BY TIFFANY SCIACCA
The second featured poet of this series is Alfonsina Storni, an Argentine poet born in 1892. This one is kind of a cheat, as I have heard of her. I even have a book of her poetry, but alas, it is 5,000 miles away and I had forgotten about her! Storni, considered one of the greatest Latin American poets of the Modernist period, began her creative journey by way of a traveling theatre company after the death of her father and her mother’s second marriage. Later, she supported both herself and her son by teaching and working as a journalist. Her creative writing seemed to have come second to other jobs, but she was able to publish her first book of poems, La inquietud del rosal in 1916. Soon, her style became more feminist in its message, as she wrote about women’s struggle in a modern but male dominated society. Many of her poems handled the subjects of death, love and the erotic. In 1920, Storni was awarded the first Municipal Poetry Prize and the second National Literature Prize for her book of poetry, Languidez (Languor). Alfonsina suffered a nervous breakdown in 1928 and was then diagnosed with breast cancer in 1935. She had a radical mastectomy, which unfortunately did nothing to improve her health. Suffering now from both terminal cancer and depression, at the age of 46, Alfonsina drowned herself, sending her last poem, to La Nación. This poem is the one that introduced me to her work. It is entitled, I’m Going to Sleep.
I’m Going to Sleep
Teeth of flowers, hair of dew,
hands of herbs, you, fine wet-nurse,
ready the bedsheet of earth for me
and the eiderdown of wild mosses.
I’m going to sleep, my wet-nurse, put me to bed.
Put a light beside my head;
a constellation; whatever you choose;
all are fine; turn the light down a little.
Leave me alone: listen as the buds begin to flower…
from high above a heavenly foot rocks you
and a bird traces some notes
so you may forget…Thank you. Oh, something else!
If he phones me again, tell him
not to persist…that I have gone.
Jamás pensé que Dios tuviera alguna forma.
Absoluta su vida; y absoluta su norma.
Ojos no tuvo nunca: mira con las estrellas.
Manos no tuvo nunca: golpea con los mares.
Lengua no tuvo nunca: habla con los centellas.
Te diré, no te asombres;
Sé que tiene parásitos: las cosas y los hombres.
I never thought that God had any form.
Absolute the life; and absolute the norm.
Never eyes: God sees with the stars.
Never hands: God touches with the seas.
Never tongue: God speaks with sparkles.
I will tell you, don't be startled;
I know that God has parasites: things and men.
You Want Me White
Translated by Fountain, Catherine
You want me to be the dawn
You want me made of seaspray
Made of mother-of-pearl
That I be a lily
Chaste above all others
Of tenuous perfume
A blossom closed
That not even a moonbeam
Might have touched me
Nor a daisy
Call herself my sister
You want me like snow
You want me white
You want me to be the dawn
You who had all
The cups before you
Of fruit and honey
Lips dyed purple
You who in the banquet
Covered in grapevines
Let go of your flesh
You who in the dark
Gardens of Deceit
Dressed in red
Ran towards Destruction
You who maintain
Your bones intact
Only by some miracle
Of which I know not
You ask that I be white
(May God forgive you)
You ask that I be chaste
(May God forgive you)
You ask that I be the dawn!
Flee towards the forest
Go to the mountains
Clean your mouth
Live in a hut
Touch with your hands
The damp earth
With bitter roots
Drink from the rocks
Sleep on the frost
Clean your clothes
With saltpeter and water
Talk with the birds
And set sail at dawn
And when your flesh
Has returned to you
And when you have put
Into it the soul
That through the bedrooms
Then, good man,
Ask that I be white
Ask that I be like snow
Ask that I be chaste
Today my mother and sisters
came to see me.
I had been alone a long time
with my poems, my pride . . . almost nothing.
My sister---the oldest---is grown up,
is blondish. An elemental dream
goes through her eyes: I told the youngest
"Life is sweet. Everything bad comes to an end."
My mother smiled as those who understand souls
tend to do;
She placed two hands on my shoulders.
She's staring at me . . .
and tears spring from my eyes.
We ate together in the warmest room
of the house.
Spring sky . . . to see it
all the windows were opened.
And while we talked together quietly
of so much that is old and forgotten,
My sister---the youngest---interrupts:
"The swallows are flying by us."
Translated by Muna Lee
Yes, I move, I live, I wander astray—
Water running, intermingling, over the sands.
I know the passionate pleasure of motion;
I taste the forests; I touch strange lands.
Yes, I move —perhaps I am seeking
Storms, suns, dawns, a place to hide.
What are you doing here, pale and polished—
You, the stone in the path of the tide?
The first piece will always resonate with me. Imagine. These were the last poetic words written before she collected herself, walked to the edge of a high cliff, and ended her life. If I am not mistaken, she took quite quickly to holistic medicine, and you can sense this: teeth of flowers…hands of herbs. Unfortunately, these treatments also failed her. Now she was in pain, but at peace and able to say goodbye. Ready the bedsheet of earth for me.
In You Want Me White, Storni speaks on the blatant double standard between men and women. How women are forced into an unrealistic mold of perfection, to be dawn, mother of pearl…chaste above all other. The imagery is thorough almost tiring, but not in a bad way. Imagine being a woman or a young girl, walking down the street with this grocery list from hell scrolling in your head. The pressure felt from society, even family and friends. Meanwhile, men are engaging in debauchery left and right, cups full of fruit and honey, lips dyed purple from their gluttony. Dressed in red running (running) towards destruction—She uses "you" more than a dozen times and one can almost see a finger jabbing in a chest, she then asks that the man go through a transformation, to flee to the forest, to cleanse his mouth. Connect to the earth and its powers…clean your clothes with saltpeter (once thought to induce impotence but that might only be a coincidence) and then when returned to the same state, dare ask that I become white, chaste…
In They’ve Come, the title reads more ominous than the actual piece. "They" are Storni’s sisters and mother visiting for after a significant amount of time. She only makes an observation of her oldest sister, who perhaps is already lost, with her elemental dream, but Storni does give advice to the youngest. Her mother, sweet mother understands all, touches and looks into Storni’s eyes causing her to weep. I feel Storni wrote this sometime after her diagnosis based on this line, after she had holed herself up with her poems, pride…almost nothing. It starts sad but ends in the warmest room, blue skies, windows open, conversation and the youngest has the last words.
These of course are my own interpretations, so please take them in with a bit of salt and even a dash of pepper if your taste begs for it.
Tiffany Sciacca is a writer who has recently moved to Sicily from the Midwest. Her work has appeared in the Silver Birch Press, SOFTBLOW and DNA Magazine UK. When she is not learning a new language or trying to blend in, she is reading horror anthologies, binging on Nordic Noir or plugging away at her first Giallo screenplay. @EustaceChisholm