Though he abandoned his poetry following the cartel murder of his innocent 24-year-old son, Javier Sicilia’s mystic poetry remains an important fixture in contemporary Mexican poetry. His last book of poems, Desert Triptych, won the Aguascalientes Prize for Poetry in 2009, and features the prophetic voice that Sicilia has harnessed during his Caravan for Peace, now making its way through the United States (read “Bi-National Caravan for Peace,” by Ryan Bell and David Shook in The Huffington Post). Reflecting Sicilia’s lifelong commitment to socially engaged Catholicism—the poet was a close friend of Ivan Illich during his time in Cuernavaca—Desert Triptich echoes classic mystics like St. John of the Cross, emulates and reworks the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament, and converses with poets from Dante to Celan to Eliot. The following poem comes from the second section of the literary triptych, called The Night of What Is Open. —DS
What Is Open
To us, who walk upright,
as if the fate of our condition would be covered by that gesture,
not the animal that advances low to the ground toward what is Open,
a backwards and forwards in the happening of the infinite;
not the tree that rooted
—its mouth within the earth,
its sex against the wind—
inhabits the pure space of your immobility;
not the angel, too perfect in its beauty,
an essence made of space,
bird of light suspended in the eternal;
but we who advance gropingly
between heaven and earth, terrified of death,
hollowed with holes;
to us, viatores,
—who yearn for both the earth and the heavenly
and aren’t at peace with ourselves—,
only love saves us from our anxious flight forward,
as if in the contours of what is loved what is Open would close
and the hollowness of flesh would find repose in what is created
and would not see its death,
but rather a proclaimed beyond,
contained within the limits of the body.
Lovers know it,
those, so close to one another, who
look amazed into the Openness that their eyes discover in their eyes.
But neither one or the other cross into it
and they return to the world.
Could it perhaps be the fear of the infinite call
or the sweet nostalgia of forever residing in what is created
that never restrains them?
Or maybe that is our place,
the spot of the eternal that corresponds to us:
to contemplate and feel the infinite wrapped in the flesh,
in that mutual giving of one to the other,
while the slow flight toward what is Open allows us to inhabit the duration,
that already but not yet
that the lovers live at grazing skin;
that eternal presence
that makes us present in ungraspable time
like a tenuous crack
in the porcelain alb of the Open.
translated from the Spanish by David Shook
Poem © Javier Sicilia and Ediciones Era, 2011. Translation © David Shook, 2012.
Javier Sicilia was born in Mexico City in 1956. He is one of Mexico’s most important writers, and has won prizes for his fiction, poetry, and screenplays. He’s written columns for the progressive magazines Proceso!, Siempre!, and La Jornada Semanal. His most recent—and last—book of poetry, Desert Triptych, won the Aguascalientes Poetry Prize in 2009.
David Shook is a poet and translator who grew up in Mexico. His poems, translations, and essays appear widely. More at davidshook.net.