Fred Fornoff & Laureano Alban


Fred Fornoff

Laureano Alban

THE SEVEN POEMS printed here represent a sampling of the “definitions” fromEnciclopedia de maravillas (Encyclopedia of Wonders), a thousand-poem collection which Laureano Alban has been working on for the past twelve years and which will be published this fall in a three-volume, bilingual edition (my translation) by the Circle of Costa Rican Writers in San José in collaboration with the International Poetry Forum in Pittsburgh. (The three volumes will be illustrated by leading contemporary artists from Latin America.) In these definitions, the objects, concepts and creatures marked by the titles yield up their magic to the scrutiny of the poet-encyclopedist’s gaze.

Laureano Alban has been writing against the current for over thirty years, an unabashed transcendentalist in an age where poetry has been working to grow lean, to strip itself of image, and to approach the numinous in ordinary language, or not at all. He has hardly been living in a world of his own, however. In 1978 he left Costa Rica for Spain in order to deepen his knowledge of the Spanish poetic tradition. Since then, he’s published a number of important books and has won numerous prizes (almost a prize per book). Alban views his poetry as a bridge between the formal refinement of that European Spanish tradition and the vitalism of Latin American poetry. Above all, for Alban, poetry cannot be “used” for other purposes. Whatever the poem says, it says in the service of language and poetry. And, although there is nothing it can’t say, if it’s easy to say then it probably isn’t worth saying as poetry.

The clearest formulation of his poetics appears in Manifiesto trascendentalista (San Jose: Editorial Costa Rica, 1978), of which he is principal co-author. In it he elaborates his concept of poetry as the vehicle by which the poet carries the listener beyond the limited, circumstantial condition of human experience toward a state of transcendental intuition that can only be confirmed through a highly evolved poetic language. He writes: “So-called direct language is limited by its own precision; the semantic exactness for which it strives precludes it from expressing the evolutionary facets of reality” (p. 60, my translation).

The originality and freshness of Alban’s poetry is a function of the authenticity of his poetic vision. His poetry manifests a structure whose radical interiority is present in all its effects, so that it signifies absence as well as presence. In “Saga of Mist,” he writes:

I have a tree at the bottom of my voice.
A tree of powerful dews.
The peak high, the root higher,
and a bird forced to stay aloft forever.*

In Alban’s poetry, the relationship between word and object, signifier and signified, language and reality, is not inevitable or in any way fixed. Metaphor becomes secondary; metonymy and oxymoron prevail. The surface of his poetry bristles with antimonies: memory/forgetfulness, light/shadow, sound/silence, body/transparence. This last derives directly from Alban’s vision: in his poetry, presence always implies absence, living is conflagration, disappearance our life’s work. Transparence is thus not in conflict with body, but its natural consequence, a destiny we embrace by living furiously, as we encounter in “The Sheet,” one of the poems from Enciclopedia de maravillas included here: “The sheet sways / like an animal / plotting its own transparence.” This vision derives from Alban’s notion of poetic language itself. In Manifiesto trascendentalista, he writes: “…it is precisely when the word ‘disappears’ in a transcendental context of great moment that the act of poetry is realized” (p. 86). Just such a moment occurs at the end of another of the following poems, “The Skirt,” when the skirt worn by the woman he’s been watching disappears, “leaving twilight’s skirt around your waist…”

Windber, Pennsylvania, July 20, 1994

*From Suma de Claridades (Summa of Clarities), Madrid: Fundación Fernando Rielo, 1992.


Laureano Alban


The mild, the clear,
the ductile, the white,
the one filled with rivers
because dawn is a river.
The sister of all
old words.
The rustic, the friend,
the unmoving, the slave
of white doorlatches.

The pure, the billowy.
The mistress of keys
that open the sap’s
quick seas.

Sword of the air,
the mild arrow
passing through loaves.
Friend of time.
Forehead of fire.
Wake passing by.
The light in the flame.
The flame in your mouth.
The clear sheet
covering tables
of mild frost.

The wounded, the motionless,
the plural and rapid,
the one hiding apples
in each hand.

The humble ash
feigned by the open
eyes of the air.
The appointment with dawn
The one smelling of a sword
undone in our hands.

The ductile, the clear,
the sister of all
magic numbers.
The broad, the pale,
the one passing through
all fires, exempt.

(Translated from the Spanish by Fred Fornoff)


Laureano Alban

The Giraffe

The giraffe is a serious matter,
like a great wind,
like the two hundred blue poppies
that tumbled down your hair
when I kissed you,
like the way, far from dying,
afternoons have when
they open the door and wait
and wait until six o’clock sharp
to hurl the serene
aromatic night over our bodies,
which are still alone.

The giraffe is a serious matter,
irreconcilable and spotted,
like swallows silhouetted
against the distance.
With those large legs
of towering sugar,
with that neck of a solitary star
rising toward its dream,
who could have brought it into this world
and set it loose
to nibble on clouds and the flood?
And who gave it permission
to look at us from that safe height
full of tiny amber-colored birds?

—Because I’m sure that man
and his vigilance of eternal midnight
will arrange the bread
and thirst of the rivers,
will allocate the earth
illusion by illusion,
will dispose of death
and its red outrages,
and will even be able,
perhaps, to distribute prophecies
and gods equally among everyone.
Ah, but the giraffe—
that creature who falls constantly as he walks
but never falls
(as if somebody invisible were lifting him
at each high step
of bells and neverness),
the same creature who wears drooping roses
on his rainy back—
the mobile giraffe,
lord of absurdity, him
we’ll never understand,
never, because the gods decided
mystery should smile
in him.

(Translated from the Spanish by Fred Fornoff)


Laureano Alban

The Iceberg

Ah, question of ice.
Where are you going
with that crystal bell
asleep in your belly?
What far drift is calling you
to pound against the distances
with your claws of snow?
From which livid drop
of yesterday did you begin,
adding up snowdrifts,
accumulating the pure
windows of space,
vanquishing, from coldness,
like a dead wave,
extending your countries
of frozen rivers,
prophesying flowers
of sheer transparence
between the sea and the land,
erecting the coldest,
most annulled and lunar
tower ever born to time?

Toward which north are you sailing
with death in your eyes?
You are not sea, not snow.
You are pure pureness.
A chunk of nothingness
hurled against man
by the crystalline force
of death in his meadows.

During nights of the sea
in debt forever to the snow,
you are born and you depart,
you grow and sail off,
losing one brick of time,
drop by drop,
with each sheer latitude of distance,
returning slowly,
amid suns and abysses,
to the augural water,
which one day rose up to the moist
spars of your gaze,
and now returns
to the most liquid calm.

Ah, submerged mother,
giving back the cancelled
hearts of coldness.

(Translated from the Spanish by Fred Fornoff)


Laureano Alban

The Magnet

It turns blue, its loan of heaped
lightning trembles. Its spine,
sand on sand, like a black colt
of iron and distance,
quivers in the hand,
galloping toward the finish.
Possessed only by shudders
and night — ay — it might be
a tiny sea arriving,
or God’s drop of honey
in everything living.
And then, as if summoned
toward the fog,
like colts I’ve seen
in the mist with angels,
it gallops toward an unknown
destiny of snow,
then turns into the air’s
permanent arrow.

What impossible balance
are you seeking, aiming
your tiny, dead forehead
toward the sign in the sky?
What got broken
at the bottom of all your memories:
perhaps this singular day,
made of jolts of silver?
Perhaps the tide
of the stone sunken in night,
or night itself?
Perhaps the never
defended crystals
of yesterday and all its names?

You lack something. Something
to erase the horizon.
Just like man, who goes by
pointing his hands
toward time’s north.
Like man, you too
(shared metals,
oxides of desire)
are seeking, you pass by seeking
the flower made of perfect maps,
maps that don’t exist.

(Translated from the Spanish by Fred Fornoff)


Laureano Alban

The Printing Press

In the beginning man was alone
like a tide against himself.
The swords of his soul,
with their addiction to noiseless angels,
were aching in his eyes of silence.
Then came the tongue
with its rose or gushing bell,
with its form of a newborn sea,
and it traced in each thing
a key of mist and prophecy.
But the tongue was
divine and helpless,
inconstant and plural,
like a face of rain,
high from dreams only,
fleeting as its nests,
tiny sword of weeping
keeping nothingness at bay.

And then, slowly,
mirror of its clay,
the letter started to engrave
stone with fires.
The secret chisels
of dream invented it,
gave it that form
of an implored vessel
in which we store
the colts of thought,
the unspeakable rivers
echoing the kiss,
the fatal materiality
of miracles.

But you arrived,
ferocious machinery
against the coldness of oblivion,
with that alert ink,
blood of time,
leaving on each page
a motionless trench
shielded by song,
which defends blood’s age-old longing
to become a name,
just a name and more names,
a rainless scar,
a small piece of wood
immune to the red, communal
destiny of bodies,
a sign that was also
a flag inside a kiss,
but which on each page
delineates eternally
the margins of the soul.

(Translated from the Spanish by Fred Fornoff)


Laureano Alban

The Sheet

The sheet is alone,
drying itself with a kind
of pristine anguish.
It smells like rain spread out
in the sun, like all the water
of the month and the night.
It smells like the night and I love it.

The sheet sways
like an animal
plotting its own transparence.
Where the sky becomes
bluer than itself
it stretches its great
rectangle, its counsel
of tenderness made completely of cotton.

The sheet observes me
with its eyes of breeze.
I remember it in all
the multiple childhoods,
there, on the line,
all lunar and alone,
through the night,
pearled like a river,
or in the glorious forests
the dawn keeps inventing.

The sheet is there,
convenient and constant,
learning from the sun
its wavy illusions.
From above I watch
the inscription
of your sleeping body
on its ecstatic underside.

In the afternoon, when someone
bright and constant
begins to close, one by one,
the portals of the day,
and the wind comes up, the wind
that has humbled a thousand stalks of wheat,
and raises it up and raises it up
beating and furrowing it,
as far as the red, red
water of the twilights.
You come up, hand to hand,
you grasp it, fold it,
smell it — as if apples
were spread out inside it.
And you go into the house, into the night,
armed with the burning sheet
beneath your arm, and you spread it
over the bed as if you
were spreading the sun
and the keys to the dawn
over the love waiting there,
foreshadowing moons
like a prophecy.

(Translated from the Spanish by Fred Fornoff)


Laureano Alban

The Skirt

The skirt says bye bye, swishes one way, then another.
Your eyes take flight against yesterday.
The earth says blossom blossom. I say I don’t know.
The skirt pauses pensively.
Your body makes up its mind, just like that. Your own prodigy,
bell-ringing from the voice of all angels,
all their dreams delighting in you.
The skirt swirls, ringing around itself,
star of its own absence, thirst with water,
flower flag woven by a different shadow.

I draw near with worlds you love and fear.
I draw near, hoping I’ll win your thirst.
My hand a goblet. My destiny a goblet.
Press me onto your skirt so I can spin like a star.
So I can voice your beauty, hold tight to your shadow.
So I can reinvent God without waiting for ashes.

This is the day. This the word,
your skirt swishes, shifts that edge of the world
that borders your astonishment. It swishes and goes by
and comes back and goes by and — oh baby.
A flag adjusting the horizon to your body,
urgency of the light to weave you a shadow.

Sometimes I fell. No one knows
on exactly what corner of himself
or the world a poet, exile
from sand’s first eyes,
is going to fall down or die,
or inhale the long, long prison
in which the gods lock up the world.
Sometimes I fell. I lifted up the word,
the grappling hook of its tide, chained mirror,
mechanism for summing up the exhausted absences.
Sometimes I fell, and each splinter of shadow
was worth a life to me. But like a fairy
flitting between broken mirrors, your skirt swept by,
yes, your skirt adding girls to the breeze.
Since then, I know there’s a flower lurking,
a tolling of bells lying in wait for my life,
a blow from heaven in my rose of abysses.

The skirt says bye bye, comes back and rises up,
floats out over these fields of memory.
It’s the conspiracy-game of adding you to life.
It’s the diaphanous trick of surrendering to the breeze.

Night comes, and in the night
someone invents lamps on top of the world,
as if inventing gods.
You draw near the dream intersecting goodbyes,
stifling the forests of your own memory.
And then, pensive as a flower in shadow,
your skirt stops — land of my destiny —
and falls in a heap onto the clear carpet,
leaving twilight’s skirt around your waist,
making lustful gods burn all over your body.

(Translated from the Spanish by Fred Fornoff)


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