Circe Maia, translated by Jesse Lee Kercheval

Sage Vaughn, Overpass-swarm-2008
Sage Vaughn

We are springing into translation this month at Escape Into Life. Jesse Lee Kercheval has been working on an anthology of contemporary Uruguayan poets under forty, including Agustín Lucas, the soccer-playing poet featured on March 5. Today, from Kercheval’s earlier translations of the “senior” poet, Circe Maia, EIL is pleased to present the following three poems: “Alba,” “El LLamado,” and “Posesión” (“Daybreak,” “The Call,” and “Possession”).

Sage Vaughn, Sign-of-the-Covenant-2010

Ya comienza otra vez: un nuevo
Vuelve el amanecer a probar tonos
siempre un poco distintos de su
eterno vestido.

Ya la acción se repite: ¡Sonido! ¡Luz!
Muerde un diente de luz el horizonte
y él sube lentamente.

Estará así mejor? Es muy probable
que algún defecto todavía subsista
y mañana de nuevo recomience.


Already it starts again: a new
Dawn returns to try on tints
always slight variations on her
eternal dress.

Now, the scene is repeated: Sound! Light!
A tooth of light bites the horizon
and the sun rises slowly.

Will this way be better? It is very probable
that some defect still exists
but tomorrow it starts anew.

Sage Vaughn, Zuma-Goldfinches-2008

El llamado

La mirada recorre un mapa.

Ojo viajero
de ciudad en ciudad, de puerto en puerto
a través del azul, verde, amarillo
de países distantes.

Y más lejos, más lejos.

Y busca nombres raros en Islandia
en Australia, en islitas de Oceanía.

Pero no son lugares los que quiere
la mirada viajera:
son signos de lo lejos.

Un guiño fantasmal llama y espera
y da un salto hacia atrás si te aproximas.
La mano que llamaba retrocede.

No se sabe. Está lejos.

The Call

The gaze runs over the map.

The traveling eye
from city to city, from port to port,
across the blue, green, yellow
of distant countries.

And further, much further.

And searches for strange names in Iceland,
in Australia, in tiny islands of Oceania.

But they are not places
the traveling gaze wants:
they are symbols for far away.

A ghostly wink calls and waits
then jumps backward if you approach.
The hand that was beckoning retreats.

Was it calling?
Was it waiting?

Sage Vaughn, Modern-Love-2010


Ha visto las palmeras de su plaza
casi al amanecer o cuando cae
la sombra y ha cruzado
– y siempre en diagonal – al mediodía.

Esas palmeras, esas anchas calles
por donde el paso anuda
sus rápidas puntadas
¿no son acaso suyas?

Más bien es al revés: él es de ellas
y ahora lo descubre.

Ellas: él mismo en ellas
caminante y camino.


He has seen the palm trees of his plaza
almost at dawn or when the shadow
falls and has crossed
– always on the diagonal – at noon.

Those palm trees, those wide streets –
through which the step knots
its rapid stitches –
are they, perhaps, not his?

Better the reverse: he is theirs
and now he finds it out.

Them – he is one with them –
the wanderer and the way.

Circe Maia author photoCirce Maia is the author of nine books of poetry. She was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1932, but she has lived most of her life in the northern city of Tacuarembó where she taught philosophy. In 1972, when the military dictatorship took power in Uruguay, police broke into her house in the middle of the night and arrested her husband for supporting the Tupamaros, leaving Maia behind only because she had just given birth to their youngest daughter, an experience she wrote about in the short autobiographical novel, Un Viaje a Salto (Editions del Nuevo Mundo, Montevideo, 1987). Her collected poems, Circe Maia: Obra poética (Rebeka Linke Editores, Montevideo), was published in Uruguay in 2011. In 2013, she was awarded the Delmira Agustini Medal of Art by Uruguayan President, José Mujica.

Jesse Lee Kercheval author photoTranslator Jesse Lee Kercheval is the author of 13 books of poetry, fiction, and memoir, including the poetry collection Cinema Muto (SIU Press, 2009) and the novel My Life as a Silent Movie (Indiana University Press, 2013). Her translations of the Uruguayan poet Circe Maia have appeared in the New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Agni, the Colorado Review, the Gettysburg Review, Jubilat, Pleiades, the Cincinnati Review, and the Mississippi Review. She is also the editor of América invertida: an anthology of younger Uruguayan poets which is forthcoming from the University of New Mexico Press. She is currently the Zona Gale Professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Wisconsin.

Many thanks for this feature to Jackie K. White, our new Translations Editor!

Circe Maia’s Website

Jesse Lee Kercheval’s Website

Agustín Lucas, translated by Jesse Lee Kercheval

More Mixed Media Art by Sage Vaughn


One response to “Circe Maia, translated by Jesse Lee Kercheval”

  1. […] Socorro and I are now working on a set of poems by another Dominican, Carmen Natalia Bonilla Martínez (1917 – 1976), Llanto para el hijo nunca llegado (Lament for the Child Never Who Never Arrived). Also related to translation, I’ve recently begun serving as the Translations Editor for a quarterly feature in the online journal, Escape into Life. The first translation feature there is Jesse Lee Kercheval’s work from Uruguayan poets, Augustín Lucas and Circe Maia. […]

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