on border writing and translation.

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