I look for brooks: English version of the original in Spanish, "Yo busco Riachuelos," a rewriting of Julia de Burgos’ Río Grande de Loíz
I will steal, to open the open
a river is a river is a river is a river
I look for brooks
I give my eyes anew
and water takes you by surprise
the blue will spill over from the board of the sky
and red will ring into itself into a rose
where beautiful and open
has fallen from the beach
I take my same heart—broadened
to look for Brooke.
Who knows how to kiss a bird
Who confuses brief night with flying
a man of heavy rainfalls
confound clay with forms of sky
but can raise a moment of petals.
to give you notice that
ten thousand black crystals make a spring
my mouth is the fringe of the town of the roses
I look over brooks
to wear my rainy flesh
to hear voices that come in for a flight
I am broad
I pour out torrents of springs
bird for fallen bodies
I book the poem in the pieces
or loom for all the pieces in the poem,
Maybe ears will bleed of much much night
ears of grass
I look for brooks
I am a man
I have come out of bed
that elongates itself—surprise!
is her name
even if her name is Great River
But the river is great and the night awaits
Loíza is the night
How does the river know that her name is great?
And if there is no water is the river
Does anyone remember that her name is
Río Grande de Loíza, no river
the river is no river
he said, no river
she said, prized
she said her name was Río Grande
her name is Great River and there is no water
and there aren’t flowers
I break free
brooding over the question
Is it not a river
as it flows or someone
disappeared it, and who
did the river do
To be disappeared
That was not the question, but
When does one stop stealing a river
It can be done, I
Look for Brooke
It takes a signal like it takes a town, Loíza
to write a poem not like sylogisms, if
I, unaccompanied by a joy, if
I, the negative of the solid, I
as a child, if I read the poem, if
at some point, then, I read Gertrude Stein
then, the poem is at least
But Gertrude Stein is not night. Is
Gertrude Stein in Loíza, oh yes
Gertrude Stein is Loíza
I will look for a river
in the name of Brooke
Julia, I will look for you
Is Julia de Burgos a brook?
Julia de Burgos is a rose
But the river is a rose is of roses is of rubber
Julia, in the name of rubber
by the pink rubber gum, Julia
How does one disappear a river
the river inside of a black bag
bag is the night
the river into the river in a black bag
As we approach silence
I originally wrote a poem in Spanish, Yo busco riachuelos. That poem is a re-writing of Río Grande de Loíza, another poem written by Julia de Burgos and published in 1938. It (her’s) stands as one of Puerto Rico’s most important and best known pieces of literary writing. A nationalistic song of sorts.
Río Grande de Loíza is, I think, a great bad poem. As a nationalistic child, I used to know it by heart—and liked it. I spent many hours memorizing De Burgos’ poems in Antología Poética, one of the few books in our home library, which featured a nice drawing of her face on the cover. I relate to that face, the short hair, the pensive gaze, the delicate hand. But Río is overwhelmingly cheesy, so sentimental and patriotic, so full of poetic words, and well, Julia is fond of allegories—a strange relationship with language. I had to literally cut it into pieces to be able to approach it now, more like someone dealing with an old guilt, looking for pleasure. I made cuts where there could be no distance. Yo busco riachuelos began, thus, as a mixture of cuttings. I printed Río Grande de Loíza, scissored every single word, and worked with the pieces as if they constituted my only limited vocabulary. A limitation that was granted to me in the form of a difficult inheritance.
I always need friends and I looked for friendship in the writings of Gertrude Stein. She is contemporaneous with de Burgos, but alas, geography, social classes, and ethnicity! I think what happened is that Stein’s grammar started carving out images from the surface of word-cuttings from Río Grande de Loíza. An impossible geography now, by means of an impossible orthography, in which de Burgos and Stein meet and greet—and Stein somehow speaks Spanish. This hugs me. If the encounter also brought some humor to de Burgos’ all too earnest poetics, that is also a good thing if the poem does accomplish that.
It should come as no surprise that when translating my poem into English I realized that I needed Stein more than ever. Now not only for her grammar, but also for English vocabulary. I’m always just arriving at this language, so naturally the translation allowed for other kinds of word-games. The sequence changed, as one part started to sound better after another, and lines that are in the Spanish version found no place in here. I look for brooks became a longer poem made up of shorter sections, perhaps because one dominates better an unknown territory little by little and with much help from silence.
Cristina Pérez Díaz grew up in Puerto Rico, studied philosophy at UNAM in México, where she lived for nine years, and now lives in New York while she works on a PhD in Classics at Columbia University. She likes to write long elegies sorrounded by books and she is taking singing lessons. She is currently working on “Limited Vocabulary: A book of elegies,” and is directing a production of Euripides’ Herakles in the original Greek to the accompaniment of a reconstructed aulos.
Original artwork by Wayne Koestenbaum.