Dem Uribe Apples

I’m nervous the ROTR fans will think me a cornball for posting a poem, but what the hoo. This is from Kirmen Uribe, whose MEANWHILE TAKE MY HAND (what you say when there is nothing else to say) was recently published by Graywolf Press. I offer you “Apples,” first in English w/translation by Elizabeth Macklin, then in the original Basque:

Homer used a single word for body and skin.
Sappho slept on the breasts of her friends.
Etxepare dreamt of stark naked women.

All of them silent for ages now.

Today it seems we have to be perfect in bed, too,
like those red apples in the supermarket,
too perfect.
We’re asking too much of ourselves,
and what we hope for
from any of us, nearest neighbors,
almost never happens.
The laws are different when bodies tangle.

Homer used a single word for body and skin.
Sappho slept on the breasts of her friends.
Etxepare dreamt of stark-naked women.

Still I have in my mind
that epoch when we slept holding each other,
scared tiger cubs in our vigil.

Kirmen Uribe, “Apples.”

Okay, Basque now.

Homerok hitz bakarra zerabilen gorputza eta azala izendatzeko.
Safok lagunen bularretan hartzen zuen lo.
Etxeparek emazte biluzgorriekin egiten zuen amets.

Aspaldi isildu ziren denak.

Gaur badirudi perfektuak izan behar dugula ohean ere,
supermerkatuko sagar gorri horiek bezala, perfektuegiak.
Larregi eskatzen diogu geure buruari
eta norberaz, ondokoaz
espero duguna ez da ia sekula gertatzen.
Legeak bestelakoak dira gorputzak korapilatzean.

Homerok hitz bakarra zerabilen gorputza eta azala izendatzeko.
Safok lagunen bularretan hartzen zuen lo.
Etxeparek emazte biluzgorriekin egiten zuen amets.

Gogoan dut oraindik
elkarri besarkatuta lo egiten genuen garaia,
tigrekume ikaratiak gu, gaubeilan.

Kirmen Uribe, “Sagarrak”

So, I had no idea Basque existed till I read Uribe. According to its Wikipedia entry, and of course other sources, Basque’s linguistic antecedents are in contention. It isn’t Indoeuropean, for instance. It’s spoken by roughly 1 million people in north-central Spain and southwestern France. Uribe was, according to MEANWHILE TAKE MY HAND, “born in 1970, in Ondarroa, a fishing town on the Bay of Biscay whose port and canneries now handle much of the catch between Galicia and Bayonne on Spain’s northern coast.”

The town, the book’s intro continues, “is home to some 9,900 people now, down from about 14,000 when Uribe was growing up. Just one of his cousins goes out on the fishing boats. Uribe’s mother lives in a farmhouse set back from the cliff that overhangs Saturraran, and these last months he has been living there, writing in a room that looks out at the ocean.” Nice.

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