Volume 69, Number 1 · Fall 2019

El vado

Si vas por la playa donde se vadea el río
plantadas en el limo,
          largas varas de eucalipto. Están allí
para los caminantes que van a la otra ribera.
            Una será tu cayado:
con ella tantearás, sin riesgo, un camino
entre las aguas turbias
         y las piedras de resbaloso musgo.

Cuida de dejar hundida la vara
         con gratitud
en la otra orilla: otro viene:
acaso mi padre
que en las tierras amarillas busca sandías silvestres,
         acaso yo
que regreso, retrasado y viejo,
         mirando ansioso mi pueblo que tras el río
ondula o se difumina en el vaho solar.
según costumbre, sembraron mi ombligo
entre la juntura de dos adobes
para que yo tuviera patria.

Deja el cayado clavado en el limo.

The Ford

translated from the Spanish by
Michelle Har Kim

If you walk along the beach where the river shallows
you will see,
stuck in the mud,
         long poles of eucalyptus. They are there
for travelers headed to the opposite shore.
             One will be your staff:
with it you’ll feel out, without risk, a path
across the turbid waters
         and the rocks slick with moss.

Take care to leave the stick firmly planted
         with thanks
at the other shore: here comes someone:
maybe my father
looking for wild watermelons in the yellow lands,
         perhaps it’s me
who returns, belated and old,
         eagerly watching the pueblo that across the river
diffuses or ripples in the vapor of the sun.
following tradition, they sowed my umbilical cord
between two bricks of adobe
so that I might have a country.

Leave the staff plunged into the mud.

The late José Watanabe (1946–2007) is one of Peru’s most beloved contemporary poets. Along with his numerous articles, children’s books, and screenplays (that include the screen adaptation for Mario Vargas Llosa’s La ciudad y los perros), Watanabe’s publications feature seven original volumes of poetry. The latter is brought together in the posthumous Poesía completa (2008)—from his alpha Albúm de familia (1971), to the omega Banderas detrás de la niebla (2006). Included in the anthology is Watanabe’s rendition of Sophocles’s Antígona, performed by el Grupo Yuyachkani, the radical theater troupe that won Peru’s National Human Rights Award in 2000. Watanabe is a main contributor to La memoria del ojo: cien años de presencia japonesa en el Perú (1999), a “photographic history” that narrates scenes of everyday life, loss, and northward “relocation” of approximately eighteen hundred Japanese Peruvians to internment camps in Texas during World War II.

Michelle Har Kim lives in the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles. She is a 2016 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, and has translated poems by José Watanabe for Guernica, Epiphany, and the Asian American Literary Review.