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I who have sung only the exquisite
score of personal decorum,
today, at center stage, raise my voice
in the manner of a tenor's imitations
of the bass's deep-throated tones
to carve an ode from an epic poem.

I shall navigate through civil waves
with weightless oars, like that
patriot of yore who, with only a rifle,
rowed across the English Channel.

In a muted epic I shall tell that
our land is diamantine, impeccable.

Sweet Land: let me engulf you
in the deepest music of the jungle,
music that molded my expression,
sounds of the rhythmic cadences of axes,
young girls' cries and laughter,
and birds of the carpenter profession.

                ACT ONE

Patria: your surface is the gold of maize,
below, the palace of gold medallion kings,
your sky is filled with the heron's flight
and green lightning of parrots' wings.

God-the-Child deeded you a stable,
lust for oil was the gift of the devil.

Above your Capital the hours soar,
hollow-eyed and rouged, in a coach-and-four,
while in your provinces the hours
roll like centavos from insomniac
clocks with fan-tail dove patrols.

Patria: your maimed terrain
is clothed in beads and bright percale.

Sweet Land: your house is still
so vast that the train rolling by seems
only a diminutive Christmas toy.

And in the tumult of the stations,
your brown-skinned face imparts
that immensity to every heart.

Who, on a dark and ominous night
has not, before he knew wrong, held
tight his sweetheart's arm to watch
the splendor of a fireworks display?

Patria: in your tropical abundance
you shimmer with the dolphin's iridescence;
the soul, an aerialist hummingbird,
plights its troth with your golden hair,
and, as offering to your tobacco braids,
my lively race of jarabe dancers
bring their honeyed maguey waters.

Your soil rings of silver, and in your hand
even poverty's piggy-bank rattles a tune,
and in early mornings across the land,
through streets like mirrors, spread
the blessed aromas of fresh-baked bread.

When we are born, you give us notes,
and compotes worthy of Paradise,
then, Sweet Land, your whole being,
all the bounty of earth and air.

To the sad and the joyful you say sí,
that on your loving tongue they savor
your tangy flavor of sesame.

When it thunders, your nuptial sky
fills us with frenzy and delight.
Thunderous clouds, that drench us
with madness, madden the mountain,
mend the lunatic, woo the woman,
raise the dead, demand the Viaticum,
and the, finally, fling God's lumber
across tilled fields shaken with thunder.

Thunderous storm: I hear in your groans
the rattling of coupled skeletons,
I hear the past and what is to come,
I hear the present with its coconut drum.
And in the sound of your coming and going
I hear life's roulette wheel, spinning, spinning…



Forever-young grandfather, hear my praise
for the only hero worthy of art.

Anachronistic, farcical,
the rose bows to your nopal;
you magnetize the Spaniard's language
the spout from which flow Catholic prayers
to fill the triumphant zócalo where
the soles of your feet where scorched to ash.

Unlike Caesar, no patrician flush
suffused your face during your pain;
today, your unwreathed head appears,
hemispherically, on a coin.

A spiritual coin upon which is etched
all you suffered: the hollowed-out pirogue
of your capture, the chaos of your creatures,
the sobbing of your mythologies,
the swimming idols, and the Malinche,
but most to bewail is your having been severed
from the curved breast of the empress
as from the breast of a quail.

                SECOND ACT

Suave Patria, this is your omen:
the river of virtues of your women.
Your daughters move like sylphs, or,
distilling an invisible alcohol,
webbed in the netting of your sun,
file by like graceful demijohns.

Patria, I love you not as myth
but for the communion of your truth,
as I love the child peering over the rail,
in a blouse buttoned up to her eartips
and skirt to her ankle of fine percale.

Impervious to dishonor, you flower.
I shall believe in you as long as
at the dawn hour one Mexican woman
carries home dough in her shawl,
and from the oven of its inauguration
the aroma spreads across the nation.

Like a Queen of Hearts, Patria, tapping
a vein of silver, you live miraculously,
for the day, like the national lottery.

Your image is the Palacio Nacional,
the same grandeur, and the identical
stature of a boy and a thimble.

In the face of hunger and mortar, Felipe de Jesús,
saint and martyr, will give you a fig.

Suave Patria, gentle vendor of chía,
I want to bear you away in the dark of Lent,
riding a fiery stallion, disturbing
the peace, and dodging shots from police.

Patria, your heart will always have room
for the bird a youngster tenderly
entombs in an empty spool box;
yes, in you our young hide, weeping,
the dried-apple cadavers
of birds that speak our own tongue.

If I am stifling in your July, send me
from the orchard of your hair the cool air
that brings shawls and dripping clay pitchers;
then, if I shiver, let me draw warmth
from your plump rum-punch lips
and your blue-incense breath.

Before your blessed-palm draped balcony
I pass with heavy heart, knowing
you tremble on this Palm Sunday.

Your spirit and style are dying our,
like the vanishing goddess of song
in a country fair—indomitable bosom
challenging straining bodice—
who evoked lust along with life's rhythm.

Patria, I give the key to happiness:
be faithful forever to your likeness:
fifty repeats of the Ave are carved
on the beads of the rosary, and it is
more fortunate than you, Patria suave.

Be constant, be true, your glory
your eyes of abandon and thirsting voice;
tri-color sash across misty breasts,
and an open air throne like a resonant timbrel:
allegory's straw cart!


Ramón López Velarde
Translator: Margaret Sayers Peden

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