Federico García Lorca: “Ode to Walt Whitman”

Ode to Walt Whitman

By the East River and the Bronx,
the boys were singing, showing their midriffs,
with wheel and oil, leather and hammer.
Ninety thousand miners pulled silver from the rocks
and the children drew stairs and perspectives.

But none of them slept,
none wanted to be the river,
none loved the large leaves
or the blue tongue of the beach.

By the East River and the Queensboro Bridge,
the boys were battling with industry,
the Jews sold off to the river satyr
the rose of circumcision,
and the sky flowed across bridges and rooftops,
flocks of bison driven by the wind.

But none of them paused,
none wanted to be a cloud,
none searched for the ferns
or the little yellow snare drum.

When the moon starts to rise,
pulleys will turn and overthrow the skies;
a ring of needles will assail what is remembered
and coffins will carry off those who do not work.

New York made of slime,
New York made of wires and death.
What angel do you carry hidden in your cheeks?
Whose perfect voice tells the truths of wheat?
Whose, the terrible dream of your stained anemones?

Not for a single moment, beautiful old Walt Whitman,
have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies,
nor your corduroy shoulders worn down by the moon,
nor your thighs like those of the virginal Apollo,
nor your voice like a column of ash,
beautiful and ancient as a fog
that moans like a bird,
its sex pierced by a needle.
Enemy of the satyr,
enemy of the vine,
lover of bodies clothed in rough cloth …

Not for a single moment, virile beauty,
who among mountains of coal, billboards, and railways,
dreamed of being a river and sleeping like a river
with the comrade who would lay upon your chest
the tender aching of a simple leopard.

Not for a single moment, manly Adam of blood,
alone at sea, beautiful old Walt Whitman,
because on rooftops,
huddled together in bars,
coming up in bunches from down among the sewers,
trembling between the legs of the fancy chauffeurs,
or spinning on dance floors drenched with absinthe,
the faggots, Walt Whitman, are calling you out:

He’s one of us! One of us! And they tumble
into your chaste and luminous beard,
blond boys from the north, black boys from the sands,
crowds of shrieks and gesticulations,
like those of cats or snakes,
the faggots, Walt Whitman, the faggots,
clouds of tears, meat primed for the whip,
the boot or bite of the circus ringmaster.

He’s one of us! One of us! Stained fingers
point to the shoreline of your dream
when your friend eats your apple
with a hint of gasoline
and the sun sings in the navels
of the boys playing beneath the bridges.

But you are not looking for the scratched eyes,
nor the darkest swamp where children are submerged,
nor the frozen spit,
nor the curves split open like the belly of a toad
that the faggots carry off in their cars and on rooftops
while the moon flays them savagely on street corners of terror.

You were searching for a naked body that was like a river.
Bull and dream who would bind the wheel with seaweed,
father of your agony, camellia of your death,
and moan in the flames of your hidden equator.

Because it is right that a man should not look for delight
in the bloody jungles of tomorrow morning.
The sky has shores where life can be abandoned
and there are bodies that should not repeat themselves at dawn.

Agony, agony, dream, ferment, and dream.
This is the world, my friend, agony, agony.
The dead decompose beneath the city clocks,
wars keep on passing, weeping, with a million gray rats,
rich men give their mistresses
small illuminated dying things,
and life is not noble, nor good, nor sacred.

Man can, if he wants, be a guide to his desire
through veins of coral or into the naked sky.
Tomorrow, our loves will be stones, and Time
will be but a breeze sleeping among branches.

So I do not raise my voice, old Walt Whitman,
against the little boy who writes
a girl’s name on his pillow,
or against the boy who dresses like a bride
in the darkness of his closet,
or against the lonely men in casinos
who drink whoredom’s water with disgust,
or against men with a green look in their eyes
who love other men and singe their lips in silence.

But I do raise my voice against you, queers of the city,
you of swollen flesh and unclean thoughts.
Mothers of mud, harpies, sleepless enemies
of the love that crowns all the world with joy.

Always against you, who give to boys
drops of dirty death with bitter poison.
Against you always,
Fairies of America,
Homos of Havana,
Poofs of Mexico,
Pansies of Cádiz,
Queens of Seville,
Gaylords of Madrid,
Flamers of Alicante,
Fruits of Portugal.

Faggots of the world, murderers of doves!
Slaves of women, their boudoir bitches.
Unfolding in public like feverish fans
or ambushed in rigid hemlock landscapes.

Let there be no quarter! Death
flows from your eyes
and gathers gray flowers from the shores of slime.
Let there be no quarter! Listen to me!
Let the confused, the pure,
the classical, the famous, the lowly
close the doors of the bacchanal to you.

And you, beautiful Walt Whitman, sleep by the Hudson,
with your beard bent toward the pole, your hands wide open.
Soft clay or snow, your tongue is calling for
friends to watch over your bodiless gazelle.
Sleep, nothing remains.
A dance of walls disturbs the meadows
and America drowns itself in machinery and tears.
I want the strongest air from the deepest night
to blow away the flowers and letters arched above your grave,
and a black child to proclaim to the gold-hungry whites
that the kingdom of spikes now has come.

Federico García Lorca

Translated from Spanish by Paul Weinfield, © 2015
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