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World Poetry Portfolio #67: Rikardo Arregi Diaz de Heredia

World Poetry Portfolio, edited by Sudeep Sen in association with ATLAS Magazine

rikardoRikardo Arregi Diaz de Heredia was born in Vitoria-Gasteiz en 1958. He studied psychology and teaching in Salamanca and Basque Philology in Vitoria-Gasteiz. His first book of poems Hari Hauskorrak (Fragile threads) in Basque (Erein Publishers, 1993) got the Critics Prize. In 1998 he wrote Kartografia (Cartography) in Alberdania; this book also won the Critics Prize ant it was translated to Spanish by Gerardo Markuleta and published by Bassarai with the title of Cartografía in 2000. His poems can also be found in various anthologies of Basque poetry published in Spanish, German, Galician, Slovenian, Portuguese and English (Six Basque Poets, Arc Publications, 2007). Various poems have appeared in European and Latin American magazines. He has written for different newspapers and periodicals in the Basque Country, and he now writes for Deia newspaper. He has worked in the collective book Desira desordenatuak. Queer irakurketak (euskal) literaturaz, Utriusque Vasconiae, 2010, a study on gay issues in Basque literature. He currently is a member of the editorial board of the online literary magazine Volgako Batelariak. His last book of poems, Bitan esan beharra (It must be said twice, 2012), also won the Spanish Critics Prize.


Translated from Basque by Amaia Gabantxo



Impossible to know how to clean those rivers.

Desire is lost amidst the cars;

the last strand of courage collapses on the ground

with the shopping bags, it’s no one’s fault.

Gone are the days when doves rested on

shoulders, and mere flesh has now

become a statue. Dust and fallen leaves,

murky waters, darkened windows everywhere.

I detect the smell you left behind.

We need trumpets here, please, trumpets.

I stare at the sky waiting for the clouds

and the darkest doesn’t harbinger rain.

On the other side of the glass pane

a woman cries as she talks on the phone,

her shopping bags abandoned at her feet;

it feels life is about to end

but it goes on relentlessly, wretched thing.

Rain erodes mountains; likewise,

a single tear corrodes the body, gnaws at it.


Is anything more painful than telephone promises?



Sing me one of the Schubert’s Lieder,

one of the sad ones,

Tränenregen, or Der Lindenbaum,

pregnant with forlorn forests,

swollen with transparent rivers,

brimming with impossible loves.


Play the piano softly

and sing me the saddest Lied.

Make room for poor Franz

by the fire.


And if you happen to sing the word Herz,

make sure to give it the expression, the modulation it requires,

believe we are Romantics

circa eighteen twenty seven

and one of us has an unmentionable incurable disease.

Because no one will ever comprehend

our courage, our beauty.



While leisurely crossing the streets and squares of Gasteiz

like I do every day, to go to work or visit friends,

I realize suddenly, distraught,

that to do this there

is very dangerous most days,

and looking at the roof-tops I try to guess,

with cold eye and tremulous thought,

which one the sniper would choose,

where would the bullet that turns

my head into a black flower come from.

Isn’t that square suspiciously wide. And that street.

What about all the tall buildings that surround the park.


I have heard there are no longer

any trees left in the parks of Sarajevo,

that people have used them to heat their houses,

and distraught, I realize suddenly

I couldn’t possibly light a fire anywhere in my flat.

And besides, my street is full of official buildings,

and given that government offices are so important

in times of war,

I realize suddenly, distraught,

that my street might well have turned into a mud field;

my house in Sarajevo

might well have disappeared.


How does my other self in Sarajevo manage?

Does he still go to work, for example? Or

are all those normal habits long gone?

And distraught, I realize suddenly

that the schools are probably closed,

and mine, in any case, is on the other side of the railway line, near the station,

and railway lines and station are the kind of places that get taken

in time of war.


The long awaited news and letters

I no longer write never reach anywhere.


How do I do the shopping in Sarajevo?

Ever since a kilo of potatoes went up to 10 marks

I spend hours adding and subtracting,

yet the result is always hunger.

And suddenly I realize, distraught,

that hunger, cold, fear, queues, bad luck,

are common currency

in times of war.


And now the city is divided,

the internal borders are wounded,

and the blood oozing from them isn’t metaphorical;

from the railway and beyond lie our enemy friends,

from here to the bridge our friendly enemies.

How have I adjusted to the lot that has befallen me?

And distraught, I realize suddenly

that my mother lives in the West and I, unfortunately, in the center,

and that the two areas, and my brother’s too, might be further separate

in times of war,

and that such separations are cruel and unpredictable,

and I will be there then because I ate at yours.


The geography of Gasteiz isn’t that inappropriate strategically

the artillery would easily find a good place.

Zaldiaran or the mountains of Gasteiz

might not be as spectacular as the Ilidza range,

bur bombs thrown from there can hit targets just as well.

And all the cityless citizens

can go out on the roads on foot with little backpacks too,

and boil in summer and freeze in winter,

get lost on roads that lead nowhere,

and seek a haven that never was;

the key is to stay alive till the peace treaty is signed.

I hope the devil won’t add another 6 to that.


And, little town, thy streets for evermore

Will silent be; and not a soul to tell

Wy tou art desolate, can e’er return.

John Keats

A couple of days ago

as I walked down Zapa Street

I saw our favored dive,

the one that was more home

than bar, being demolished

-call it urban regeneration.

You can still see them, amidst the debris

the contours of the bar,

the toilet, the storeroom,

the corners where joy was dealt,

the shadow of the stairs on a wall.

And in shock, under the rain,

it struck me as a good subject,

both easy and fitting,

for a poem about longing

for a past long gone;

it made me think of Pompeii,

for example, or Rome

-note to self: Latin quotes.

O, to compose the loveliest ode

on the subject of ubi sunt

and weave it with wounded words.

Or a letter, say, to Fabius,

my friend; a missive,

a classic epistle like no other,

using the ruins of our bar

to illustrate the fall of civilization.


It’ll need an aura of doom,

of course, towards the end,

mention Bukowski, Amsterdam,

jail, death,

and all that.

But, as I walk on

-too much rain

for such

poetic ruminations-

I conclude it’s quite vacuous

to write about old stuff,

and I’m not in the mood

to glorify the past. Because

I have never believed

-heathen that I am-

that we were happier back then,

any more so than today:

and I know, because I know,

how adept we are at

camouflaging the bitter grapes

of yesterday,

how adept we are at

rehashing imaginary ecstasies.

So. Seeing as how

Latin isn’t very in

amongst the living

-the dead aren’t bothered-

I have gladly offered up

those heroic days

to the gods of forgetfulness.

And, the truth is,

I don’t care.



Farai un vers de dreit nien:

non er de mi ni d’autra gen,

no er d’amor ni de joven,

ni de ren au,

qu’enans fo trobatz en durmen

sus un chivau

William IX, duke of Aquitaine


Like William of Aquitaine

I am writing a poem about nothing;

not about me or anyone else,

not about love or youth,

but about pure nothing.

I will say I had a snooze

on the sofa.


I don’t know the time of my birth,

I am not congenial or melancholy,

I am not sad or happy,

and there is nothing else,

other than one night, they found me

in a park.


Unless I am told I never know

whether I am awake or asleep,

a pin-sharp pain

tried to break my red red heart,

and I wouldn’t pay a penny

for a vessel of tears.


I am sick, afraid of death,

I only know what I have heard,

I am after a doctor I will like,

where is he,

if he cures me he is fine,

not, however, if I die.


I have a friend, yes, though I ignore who he is,

granted, I never saw him anywhere,

I did him no harm or good,

and it doesn’t matter to me,

for there has never been a thief

in my house.


I love him though I have never seen him,

he has never said yes or no,

and I don’t worry if I don’t see him,

I have a handsomer, stronger,

taller one

in reserve.


I ignore where he lives, is it Berlin or

is it Paris; whatever, please, but not Gasteiz,

I won’t say what he does to me,

better to remain silent,

he has no intention of coming here,

therefore, I am going.


I have written a poem like

William of Aquitaine, I have no idea what it is about,

I will send it to someone through

someone else, please take it over

to Riga soon,

I will ask him, he knows it,

the secret key.



Remember always that sorrows

and joys never last

and everything is in flux, everything;

everything is in eternal flux.

I didn’t get those words from

the writings of wise men

sitting cross-legged in distant,

misty Eastern shores;

a noble son of Byzantium

wrote them in Greek (how decadent),

it was his advice for decadent times.

Despite having read lines like those

often, today they’ve hit me hard,

though I don’t need consoling,

and I’d like this joy to last forever.

But here you are, Cecaumenos,

at the emperor’s service:

trusty, pessimistic, blunt strategos

laden with eternal truths.

I thank you, of course,

for the words and dreams,

and hold the book in my hands

and, feeling much calmer, read again

that there are no dragons, no satyrs,

though angels, on the other hand, exist.



Witches and soothsayers,

I’ve researched them all.

I am master of

all superstitions. I have

made careful use of all

gestures, games and words

invented to obtain love.

Even the traditions of your land,

or of remote Madagascar,

secreted away

in ancient tomes.

All have I taken into account,

so that my hands can fly

over the boundaries

you have imposed.


I have collected the leftovers

your body discards everywhere.

Bits of nail, little hairs,

shirts drenched in sweat;

your sterile fluids.

Afterwards I have boiled them

with fresh flowers at dawn,

burnt them on marble altars

under the auspices

of the Morning Star,

drenched them in mercury

under the moonlight,

buried them secretly

under your roof.

Seven times seven turns

I have taken around your house,

chanting fervently all the while

the witches’ spells,

the alchemists’ formulas.

And all at the right times,

because I know the dates

that bode well, according

to the time and place

of your birth

and Palenque’s horoscopes.


But nothing has worked so far.

Your reason, Enlightenment child that you are, has weakened my witchcraft.


I have placed my hopes

in genetics now,

and started anew

collecting your leftovers.

Bits of nail, little hairs;

your sterile fluids.

With scientists

I will break down your pheromones,

amino acids, enzymes,

your cold molecules.

Soon we shall have the most

rational of philtres ready,

so that my hands can fly

over the boundaries

you have imposed.



The city was dark,

they said everywhere.


It’s too bright for us.

They don’t understand

our game. Our fight.


They stare, puzzled,

at our clothes. At our desire.


The games, the fights, the t-shirts

are ours alone.

And that’s fine.


The parks, the squares, the wide avenues.

Passion, desire. Ours alone.


Second Empire style houses.

Mirrors amongst equals,

ours. The bodies, ours too.


The people’s palace.

The little churches, the museums.




Perhaps because we’d nothing else

to talk about after dinner,

or because one of our posse

had just died maybe,

and we were sick of sadness,

we took turns to wish for

possible, demented reincarnations;

our faith wasn’t firm, it was whimsical really,

and so were we, and still are,

and accordingly we chose our next lives.


Quick as anything you said

you’d come back as a rock star

and tour the globe;

so you played air guitar,

shook your hair, splayed your legs,

to show us how.

When my turn came

I said after I died

I’d like to be the guitar

in your arms.


I still remember your shock.




As we crossed the square near my house

you suddenly stopped behind us

to look at that sculpture I don’t much

like, what is what  written all over your face.


I told you about Xabier Munibe then,

about the fleeting Enlightenment we had

in the 18th century, about Basque theatre,

about the Knights of Azkoitia, Samaniego,


Bergara, about encyclopaedias and light,

and the darkness that used to hide the light,

about the Society of Friends of the Basque Country,

about Olagibel and neoclassicism.


Your eyes were so unflinchingly bright,

your arms raised, steadfast, pointing

at the symbol carved on the stone,

the three hands, the three hands, you kept saying.








You burst out laughing as you tried to read

the motto, ir-fratz… IRVRAC BAT, while vainly I tried

to explain how now we would write “hirurak bat”,

how we pronounce it and that it means “the three are one”,


but by then you had climbed the statue

and were hugging the hands and the words

while we watched from below in disbelief,

as you screamed hirurak bat like us,


hirurak bat like us, that we should have it tatooed,

but that maybe instead of the hands we should

have three hard cocks, adopt it as our very own

very unapologetic coat of arms.


Then you asked how we say forever in Basque

and whispering the words

hiruak bat betiko, hiruak bat betiko,

we hugged, feeling proud and strong,


while the Count of Peñaflorida

looked away very discretely.

Since that day, at the end of your messages

you always sing: HIRUAK BAT BETIKO.

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