The Spanish original follows the English translations in this selection.


Contributor Notes


David Leo García

by David Leo García

Translated by

Sara Sams Sara Sams

David Leo García





Translator's Note

Through the empty archway a wind of the spirit enters, blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, in search of new landscapes and unknown accents: a wind with the odour of a child’s saliva, crushed grass, and medusa’s veil, announcing the endless baptism of freshly created things.

−−Federico García Lorca, “Theory and Play of the Duende”


More than any contemporary Spanish poetry I’ve had the opportunity to read, David Leo García’s poems seem to seek,through careful playfulness, the same path as the duende—that “mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained” Lorca put at the sad and buried heart of all Spanish art (Falla as qtd. in Lorca). In this search, the poet has “neither map nor discipline”; as in Lorca’s description of the duende, “We only know it burns the blood like powdered glass, that it exhausts, rejects all the sweet geometry we understand, that it shatters styles and makes Goya, master of greys, silvers and pinks of the finest English art (3). My job as a translator, then, has been to re-trace those inscrutable steps—to dive down to the duende of his poems and to bring back not simply his mastered greyness, but the greyness precisely in its moment of transformation into silvers and pinks, a flower just before it’s dead.

The initial tracing was nothing but pleasure: reading a David Leo García poem is as delightful as placing the last, snout-shaped piece in a puzzle of a cocker pug. Digging into “Dessert Menu,” for instance, I found absurd carrot after absurd carrot, chomped by absurd character after absurd character. The comic action began to overwhelm my senses; I was in an assembly-line of carrot-eating—a sensation emphasized by the repetition of “comiendo zanahorias” at the beginning of four lines and the ceaseless enjambment of the various chompers. It’s an odd and fun onslaught of images from a very Wonderland-esque world, but the poem’s speaker ends up somewhere completely surprising: right beside us, tilting his head to the side at the same strange sight, sighing in what might as well be my own exasperation.

Forgive me, ma’am, but why

would I want two perfect eyes

if—regrettably—the only thing I can see

is fields of men eating carrots (9-12, translation mine)

After reading these last four lines, what might have been an easy rendering of absurd images became a much more difficult task. Where exactly had that mysterious force crept into the blood of the poem, making tiny explosions of powdered glass? There is a sadness here—an awareness of the speaker’s circumscribed perceptive faculties, a loneliness in his ease of dismissing so important a sense as sight. There they all are, those people, who cares what they do, they’re all doing the same thing. But it’s a sadness felt only in the undercurrent of a flippant interaction with a waitress—and precisely in that undercurrent the speaker exhausts, rejects the vividness of imagination.

How was I to import his very smart lines of cheeky annoyance— “Perdone señorita para qué/ quiero dos ojos en perfecto estado/ si lo único que veo a mi pesar/”—into English without giving them a much too dramatic sense of futility? The key, for me, ended up being in the translation of that final image. I held on tightly to the to “plains of men eating carrots” as an English version of what the speaker sees in the end; I loved the ambiguity in the Spanish llanuras, as in plains or lowlands or flatness, the two-dimensional abstract quality that seems to be the lament of the poem. But it was much too-elevated diction for a crucial moment, and the substitute “fields” was a simple choice that made an enormous difference. It kept the visual image priority without losing the connotations of a flat expanse. The speaker seemed less like a bigote-clad hipster who spoke at inopportune times about geography; he became an ambiguous Seer of all of the disparate people in Spain eating carrots, the base ingredient of a carefully chosen dessert, having a special knowledge of it, aware of this keenness, reacting with just the right gradient of irony as the waitress (who has becomes much more ambiguous too, a sort of Deliverer of Desserts, an enforcer of enjoyment) who tells him to pick what’s yummy and good for him, to be a comrade, and of course he thinks, eh, what’s the point?

Of course I had many other obstacles in producing a satisfactory translation of “Dessert Menu”—how to import a list of Spanish professions into roles an English audience would be familiar with, for instance, while keeping the same sense of arbitrary social division (counselors became politicians, pedants professors). But I was astounded on how a translation can hinge on a single word and the journey it’s made “over the heads of the dead”—that though you might not be able to map the work of a poem or ever truly understand the poet’s own turns and bends, if you’ve luck you will eventually hit a magical hotspot; touch, for a second, the duende.

I’d also be a carrot-chomping dullard if I didn’t mention the subtle and genius use of form Leo García wielded in a lot of these poems. Unsurprisingly, the sonnets were especially hard to import from Spanish over to our clunkier, anglo-saxony tongue. I abandoned the attempt to rhyme at all in “Pink Moon,” but found that very discipline to be the only thing that helped me open up the world of “Sign.” More often than not, I abandoned the stricter guidelines of a form that in his Spanish seemed effortless for the benefit of carrying across more vividly the images of these strange little worlds—little worlds that nonetheless manage to drop a great arsenic lobster on you when you least expect it.





* * * * * * * *







Frozen carrots. Politicians

eating carrots. Boxers

eating carrots. Professors

eating carrots. Wallflowers

eating carrots. Some or other

specimen picking carrots

from streetlights and sacks of cement.


Good for your sight. Of course.

Forgive me, ma’am, but why

would I want two perfect eyes

if—regrettably— the only thing I can see

is fields of men eating carrots.










Zanahorias heladas. Consejeros

comiendo zanahorias. Boxeadores

comiendo zanahorias. Los pedantes

comiendo zanahorias. Los medrosos

comiendo zanahorias. Algún que otro

espécimen cogiendo zanahorias

de farolas y sacos de cemento.


Buenas para la vista. Desde luego.

Perdone señorita para qué

quiero dos ojos en perfecto estado

si lo único que veo a mi pesar

es llanuras de hombres comiendo zanahorias











I knew that this city wanted to contain me

with ceramic tile and blackbird squads

when I saw the deaf commissioners

lining up to convert me;


they followed me to the urinals

to document my gestures and advise me

that the proper forms are hanging from the poplars,

that the wind will shake them till I sign.


One afternoon I stumbled upon my jokes,

archived with all of my tardies

beneath a hodgepodge of disappointed dust.


All of my doings will be registered

precisely where ungiven kisses burn,

where small grudges can be managed.












Supe que esta ciudad quería cubrirme

de baldosas y mirlos legionarios

al contemplar a sordos comisarios

en desfile hacia mí por convertirme;


me acompañaban a los urinarios

para inscribir mis gestos y advertirme

que del álamo cuelgan formularios

que el viento agita para que los firme.


Casualmente una tarde vi mis chanzas

archivadas con todas mis tardanzas

bajo charcos de polvo defraudado.


Irán todas mis obras al registro

donde arderán los besos que no he dado,

los pequeños rencores que administro.











As much to tap the water as to see it run— the water

that nourishes what you take from what’s perishable; what

waters your incalculable thirst; the water

that helps you see everything anew,

as if you’d never blinked,

as if the invention of objects had ceased—

hoping not so much to be forever but to have been forever; water

to connect your organs, to clean your skull and

convince you that you’re not an object, not a sink—to convince you

that you have to spend your days as a man; the water

you drink to obtain an eternity,

as if being eternal would absolve us of being clumsy,

as if, by being eternal, we could avoid

the crash of a glass and the water on the floor.











Tanto arreglar grifos para ver correr el agua, el agua

que riegue tu simbología de las cosas que perecen, el agua

que preste agua a tu sed incalculable, el agua

que te ayude a mirarlo todo por vez primera,

como si no hubieras pestañeado jamás,

como si los objetos hubieran dejado de inventarse,

esperando, no ya ser hasta siempre, sino haber sido desde siempre, agua

para comunicar tus órganos, para limpiarte el cráneo y convencerte

de que no eres objeto ni lavabo y convencerte

de que tienes que cumplir tus días de hombre, agua

para beber, ara procurarte una eternidad,

como si ser eternos nos eximiese de ser tropes,

como si por ser eternos no se nos fueran

a estrellar los vasos de agua contra el suelo.











I can usually find them in hospitals,
in crosswalks, everywhere,
adrift between plays and throw-aways,
mapping lands, transient plans.

I often notice them in auditoriums,
and, when they raise a banner brusquely,

high up—either for Science or Arts—
they can give intimidating speeches.

People: a huge mass of news,
of buried jealousies and common things;

to define them without onomatopoeia
would be impossible: they crunch from caresses...

...the squeak of a cough... bottle babble.










Suelo encontrarlos en los sanatorios,
en los pasos de cebra, en todas partes,
a nado entre jugadas y descartes,
trazando planos, planes transitorios.

Suelo notarlos en los auditorios
y, cuando elevan bruscos estandartes,
en la altura las Ciencias y las Artes
dictan discursos intimidatorios.

Son gente. Ingente masa de noticias,
de envidias aburridas y plebeyas,

que definir sin onomatopeyas
no puedo: son crujido de caricias,
chirriar de toses, ruido de botellas.












When a storm breaks, skilled in its salting

of two bodies, don’t shield your face—

the current that forms will embrace

both the names and clothes of things;


when the moon moves bit by bit

without knowing itself, towards a chase

of prey hunting prey, races

across the night, reinventing it;


when we kiss, life is more dignified,

it stops being a sign in order

to be life. It is kept in a hundred beliefs


that a mouth never pronounces,

the moon is a moon and shines and fills the ages,

the hand is hand and loves what it touches. 











Cuando vence en dos cuerpos la tormenta

su destreza con sal, no la coraza,

y la corriente de ser uno abraza

los apellidos y la vestimenta;


cuando la luna se encamina, lenta,

sin saber de sí misma, hacia una raza

de cazadores presas en la caza

y cruza por la noche y la reinventa;


cuando dos nos besamos, lo más digno

es la vida, que deja de ser signo

para ser vida. Queda en cien verdades


lo aún no pronunciado por la boca,

la luna es luna y luce y llena edades,

la mano es mano y ama lo que toca.












I don’t know how to both talk and point at things.

I don’t know how to say you are as real

as a pinprick,

real as a design to die.

Objects and you. Objects exist

because I need them

or because I haven’t yet realized I don’t.

Real, like the palm of a hand

demands a reality.


A hand on a nape,

what’s solid on what’s solid—


I’d like

to be less evident


than this map of pores. I want to be

imaginable, but only with effort;


to be as tiny

as your notion of infinity.











No sé hablar y señalo los objetos.

No sé cómo decirlo, eres real

como un alfilerazo,

real como un intento de suicidio.

Los objetos y tú. Los objetos existen

porque los necesito

o no me he dado cuenta de que no.

Real como la palma de la mano

que pide realidad.


Una mano en la nuca,

lo sólido en lo sólido


y a mí

me gustaría


ser menos evidente

que este mapa de poros. Quiero ser

imaginable pero con esfuerzo.


Ser diminuto,

igual que tu noción del infinito.











Holding the garbage bags

like toxic dolphin skin,

culling from the trash

that is our months, from the trash

of our plans, all of the garbage

most worthy of being garbage...

The neighbors on my street run around like this,

leave at a bugle’s sound, slip

between the air and the galaxy’s pajamas.


The truck will come. The din

will pass like amnesia through the street,

an exterminating angel in uniform.

I’m livid; I’ve forgotten

to anoint this solid door with compost.

Missing in our house:

the shadow of a firstborn

sitting on the sofa, our delight,

our archangel of orange peels.











Sosteniendo las bolsas de basura

como la piel de tóxicos delfines.

Seleccionando de entre la basura

que son los meses, de entre la basura

que son los planes, toda la basura

más digna de acabar en la basura.

Así van los vecinos de mi calle,

todos saliendo al toque de corneta

entre aires y pijamas de galaxias.


Y llegará el camión. Todo el estrépito

pasará como amnesia por la calle,

exterminante ángel de uniforme.

Quedo lívido yo. Se me ha olvidado

con estiércol ungir mi puerta rígida.

En nuestra casa

falta la sombra de su primogénito

sentada en la sofá, nuestro deleite,

nuestro arcángel de mondas de naranja.











Now that the city has scattered

we will have to trust pink moons.

The crowds have stopped elbowing us—

we should file our rosy nails.


The signs encourage you to cough

as you tiptoe through the puddles;

If you ask me to show you a disorder

I will take a rose from my bag.


You go on without hope, but the dead envy you,

the dead long dead under these tiles;

everyone loved the white moon

but each moon’s only pink powder.


The girls are always running around, self-absorbed,

squeezing colorless gazelles.

The people of this city are dazed.

No one will get to die with roses.











Ahora que la ciudad se ha descompuesto

habrá que confiar en lunas rosas.

Ahora que los dos codos ya no irrumpen

tendremos que afilar las uñas rosas.


Caminas de puntillas por los charcos,

los rótulos te incitan a que tosas.

Pídeme que te enseñe los desórdenes

y a mi equipaje quitaré una rosa.


Sin esperanza vas, pero te envidian

los muertos muertos bajo las baldosas.

Todos amaban a la luna blanca

y sólo hay lunas hechas polvo rosa.


Corren las niñas siempre ensimismadas

para estrujar gacelas incoloras.

En la ciudad la gente está asturdida.

Nadie tendría una muerte entre las rosas.








* * * * * * * *




García, David Leo. Urbi et Orbi. Madrid: Hiperión, 2006.


García Lorca, Federico. Theory and Play of the Duende. Trans. A.L. Kline. Poetry in Translation. 2004. Web. 5 Feb. 2011.


Villena, Luis A. La Inteligencia y el Hacha: (Un Panorama de la Generación Poética De 2000). Madrid: Visor Libros, 2010.