Shadows, For Some: In Honor of Guillermo Fernández

Lately, I’ve been preoccupied with shadows.

From Cha: An Asian Literary Journal:


Joseph-Benoit Suvee's "The Invention of Drawing" (c. 1791)

“Shadow is the stuff that art is made on, according to one legend about the origin of painting. The first portrait was created when ‘the Corinthian maid’, called Dibutades, saw the image formed by her young man in the shadow of his profile cast on the wall by a lamp; she then traced it, because he was going away on a journey and she wanted it for a memento during his absence. Her father, a potter, finding her drawing later, ‘pressed clay on this and made a relief, which he hardened by exposure to fire with the rest of his pottery’.” — Marina Warner, Phantasmagoria, p. 159.

Last month, Guillermo Fernández, a 79 year old Mexican poet and translator of Italian literature was murdered in Toluca. John Gibler writes on the City Lights Bookstore blog that the local newspaper in Toluca published a story on April 1 with the headline “They kill a poet,”

Guillermo Fernandez, Photo by Arturo Campos Cedillo

“Asesinan a poeta.”  The article begins with this sentence: “With hands and feet bound in cables, face wrapped in tape, and with a shot to the head, the body of a Toluca-based poet was found inside his home.” (“Amarrado con cables de pies y manos, envuelto del rostro con cinta canela y con un tiro en la cabeza, fue localizado el cuerpo de un poeta toluqueño en el interior de su hogar.”)

Gibson reminds us:

To honor a poet, read that poet. And share the poetry. In this spirit, I would like to offer here two translations (or translation attempts) of Fernández’s poems.


Lo sé examigo mío: 
entre el corazón y la mano 
se sigue abriendo 
el hondón del barranco; 
entre lo que pensamos y decimos 
la palabra tropieza 
con la cola del diablo 
y la amistad laudada 
es un pastel barato 
que ni una mosca verde aceptaría.

Así pues, lo mejor 
será mirar la luz del día 
con lentes tan obscuros 
para seguir dudando 
si mierdas o personas son 
las cosas con que andamos resbalando.


I know, my exfriend:
between the heart and the hand
the depth of the ravine
keeps opening;
between what we think and what we say
words stumble
over the devil’s tail
and the much-praised friendship
is a cheap cake
that not even a green fly would accept.

And so, the best thing
would be to view the light of day
through lenses so dark
that we may continue to doubt
whether they be shit or people
these things we keep slipping on.

And here, a poem from the 1965 book La palabra a solas (The word on its own), reprinted in his 2006 selected poems:


Tus manos se han quedado distraídas…

Yo no quiero saber lo que es morir. Yo no quiero morir.

Te he mirado rozar un borde del espanto,
tocar la púa del remordimiento.
Dime. Algo oculto se queja detrás de tu risa
y una umbela de sombra desliza su muro.

Están tus ojos no sé donde, como ropas caídas.

¿Como llamarte?
¿Cómo llamarte cuando tocas aquel o este silencio
y todas las cosas cercanas
hacen tus ojos los más largos horizontes?

En el aire nos deja tiernamente heridos.

No es tiempo de llorar. Ven. MIra ese árbol.
En nuestras horas hay hojas que no conocen el río.
Un dios ha puesto en nuestras manos un fruto de alegría.

Que nada cante más allá ni más acá de la vida.


Your hands have become distracted…

I do not want to know what it is to die. I do not want to die.

I have seen you scrape against an edge of dread,
touch the spike of regret.
Tell me. Something hidden complains behind your laughter
and a screen of shadow slips out its wall.

Your eyes are I don’t no where, like fallen clothes.

How should I address you?
How should I address you when you touch that or this silence
and everything near
makes your eyes the longest horizons?

In the air we are left gently wounded.

Now is not the time to cry. Come. Look at this tree.
In our hours there are leaves that have never been to the river.
A god has placed in our hands a fruit of joy.

May nothing sing further away nor further near of life.

*A short anthology of Fernández’s poetry in Spanish is also available online here.

*Thank you to John Pluecker for alerting me as to Fernández’s death and the City Lights post.


About Kaitlin Solimine

Kaitlin Solimine was raised in New Hampshire but has considered China a second home for the past two decades. She is the author of the award-winning forthcoming novel Empire of Glass and co-founder of Hippo Reads, a media start-up connecting academic insights with real world issues. She lives in Singapore.
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