I begin with a sentence I find appealing. It might be a dream sentence or a mistake sentence or a sentence said only in my mind. It could be someone else’s sentence, said in a language they are learning, or when they thought no one was listening. Often, it appeals because it is a strange thing for a person to say. Or else I like to listen to it. Then I follow the sentence’s sounds to make the next one. This helps me pick words that surprise me. Eventually, the words might form a pleasing soundscape.
Recently, I started writing in Spanish again. I’m curious about what will happen. So far I have found it disorienting to try and follow sounds. I can’t tell which ones keep good company. So I am learning new ways to surprise myself, and these have more to do with choosing words based on what they mean. Which I find interesting, because I know the meaning of fewer words in Spanish. I hope, for example, to happen on two words or else two thoughts, one after the other, that I have not seen together before.
Regardless of how it gets there, I think surprise is an important thing for a poem to have. I think it’s true that if I’m surprised by what I write then whoever is reading the poem will be too.
Boys, I have brand-new makeup on, she said, though there was no one around to hear her. She said it louder, and then she yelled it, and all the pigeons lifted up, and flew west, then east, then settled down on the other side of the plaza. She settled down too and began to sing. She sang sweetly and the pigeons flew up again and joined her. Some of them cooed. Not long after, she painted her pointed lips to the sky and all of it turned electric pink. The city’s water-stained buildings, rusted balconies, and palm trees slowly lost their colours for the day. She dusted her eyes midnight blue and out of the shadows people moved into the plaza. Soon, it was full of them and the cool night air. They sat down on the stone benches and lay about in the patches of grass. She heard their words and sighs and silences. Brand-new makeup on! she said, as a boy walked by. He was not wearing a shirt. Hello, beautiful, she whispered. The boy walked quickly until he was past her. He had tried not to look, but there she was, sequins and painted skin, a wheelchair, high heels, a smile that confused him.
I was a hot horse, he said. He did not look like a horse; he did not look like he could gallop. I was a hot, hot horse in the mountains, he said. But he was in Buenos Aires now, driving a taxi late one night. For ten years, I did not leave those mountains. Now I hardly ever leave this city, he told me. In this city, it had not finished raining. He drove fast, past the other cars on the road, his face flushed, flashing ruby, emerald, gold. Where do you come from and where are you going? he wanted to know. The moon, I said: I was in no mood for chitchat. Sure thing, he said, and started to accelerate. Soon, we were racing through the liquid night. Beyond the wet windows: sky rises and neon lights, bus shelters, pizza parlours. Then the dark river, the weeping willows. The horizon. The taxi began to climb. It climbed and wound around and then down and then all the way up and into the mountains. Outside, the damp dark had become white; the rain, snow. I could see my breath, but said nothing. I rubbed my hands together. Thick snowflakes slid down the windows. Suddenly, beyond them, three horses, white and wild, were galloping alongside us. Caballos cimarrones, he said, and in the snowy dawn, he lowered one window and then another, and slowed the car to a stop.
DOWN ON THE BEACH
I think it was the first experience losing something from my heart. At first I didn’t want to let it go, so I held on tightly. But the more I clung to it, the more it desired to be free of me. It tried to escape but I held on tighter still, until one day, when I wasn’t looking, it succeeded, and was gone. First I searched for it in all the usual places, like in my coat pockets and between the cushions on the couch. Next I looked in unusual places: in the oven, then mixed in with the cat chow, in my belly button even. Weeks—or was it months—passed before I felt ready to look outside. I raised the blinds and peered through one window, then the next. It was a cold and bright and blue day. I opened the front door and stepped onto the lawn. The lawn was overgrown. It sloped slowly upwards to the evergreen tree, your evergreen tree. It was taller than our house, now; my house, now. I started to climb it to see what I could see from the very top. I climbed carefully, looking for the best place to put a foot and then a hand. As I got higher, I started to feel the sea, and when I reached the top, I sat down on a branch that sank and swam in the wind. I could see the whole town, the white houses and orange roofs, and beyond them the shore. I could see the surface of the water shifting in the wind, and the gulls drifting. For some time, I sat there, looking at the top of the town and the ocean. Then, suddenly, I thought I saw you down on the beach, and I gasped. You were standing just beyond the wooden boats, in your red parka. But parts of you were bigger than I remembered, and others were smaller, and finally, I wasn’t sure if I had found you, or imagined you in someone else, or if I hadn’t seen anyone at all.
Sarah Moses is a Canadian
writer and literary translator from Spanish and French. She has published one
chapbook in English and one in Spanish: Those Problems (Proper Tales Press, 2016) and as they say (Socios Fundadores,
2016). Her writing and translations have appeared in Brick, Harper’s
Magazine, The Fiddlehead and elsewhere. She translated Agustina Bazterrica’s novel Tender Is the Flesh and her story collection 19 Claws and a Black Bird (Pushkin Press / Scribner) and
co-translated Sos una sola
persona by Stuart
Ross (with Tomás Downey, Socios Fundadores, 2020), and Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz (Charco Press, 2017), which was
longlisted for the International Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Best
Translated Book Award, among others. Her first collection, Strange Water,
is forthcoming from 1366 Books, an imprint of Guernica Editions.