Controversy Surrounds the De Los Pendejos Translations

Essay

by Rawley Pierce

I JUST RECEIVED A NEW MANUSCRIPT from scholar/author Nat Athens, who is down in Olive Pits, Georgia, doing some research on exiled Cuban street poet Jaime de los Pendejos. This is one of the recent translations from the manuscript titled Manitos del Puerco y Otro Poemas. Athens claims he had innumerable problems with the Cuban idioms. Here's the first in the series:

    NO PIDA
    NO me pida a ser un buitre o un volcan,
    o un hobre honesto.
    No me pida a ser ganados postumos.

    o para ser mejor en el Baccarat.
    Pida mus vecinos sean todeos que,
    piden que sean la mosca en la sopa

    o para ir a Shraft's en 5th Avenue en 1945
    y pedir un frappe de la piña
    Haga que digan a la camarera

    que deseo su cucharada doble del flambe de lam vainilla.
    No me pida a ser Wichita, o enfermo
    de la corteza o del mar del la sandia.

    No me pida a ser Cesar Vallejo
    o a mirar fura de mi ventana del cuarto de bano
    o a hablar con Juan Ashberry sobre beisbol

    y no me pida que juegue el accordion.
    No me pida como una mancha en la pared,
    como un tulipan en las tierras bajas dobladas

    hacia luz del sol y no me pida que sea cortes
    No me pida es un perro blanco
    o da vuelta a mi parte posteriora en los verbos auxiliares

    o para marchar a la derecha en su invierno longitudinal.
    Vaya a continuacion, pregunte a mis vecinos acerca de ese.
    Apenas pregunteles. Vea lo que el tiened que decir.


    DON'T ASK

    DON'T ask me to be a vulture
    or a volcano, or an honest man.
    Don't ask me to be posthumous cattle

    or to be better at Baccarat.
    Ask my neighbors to be all that,
    ask them to be the fly in the soup

    or go to Schrafts on 5th Avenue in 1945
    and order a pineapple frappe.
    Have them tell the waitress I want

    her double scoop of vanilla flambé.
    Don't ask me to be Wichita
    or watermelon rind or sea sick.

    Don't ask me to be Cesar Vallejo
    or to look out my bathroom window
    or talk to John Ashbery about baseball

    and don't ask me to play the accordian.
    Don't ask me to beg like stain on the wall,
    like a tulip in the lowlands bent toward sunlight

    don't ask me to be polite.
    Do not ask me to be a white dog
    or to turn my back on auxiliary verbs

    or to march right into your longitudinal winter.
    Go ahead, ask my neighbors about that.
    Just ask them. See what they have to say.

    * * *
Although Athens's sketchy familiarity with the Spanish language has not served him well, we cannot hold him entirely responsible for these meager translations. It seems that Athens has discovered that Jaime de los Pendejos is not a Cuban-born poet, but rather was born in Copiague, New York, under shadowy circumstances and has successfully concealed his genealogical lineage for these many years. Spanish is not his primary language. He grew up with the quirky cadences of Long Island English and did not learn any Spanish whatsoever until his early 20s. It seems he has insisted upon writing his entire oeuvre in what he perceived to be a Cuban-tinged dialect. However, Athens, quite early on, despite his linguistic shortcoming, realized that de los Pendejos was far afield from what might be considered ''la lingua Cubana.'' Athens insists that his revelation in no way lessens the poet's reputation and continued his work as translator. The following are further results of that effort.

    YUCA
    Ueber allen Gipfeln
    Ist Ruh.

    — Goethe

    SI la yuca tuviera un ojo beberia la luz.
    Imagine el disafragma azul en la extremidad del v·stago
    valientea, un rubor de la corona en el racimo

    terminal de sus flores blancas que aletean
    como latigazos, hacen ojos con la luz antes
    de la imbibición subsecuente.

    Conjeturo que esa esta como el pensamiento
    en un pato con un alma, no alg ún espectro
    de Zen-natured Druidas, sino Anglicano alto,

    o místico Romano fantasma, seraphima y caronas
    ectoplasmico, los trabajos. Especulación del amperio
    hora la imaginación! Quien triunfo de la serie?

    Yo consiguió tres monedas de diez centavos
    en Rosebud en el tercer


    YUCCA

    After every summit
    is rest.
    — Goethe

    IF yucca had an eye it would drink light.
    Imagine blue iris at the tip of the stout
    stem, a corona flush in the terminal cluster

    of its white blossoms flapping like lashes,
    flirting with the light prior to its
    subsequent imbibition. I guess that's

    like thinking of a duck with a soul, not
    some Zen-natured Druid's spectre,
    but high Anglican, or Roman mystic

    ectoplasmic ghost, seraphim and halos,
    the works. Ah speculation and the imagination!

    Who's gonna win the series? I've got three
    dimes on Rosebud in the 3rd at Pimlico.


    OTRA ESTACION

    RECUERDO como se sentia en infierno.
    Therapistas que me dice abrirse,
    habalr de él. Sus ojos que fuman
    como tocones despues de bosque encienden,
    come revelé mis millas de la cicatriz,
    brazas de la deformación psiquica
    y los huesos quebradizos.
    Sus oídos eran árboles
    que esperaban la invasión de pájaros,
    la vuelta de grillos y topos.
    Como pescados sus palabras falsa
    saltada contra la corriente
    hacia mi alma desfigurado,
    salida en enjambra allí,
    los misterios sin nombre,
    fríos el la rojez interior de esas
    profundidades que generaban al lado
    de mi sangre de bombeo donde
    soscilaranon los fuegos pasados.


    ANOTHER SEASON

    I remember how it felt in hell.
    Therapists telling me
    to open up, to talk about it.
    Their eyes smoking like stumps
    after forest fires, as I revealed
    my miles of scar, fathoms of psychic
    warp and brittle bones.
    Their ears were trees waiting
    for the invasion of birds,
    the return of crickets and moles.
    Like fish their truthless words leaped
    upstream toward my rankled spirit,
    swarming there, nameless mysteries
    cold in the interior redness of those depths
    spawning next to my pumping blood
    where the last fires flickered.


    CONSIGUIÉNDOLO TODO TRAGUE

    Despierto por la mañana y my niego
    el placer de abrir un ventana. Siéntese
    y piense en cómo mirarÌa abriéndose-
    la mitad inferior que resbalaba encima del canal
    una Anderson, dole paned aislando bien.

    Despues consigo la cámara de video
    y abro el Window con una mano
    mientras que pelicula él con la otra.
    Es ''filming'' la palabra derecha?
    Licencia que cerro, los susurrus
    de l mente con autoridad.

    pero el rebelde de las manos y ascendente va
    y muevo la c·mara fotográfica hacia la luz fresca,
    una falta de definicián de la contradicción.
    Mi dÌa entero va come ése.
    Decisiones tomadas detrás del parpadeo del escpacio

    en blanco de los ocho detrás la lente de a cámara
    como la mente batió. Pues batió siempre,
    come ella batieron antes de candencias respitoria hipnoticas
                                                     de los suenos,
    de un tango para el corazón y del pulmón,
    ojos que agitan mientras que la mento batió

    y la mirada fija constant de la lente
    muele a su manera como un Black and Decker
    con las base del día, memoria devouring,
    cortando deseo hasta que los sueños toman la residencia
    en una cirta iman de la ocasión como
    una multitud de cuervos en sumac.


    GETTING IT ALL DOWN

    I wake up in the morning and deny myself
    the pleasure of opening a window. Sit
    and think of how it would look, opening
    the bottom half sliding up the channel —
    an Anderson, double paned, well insulated.

    Then I get the video camera
    and open the window with one hand
    while filming it with the other.
    Is "filming" the right word?
    Leave it shut, the mind whispers with authority,

    but the hand rebels and up it goes
    and I move the camera towards the cool light,
    a blur of contradiction,
    my whole day goes like that.
    Decisions made behind the eye's blank blink

    behind the camera's lens as the mind churns.
    As it always churns, as it churns before sleep's
    hypnotic cadences,
    a tango for heart and lung,
    eyes fluttering while the mind churns

    and the steady stare of the lens
    grinds its way like a Black and Decker
    through the core of day, devouring memory,

    trimming desire until dreams take up residence
    in some chance image like a flock of crows in sumac.


    PESCADOS

    SI entro las montañas no sera escapar
    el tumult de perros que guerrean

    o las generaciones de eco metálicas
    del Wall Street o de la resaca,

    ni será granizar un taxi.
    Iré alli a desgastar los zapatos simples

    que llevan una cesta de la comida capmestre
    llenada de los ratones,

    del cielo coloreado alquitrán
    como contexto de sequinas

    y de todas las criaturas de la salida
    en enjambre allí los segundos primos de pescados


    FISH

    IF I go to the mountains
    it will not be to escape the tumult

    of warring dogs or the upthrust
    metallic echoes of Wall Street or hangover,

    nor will it be to hail a cab.
    I will go there wearing simple shoes

    carrying a picnic basket filled with mice,
    the tar colored sky as sequined backdrop

    and all the swarming creatures there
    the second cousins of fish.

 * * *
The following is an excerpt from an article about the poet's work I found in The Postmodern Review (Vol. III, No. 2, winter 2001):

''Jaime de los Pendejos has written an insightful and charming book poems, Manitos del Puerco y Otro Poemas, but let us not be misled by the initial simplicity of these poems. This is a poet who has mastered his craft. Seen in the light of conventional interpretation the poems appear to be ornamental, spontaneous pieces that reflect the poet's experience in the everyday world.

However, with de los Pendejos, when interpreted from the phenomenological standpoint of Heidegger's destruction of the ontological tradition, we see the referential surface ruptured by the breakdown of the systematic logocentric perspective. Hence, the poems emerge triumphantly and can be seen to constitute the fulfillment that spatializes temporality.

Here we find a prime example of Aristotle's poetics of mimesis, reconciling the opposing and dislocating notions of quotidian life — experience with the possibilities of dream — the anxiety of nothingness that is the basic existential mood of Pendejos's aesthetic. His awareness of being is thrown into the boundless and uncanny world of his own aesthetic dialectic. In the phenomenological light of Heidegger's deconstruction, the meaningful 'while' of this poet's work places time itself into an integral and inclusive spatial circle. This is an essential formative imperative that mediates the apparent nothingness of significant existential experience.''
                                       Timothy Clark Witherspoon
                                       University of Nebraska
                                       October 2002

I sent the translations to Dr. Ramon Freednik, scholar and poet, who has been doing research on the various pursuits of Dr. Specs Grundig¹, the inventor of the Methanatron². The following is his reply:

    ''Indeed, what a small world this truly is. Timothy Clark Witherspoon is a familiar name among the Bowery cognoscenti, a grifter of high repute for his proficiency at the Silver Egg scam. The sixth precinct must have brushed too close for comfort to cause him to go underground in such a prosaic part of the country as Nebraska. He is also known for his part in the 1928 insurrection in Paraguay as the chief supplier of invisibility robes to the rebellious Tallesgo Indians.

    He is said to trace his lineage to Hindu Gypsies and be fluent in eight human and three animal languages. His dossier states as fact his age at 165, due most probably to an ongoing ingestion of certain South American herbs and roots. His connection with Dr. Specs Grundig revolves around the King of Spain's attempts to corner the word market in methane granules, the power source for the series of Methanatrons that girdle the globe at the Equator.

    His mother, Agnes Clair Witherspoon, is in our history texts as one of the lively agitators for the rights of inanimate objects in the 1840s as part of the Rocks Deserve Respect movement. His father is rather a shadowy figure, known variously as Spats Witherspoon or James Aldous Frank or Weldon Kees, and was either a chemist or a baker or a tour guide in the days of the California Gold Rush.

    Of course none of this is certain, and there has been some speculation that Timothy Witherspoon is actually his own father. He is adept at low-level flight.''

Notes:
    ¹ Dr. Specs Grundig invented the Methanatron in the early part of the 20th century.
    ² Methanatrons are devices that enable time travel and are fueled by methane.


 

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