Minitopography of Santa Isabel


The tired afternoon falls
on a rhythm of palm trees
clad in spring
human, a scattered voice.
Above, the moon rounds
its silver & enamoured
spins its gratitude
- starry light swerves
between the coupling of harnesses -
through gothic cypresses
that toll the bells.


Rivers of joy full of the very thing
played only by this Stradivarius of beings
trampoline that launches us from the pole
of artifice to pristine contact

with the virgin, packed bustle
of naked Africa... Protocol
of baskets & tables, bloodclots, deceit,
yucca & the solemn fraternity in the act
of being emptied and filled in between laughter
drawing coins without currency,
rain of ancient sun on their backs.

Lean out - by the skin of the day -
into that open custom of exchange,
a life running among skirts.


Album of doves
that comes to coo
the sister couple
who sleep in the sea.
The air in the trees
starts to play
at being mime & comb
kiss & madrigal.
Light. Calm. Silence.
Waves, nothing more.
... & the two sisters,
wives of the sea.


I speak to you of my destiny when I die,
one afternoon, beside the virgin fountain,
at the edge
of my final memory.
I hope you will say:
'His life was to a stone
as a song is to a lark. Exactly.
You left it to the alien mime
& the spark jumped - flint -
of a hollow smile
withering at its core.
He offered you his life, firm on the platter
of his friendship, full of itself, yes, to the very brim.
You had to tell him: "This is heavy"
& your hands gave out under the bulk
to the tug of the earth.'
'Take my life' - he said to you - 'beneath the flesh of my easy smile'.
Then his life was a dry leaf
in the arms of the wind...

You will also say: 'On his shoulders the heads
of friends stumbled over the edge
of fierceness...'

Later you'll fling me
- like a stone -
to the heart of oblivion.
& I will live out the sentence
I will die standing like the trees
I will leave this opaque dolmen that I am
planted in the earth.

& I will stay standing
                                          like a stone.

Translation notes

Santa Isabel is the former name of Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea.

Santa Isabel is the former name of the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo. The Wikipedia entry for Malabo says, 'During his "reign of terror", [President] Macías Nguema led a near-genocide of the country's Bubi minority, which formed the majority on Bioko Island, and brought many of his own tribespeople, the Fang, to Malabo. In the final years of his rule, when Equatorial Guinea was sometimes known as the "Auschwitz of Africa", much of the city's population fled as, indeed, did about one-third of the country's population. Malabo has yet to recover from the scars of that period.'

 We can assume from the date given to 'Point Cristina and Point Fernanda' (1967) that Marcelo wrote this poem when he was living in Spain training to be a priest, the year before Equatorial Guinea's independence from Spain. 

The first three sections of the poem are an affectionate and delicate celebration of Santa Isabel. 'Market' appears to be written from the perspective of a child 'running among skirts'. But following the lyrical and very beautiful section about the two points of the bay enclosing the city, the final part, 'Elegy in Stone', is much darker, perhaps articulating the poet's fears for his country and its imminent descent into political chaos.

Parts of the poem were difficult to translate, especially where it becomes very abstract. 'Elegy in Stone' was hard to master because of the ambiguity in the original Spanish of who was being addressed.

It's interesting comparing this poem with the work of Corsino Fortes from Cape Verde, some of whose poems, like 'Minitopography', were written in exile just before his small country gained independence from Portugal.

1 Comment

1 Yuliya

What about the rhymes that the original poems have? You’ve lost them allmost all. Can it be concidered adequate translations?

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