“…I’m sure it was a noble, / heavenly poet / heart made mature / by shadow and science.”
-Antonio Machado, “The Water Wheel”
By the time you read this, I will have just landed in London to begin a new chapter in my life. It seems fitting, as a celebration of my Americanness in the broadest sense of that word, that A River & Sound Review today published my new translation of Antonio Machado’s “The Water Wheel.” Like Umberto Saba’s “The Goat,” this poem takes up the sorrow of a domesticated animal as its topic.
I am sure that, if he were still alive, my poet-friend Sandford Lyne would have been pleased to hear this news. His poem “Machado, Lorca, Neruda, Jiménez” captures the sense of respect we both felt for the great Spanish-language poets. It took many years of writing my own poems in English for me to realize that I could combine my love of poetry with my knowledge of the Spanish language to bring new understanding of these poems to myself and others through translation.
I read a range of poems, many new pieces fueled by the MFA — and even some poems about the passing of our son. It was the first time reading them in public, save for a few I read in workshop at the last residency. It felt necessary — like it was time; another stage of honoring and letting go. I also dedicated the first part of the reading to the memory of Sandford Lyne, opening with one of his poems, reading a couple new translations I had done of Machado and Neruda (two of his favorites) and ending the first section with a eulogy in honor of his great spirit.
The place was packed. Roe, our indefatigable host, joked that the event was a sell-out just like Mary Oliver’s reading last week (though Cambell Hall admittedly does hold one or two more people than the Gallery). Still, it was nice to see standing room only. More high praise and fond support: Doris brought her cookies and of course left with an empty bowl. I could not have had a more supportive group in which to read such intimate and personal poems.
Seeing Li-Young Lee read from his own deeply sorrowful, grief-stricken poems last week gave me a model for what it means to honor the experience and honor the art even though it is deeply personal. I felt in some way that seeing him read gave me the strength to do what I had to do tonight.