Selected poems from Hemispheres

Painting by Sir Henry Raeburn
Painting by Sir Henry Raeburn

by María do Cebreiro
Translated from the Galician by Neil Anderson


I TIED UP THE MANUSCRIPT. Smothered the words.
He said: “Untie me.”

Do you want me to touch you like this?
I read his lips:
“Care for me. Don’t cover me up.”

You have my word.

The poems slipped from their bindings.

They create blood ties.
They work toward milk.


Communication is anonymous.
Conversation is personal.

We practice both.

If we kiss, my twin,
it’s because we have hands.

If we touch, my twin,
it’s because we have lips.


THE POET complained: “My heart is overwrought
like that of a man trailing a secret.”
Beyond the window the trees in bloom
split the skeleton of the afternoon into eight halves.

It was his modest way of finding a place
in the eyes of the librarian
used to training her gaze against the hours of the day.
Or do we speak of trees for lack of time?

In what land do trees cease to be
a seed that only grows in mouths
and root in the night air, in the fingers of the digger?

But this isn’t an idyll.
Someone once wrote
that we must walk with eyes skyward
toward the trees.
Not because up was better than down.
Others lost that war centuries ago.
(The ground is silenced only when trod upon.)

He walked between the trees, had never seen such a thing,
and they told him: You who understand everything
yet did not come: what word
rests on your lips?
where will it bloom if you don’t let it go?
why did you not lose your way in the oak forest
of my earliest fears?

So much stood between
that the woman became deaf, became blind.
“One night I shall give you
the emerald necklace of my blood,”
and she carefully opened her white skin.

And if trees had hearts at their centers,
in whom would you transplant the thorn-marrow?
And if his body had been rent from hers
in the beginning,
why do such adversaries still
nourish each other’s errors with their flesh?

He hewed to the facts, spoke to her of the war
but what moved her was not his story
but rather the way in which the story
was painstakingly drawn in order to show her
how he had come to be what he now was.
Much later she understood.
Facts can be like a caress,
especially if we are imprecise,
and also something weaker (like when the light fades
making a place for touch: for the sense of touch:
its sense). The cherry and the thorn:
a grafting of history into our simple life.

Information was the only thing they could share.

When the king arrived, they gave him a single stone
and he lifted the whole language.
He ordered that a fence be built around it
so the translators could stand guard.

The poem is the net where all imaginary
creatures fall.
One can draw the net in, or cast it out,
but that which was ours dies
on paper’s flagstone floor. “I don’t care for anything
that falls onto the poem without splitting it open.”

Sages can be wrong with their minds.
The rest of us need mud to go astray.

Who reveals the negative space of hours?
Who will dare enter the dark room of days,
watch what we’ve forgotten bow under,
and lose the underside of experience,
—its rugose feel— in exchange for sight?
O crownless king, hear how the errors
came from long ago
(snow on the plains, clay, reeds,
places where time prepares its deafness).

And the rest is loneliness: