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Sea of Red Death and Poiesis of the Better Life

Sea of Red Death
by Tomás Harris
translated by Daniel Shapiro

The first neon lights streaking the dawn
green luminous golden ultramarine
cross-dressed the ship like a drag
queen with too much jewelry and fake gold,
the last thing we saw was the stern
swaying as it sank from that weight
through a red tunnel grotto vulva mine or
cave and our senses, all of them,
made us guttural, vanquished us, made us drool.
What they saw was more or less this,
that few survived to tell the tale and
fewer stayed sane: we were
in Thebes, major capital of a great South American
city. Everywhere lost
souls suffered. Like a lioness thrown between
two worlds, two forbidden dreams lu-
bricious and unknown, the Hotel King
yawned open its maw of evil love:
there were bodies, but they weren’t bodies,
all our loves were there, slow-
ly naked, like rain: our loves
were there, all the loves of a lifetime,
but they weren’t there, they were placidly
absent, without flesh, bones or
red tint on their lips
among these present absences, the deeds
got confused in our minds,
Admiral, such chasteness, such abolished lust,
gives you chancres,
dark voids heading toward the end
of thought. We were in Thebes: the bodies
had no eyes, the bodies were
wax, the bodies were multiform,
modular, perverse as those
dolls of Bellmer, but they were pre-teen,
so young I swear they dissolved
with the first glance: we were in
Rumblefish: the world was a circle
in black and white, inhabited by two red
fish devouring their reflections instead of
prey. I was a fish, Admiral, and Death
was another fish.

Poiesis of the Better Life
by Tomás Harris
translated by Daniel Shapiro

Deep inside the Yugo Bar
the black nocturnal butterflies
finally went mad
they didn’t harm anyone
they clustered in a tribal swarm
they were going to hurl themselves against the pipes
full of gold dust lighting the halls
We’re searching for a better life, they said
Aurelia broke away from them
adorned herself, unsexed herself, and went away with the black
nocturnal butterflies
a better life
she was shouting after so much cacao rum
like always, she turned pale after so much cacao rum
in Cipango we bathed our mares in cacao rum
all this happened in a dream bordering dawn
we were stranded
what was in my head?
some trivial details
a pool of crude oil
black plastic bags
gold dust
all this happened after desire
in Cipango
deep inside the Yugo Bar
the black nocturnal butterflies finally went mad
they didn’t want to harm anyone
but they dragged many away
a better life
they were dreaming in a whisper
in these Iron Age dawns
although we may speak of happiness
What will happen after all this?
We flowed into a tunnel gilded like a resplendent
at the end we saw a bitch
who couldn’t stop herself
a yellow bitch
running her tongue over her wounds
fear nested
in her animal eyes.


Tomás Harris

THOMÁS HARRIS (La Serena, 1956) is considered one of Chile's most important young poets. He is the author of more than five poetry collections and a book of short stories. He lives and works in Santiago, Chile. These poems appear in the award-winning collection Cipango. DANIEL SHAPIRO, a poet and translator, is Director of Literature at the Americas Society, and Managing Editor of Review: Latin American Literature and Arts.


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DEC 03-JAN 04

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