“I Am Tired of Being a Man”

Sex reassignment surgery was not commonly known in Pablo Neruda’s time. And Facebook did not exist. So, when he first wrote “I am tired of being a man,” he likely did not endure the same kind of ribbing I got for making it my status update. In searching for a good English translation of the poem “Walking Around,” which made this line famous to me, I simply could not find a version that I really liked.

Neruda is tough to translate well. I imagine similar perils await poets who try to translate Wallace Stevens into another language. Foremost among them is a kind of strangeness that makes linguistic, but not literal, sense. Many of the versions I found were over-literal in places where they should have favored more adherence to tone and theme from line to line. Also, given a Spanish word that resembled an English word, first-language-English translators almost always chose that English word, even if it did not carry the most precise shade of meaning across from its Spanish cousin. This reliance on word-by-word mapping actually introduces more and inappropriate strangeness into the poem, not the least through awkward syntax.

And so, I set out to preserve more of the fluidity and atmosphere of the poem in rendering my own translation.

Walking Around
by Pablo Neruda

As it happens, I am tired of being a man.
As it happens, I go to the tailor and to the cinema
shriveled, impervious, like a swan made of felt
flowing on the waters of origin and ash.

The smell of the barber shop makes me sob.
I want a break from stone and wool.
I want to stop seeing institutions and gardens,
commodities, eyeglasses, elevators.

As it happens, I am tired of my feet and my nails,
my hair and my shadow.
As it happens, I am tired of being a man.

Nonetheless, it would be delicious
to frighten a notary with a fresh-cut lily,
or mortify a nun with a smack on the ear.
It would be lovely
to roam the streets with a green knife
yelling until I froze to death.

I do not want to go on like a root in the dark,
wavering, stretched out, shivering with a dream,
down, into the moist guts of the earth,
absorbing and thinking, consuming daily.

I do not want such misfortunes.
I do not want to continue rooting to the tomb,
alone underground with a cellar full of corpses
frozen solid, killing me with sorrow.

This is why Monday burns like gasoline
when I show up with my jailbird face,
and howls on its way like a wounded wheel
and takes hot-blooded steps into the night.

It pushes me to familiar corners, damp houses,
hospitals where the bones fly out the windows,
to cobbler shops that smell of vinegar,
terrible, cavernous streets.

There are sulfur-colored birds, and foul intestines
hanging over the doors of these houses,
false teeth misplaced in a cafeteria,
there are mirrors
that should be crying with shame and horror,
everywhere umbrellas, poisons, umbilical cords.

I walk calmly, with eyes, shoes,
rage and oblivion,
step through office buildings and orthopedic shops,
and courtyards where washing hangs from the line:
underwear, towels, and shirts that weep
slow filthy tears.