An Alphabet of Poets – P is for Prado


Poetry catches me with her toothed wheel
and forces me to listen, stock still,
to her extravagant discourse.
Poetry embraces me behind the garden wall, she picks up
her skirt and lets me see, loving and loony.
Bad things happen, I tell her,
I, too, am a child of God,
allow me my despair.
Her answer is to draw her hot tongue
across my neck;
she says rod to calm me,
she says stone, geometry,
she gets careless and turns tender,
I take advantage and sneak off,
I run and she runs faster,
I yell and she yells louder,
seven demons stronger.
She catches me, making deep grooves
from tip to toe.
Poetry’s toothed wheel is made of steel.

Adelia Prado ( 1935 – ) from The Alphabet in the Park,Wesleyan University Press, 1990, trans. Ellen Watson

Adelia Prado will turn Seventy Seven years old in December this year. She first published in her early forties and, according to the  2009 Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, she is one of Brazil’s foremost poets. Doesn’t surprise me. What does is how this devoted Catholic imbues her poetry with an earthiness so rooted in “this” world but never loses sight of the “other” world, the transcendent.  Her poems have roots and take off! I have a goose-bump meter when it comes to poetry – Prado often red-lines that meter. If that meter stops at 10 she sometimes hits 20!

Pieces for a Stained-Glass Window

Does Japan really exist?
Or any country I don’t know, with its parched coastline?
What’s between the thighs is public. Public and obvious.
What I want is your heart, the depths of your eyes
which do everything but speak.
If you look at me in Spanish, I’ll snap my fingers
and start dancing, dressed in red.
When I closed my eyes to the sun, I saw a blueprint,
perfection, for only a second and then forgot.
Just as the saints existed, so does God
with His unspeakable seductive power.
He’s the one who made gold, and gave us the discretion
to invent necklaces to wear around our necks.
Said like that it’s so pure I hardly see the sin
in buying one myself.
I’ve got the same desires as thirty years ago,
immutable as mosquitoes in the sun-drenched kitchen,
my mother making coffee
and my father seated, waiting.

from The Alphabet in the Park

In 1985 a young woman showed up on Prado’s door-step in the interior of Brazilin the town of Divanopolis. She had a handful of English translations of Prado’s poems. Lucky for us. Those translations became Prado’s only book of poems translated into English – The Alphabet in the Park. That young woman was Ellen Watson, now the director of the Poetry Centre at Smith College in Massachusetts and a celebrated poet in her own right. Her fifth collection Dogged Hearts was published by Tupelo in 2010. It’s a keeper!

And again, luckily for us, Watson has become a life-long friend of Prado’s and will be publishing, through Tupelo Press, a second volume of her translations of Prado’s poems in 2013. I had the good luck to work with Watson at a Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conference in Vermont last year. She shares her knowledge of poetry with grace and generosity. For anyone trying to wrestle a poetry manuscript into shape check out the Colrain  Conference! It helped me improve my manuscript, The Lucky Season, immeasurably.

One of Prado’s poems, Passion, too long to copy here, starts with lines that chill the heart of this poet:

Once in a while God takes poetry away from me.
I look at a stone. I see a stone.

from The Alphabet in the Park

Oh God. The curse of an eye going flat. Of not being able to say, as the writer and poet John O’Donohue once said: to see with unusual eyes. How Prado says it. Two lines. Just two lines and a world goes black. A master poet. One who,  I read somewhere, has been considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. If true, I am not surprised.

Prado has a deceptive playfulness. She can turn poetry into a sultry seductress in the poem above but behind her play is the reality of a world where bad things happen, where poetry might give her words like stone and geometry but is at heart a toothed wheel made of steel. It is a good reminder that poetry has a sharp edge if taken seriously. Or is pure terror as she says in the poem below:

Before Names

I don’t care about the word, that commonplace.
What I want is the grand chaos that spins out of syntax,
the obscure birthplace of “of,” “otherwise,”
“nevertheless,” and “how” all those inscrutable
crutches I walk on.
Who understands language understands God,
whose son is the word. It kills you to understand.
Words only hide something deeper, deaf and dumb,
something invented to be silenced.
In moments of grace, rare as they are,
you’ll be able to snatch it out: a live fish
in your bare hand.
Pure terror.

from The Alphabet in the Park

Her poetry leaves nothing out: God or this gorgeous ugly/beautiful world. A world of trash, a world of pebbles. There’s a salty tang in Prado’s earthy sensuality. She may be a God-fearing woman in the best sense of the word but she sees God in it all! What praise poems she writes! The word praise may not be there most of the time but the intent is. Praise to it all especially our sexuality!

Not Even One Line in December

I never want to desire death
unless out of holiness,
calling it sister, as Saint Francis did.
Almost the 25th and not one line.
My hips moving back and forth
and me not trying to contain the wiggle –
I should have walked like this my whole life
if I wanted to conquer the world.
Dusky butterflies, trash, pebbles,
soapy water seeping from the wall,
things offer themselves up to me
as I roam the neighbourhood.
A little girl watches from her tiled porch,
and not even a line.
My work is important because it’s all I have.
In a three-bedroom house with a tired back yard
the soul keeps moaning ah life….
The idea of suicide appears
and floats past the TV antenna,
but it keeps coming back, and not even a line.
I need to confess to a man of God:
I committed gluttony. I craved
the details of other people’s frailties,
and – even though I have a husband –
I explored my own body.
Not even one line in December, and I was born for this!
My soul longs to copulate!
The Wise Men rush past me, the star is in hiding,
it’s raining torrents in Brazil.

from The Alphabet in the Park

What a brave poem. What an inspiration to poets to be that transparent, that honest, without becoming mawkish. Yikes!

Here at the last, are some lines from Prado’s poem Mobile. I apologize for not including the whole poem. But treat yourself. Buy The Alphabet in the Park. And Prado’s new book translated by Watson, coming next year, as as yet unitled, from Tupelo!

from Mobiles

This is all I want –
to sit in the sun until my hide is wrinkled.
But the sun, too, will disappear behind the hill,
night comes and passes over me;
far from mirrors, I feel the dreams
of fame and travel, extraordinary men
offering me necklaces, words
that can be eaten, they’re so sweet,
so warm, so corporeal.
The trellis sags with flowers,
I sleep a drunken sleep,
judging the beauty of the world negligible,
craving something that neither dies nor withers,
is neither tall nor distant,
nor avoids meeting my hard, ravenous look.
Unmoving beauty:
the face of God, which will kill my hunger.

from The Alphabet in the Park

I am so grateful that this woman’s deep appetites remain. That her hunger has not yet been killed. We get to feast on her hunger. Such nourishment!

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