Virginia Lucas

Virginia Lucas, from Monteviedo, Uruguay, is a poet, editor, and literature professor. Her books include the poetry collections Épicas marinas (Artefato, 2004) and No es de acanto la flor en piedra (Lapsus, 2005), the anthology Orsai: género, erotismo y subjetividad (Pirates, MVD, 2008) and Muestra de cuentos lesbianos (Trilce, 2010). She is Literature Director of the National Office of Culture (with the Uruguyuan Ministry of Education and Culture) and Research Coordinator of Queer Studies Montevideo.

Jen Hofer is a Los Angeles-based poet, translator, social justice interpreter, teacher, knitter, book-maker, public letter-writer, urban cyclist, and co-founder of the language justice and language experimentation collaborative Antena and of the local language justice advocacy group Antena Los Ángeles. Her recent and forthcoming books are available from a range of small presses, including Action Books, Atelos, Counterpath Press, Kenning Editions, Insert Press, Les Figues Press, Litmus Press, Little Red Leaves (Textile Editions), NewLights Press, Palm Press, Subpress, Ugly Duckling Presse, and in many DIY/DIT editions.
Translated by Jen Hofer

Por la defensa de la ley de Infantería: a Adela Reta
A los que se tajean para bajar del pegue, del dolor,
a los que se tajean para sentir, y a esos: que no hacen ni siquiera eso

Del abandono, del número: ch ch ch

Se le abre la vena, sino le tolera el dolor
la sangre baja te vuelve el ritmo de este piso a flor de tierra en la calle los paseantes tienen cuatro-cinco-seis con suerte siete años mis niños chiquitos con cuchillos mis paseantes asaltando plaza de juegos chillan, sin championes ni zapatillas ni chancletas1 dicen
palabra de túnica mugrienta que les calce el cuerpecito chiquito de hombre siendo desperdicio o despojo de polvo de fiesta de mi madre alguna tarde de piernas abiertas
tirada contra la cama mi hermano jugó a despertarla y darle golpecitos
pero caía ¿entendés que te quiero?
cayó mi hermano en el comcar cayó mi padre pasado de saber el nombre de la fiesta de mi madre ¿entendés que quiero lo que traés? – Dame plata dame lata, que me mires quiero, que me des bola, que tengo cuatro-cinco-seis Y te voy a matar, te juro que me la vas a pagar 4-5-6 veces, 3 niños solos, solitos van de a tres y tres no hace uno, sin embargo
el asalto es la réplica del cuadro cuando una palabra aprieta en la boca (dame, dame, dame)
4-5-6 toneladas de besos
¡Pero para ti niun verso mi niño!
para ti hacerte niño que quiero llorar y no decirte más 456 entradas que no que no puede ser que ese número de golpes no va. Tá, me duele, pará, pará Yo no fui no hice nada los tres lo hicimos
– retengo el cuchillo pequeño y vuelve a quedar pendiente tu edad 4-5-6 líneas atrás
que tus años importan
que tus cifras valen más, que la importancia de tus nombres.

1. ch con énfasis rioplatense. A la par, la repetición de 4-5-6 acompañada de gesto numérico en mano.

In defense of the Infantry Law: for Adela Reta
To those who cut themselves to come down from beatings, from pain,
to those who cut themselves in order to feel, and to those: who don’t even do that

2Of Abandonment, of the Number: ch ch ch

The vein opens, or rather pain is tolerated
the blood comes and the rhythm returns, of that footstep low to the ground on the street the passers-by are four-five-six or with luck seven years old my little kiddies with switchblades my passers-by committing assault on the playground screech, with no champions nor sneakers nor flip-flop chancletas3 to say nothing
of the filthy tunic that clothes their little man-bodies being leftovers or spoils of the dust from the party my
mother had one afternoon with her legs open
flung down on the bed my brother played at trying to wake her raining little blows on her
but she was falling—do you understand I love you?
my brother fell to the comcar4 my father fell rotten from knowing the name of my mother’s partying, do you understand I love what you bring?—Gimme dough, gimme grief, I want you to look at me, to notice me, that I’m four-five-six And I’m going to kill you, I swear you’ll pay for this 4-5-6 times over, 3 boys alone, all alone they’re going in threes and three doesn’t make one, nonetheless
assault is the replica of the image when a word presses on the mouth (gimme, gimme, gimme)
4-5-6 tons of kisses
—but for you notone single line mi niño!”
for you to make a boy of you I just want to cry and not say anything else 456 entries that can’t that can’t be that number of blows isn’t right. Ta, it hurts, stop, stop It wasn’t me I didn’t do anything all three of us did it
—I hold onto the little knife and once again your age remains unresolved 4-5-6 lines ago
that how old you are is significant
that your stats are worth more than the significance of your names.

2. A Note On Notes: Virginia Lucas’s work contains footnotes—some for purposes of explanation, and some for purposes of expansion, counterpoint, provocation, pique. In translating Virginia’s poems, I translate her forms and uses of language, including, of course, her notes. And in translating what is not translatable in her work—that is, what is most important to translate, the snags or tangles or collisions that don’t readily succumb to expression in English, and hence become opportunities for us as readers to become translated, or for English to be de-Englished—I take recourse in the form of the note, for purposes of explanation, expansion, counterpoint, provocation, pique. That is, I’m following the lead of Virginia’s poetics, even as I lead them astray. This is interventionist translation, perhaps—a form of ultratranslation (about which more here)—and is thus a little clunky and a little uncomfortable and a little lacking and a little excessive. It goes a little too far, while not getting near enough. It’s not quite right, as translation never gets things quite “right”—it’s not about rightness or fixity or one-to-one correlation, not about digesting the source or hitting the target, but about the always-in-process-of-failing attempt to recognize the substance and context of something from somewhere else, and bring that recognition here, while remaining wondrously aware of the processes of transfer, and of what resists transfer. (trans. note)

3. ch with emphasis from the Río de la Plata region. Likewise, the repetition of 4-5-6 accompanied by a numerical gesture, of the hand.

4. Comcar is the municipal prison on the outskirts of Montevideo (trans. note).

RECORRIDO ambulatorio (moderato, a dos voces)

Para llegar allá viaje en un 121. Allá está la rambla, la Ram bla.
Para llegar, es.pére, espere el ómnibus un ratito, es el 121, no el 370.
  • ¿Me avisás en Libertad?
  • Sí, claro, la próxima es libertad, la próxima Es libertad
  • pero casi siempre
    la próxima es libertad, antes viene Obligado…
  • ¿La conocés, no? Ahora, cuando estés por llegar fijate en Coronel Alegre
  • y seguí de largo, seguí de largo, ahí viene la Rambla…
    si la memoria no me falla en 26 de Marzo hay un Discount Bank, sí, en 26 de Marzo
    la agrupación Agricole y antes, un poquito antes, cuidado con CHUCarro
  • Ahí llamame tá?
  • Te espero en 21 de setiembre o si querés después de Libertad, de Obligado y de Santiago Vázquez me paro y te espero donde digas.
  • Digitame, timbrame:

  • No se pierda en la radio “el beso del osito” cómo me gusta tu beso me provoca (cantábile)

    Cómo me gusta mojar tu corazón. Llamame.

    ambulatory TOUR (moderato, for two voices)

    To get over there take the 121. Over there is the boulevard, the Bou blah levard.
    To get there, wait for the bus a while, wait a fa.r.ther wait, it’s the 121, not the 370.
  • Will you let me know when we’re at Libertad?
  • Yeah, sure, libertad is the next stop, libertad Is next
  • but almost always
    libertad is next, and before that comes Obligado5
  • ¿You know the stop, right? Now, when you’re about to get there look out for Coronel Alegre
  • and continue all the way, continue all the way, then comes the Boulevard…
    if my memory doesn’t fail me on 26 de Marzo there’s a Discount Bank, yeah, on 26 de Marzo
    the Agricole company and before that, a little before that, keep an eye out for CHUCarro6
    Call me when you get there, ’k?
  • I’ll wait for you on 21 de Sept or if you want, after Libertad, after Obligado and Santiago Vázquez7 I’ll stop and wait for you wherever you tell me to.
  • Text me, call me:

  • Don’t forget to listen to “el beso del osito” on the radio how i like your kisses they make me (cantabile)

    How I like to get your heart wet. Call me.

    5. “Libertad” and “Obligado” are street names, but they’re also common words/concepts: “liberty” or “freedom” and “forced” or “obliged,” respectively. (trans. note)

    6. “Chucarro” is the name of a street in the upper middle class neighborhood of Pocitos in Montevideo. Alejandro Chucarro (1790-1884) was a political figure prominent in the early days of Uruguayan independence. Virginia thinks of this poem as “a sort of bus tour” that creates a cacophonous political and referential collision because of the confluence of street names that appear along the route. Most of these would not be legible to readers unfamiliar with Uruguayan political history. Here the translation exceeds the original, perhaps. Non-Uruguayan readers of Spanish might not pause to ask why 26 de Marzo or Santiago Vázquez are meaningful as anything other than street names, as historically significant dates and personages are commonly used to name Latin American streets, and a reader might simply assume they reference some important event or person without investigating further. However, because of the formatting Virginia used for the word “CHUCarro,” I asked her about that term, which unleashed a much more detailed explanation of the political nuances of the nomenclature along the 121 bus route. Reading as a translator—inhabiting the not-knowing that translation both requires and invokes—exposed complexities in the original that translation of the words alone could not possibly address. Virginia says: “The text is a sort of bus tour…along different streets that by one of those weird coincidences of existence reference political twists of fate—like, for example, the intersection of a street that’s literally called ‘Coronel Alegre’ (‘Happy Colonel’) with ‘26 de marzo,’ which is a militant leftist political group in Uruguay.” Virginia thinks of “Chucarro” as resonating homophonically with “two cars” in English, on a street where one might easily see fancy cars. And further, in addition to public buses like the 121 that traverse that street, there is a proliferation of homemade horse-drawn carts (called “carros” in Spanish), driven by people who collect trash and recycling to resell. Virginia notes: “In the midst of a charming and coquettish city, this reality pierces through, of animal force and human traction.” (trans. note)

    7. Santiago Vázquez is another street name in the Pocitos neighborhood, and is also the name of one of the largest prisons in Uruguay, which happens to be located in a town called Libertad. (trans. note)


    “Cambiar el juego, no las piezas del juego”
    A. Bretón

    El sapo aplastado contra el suelo planito como una alfombra como la masa de una pascualina así en dibujito animado pasado por aplanadora por el rodillo el sapo planito planito, planito en superficie. El sapo no mira, es un sapo aplastado, no hecho plasta, plasta no, hecho plano, sapo aplanado en la planicie del suelo, sapo finito si se levantara, pero no. Sapo prefiere ser chatito por amor al piso, por enamoradizo por lámina angosta finito sapo sapo sapo papa chip, sapo tiene pensamiento único podría ser rana finita, pero no, escuarzo es genérico como batracio sapoaplastado de patas abiertas y chatas, chatitas todavía verde algo se le sale al planito, algo se le escapa algo chatito también como él, algo parecido a víscera si sapo tuviera algo más en superficie, sapo reventado plof!plof! sapo no ve ni hombre de mirada única ve pegadito chatito chatito chatito, no chanchito, chatito sapo no tiene N de chanchito ene de No puedo despegar del piso del terruño sí tiene seco cerquita mío como tú sapito, lindo lindo sapito, como tú planchadito de pelo lacio finito finidito sapo solo dice croac croac croac, pero rana también dice sapo sapo sapo reventado de pensamiento único dice que dice:

    posaposa esposa es sapo: Mari posa

    The Toad

    “To change the game, not the rules of the game.”

    The toad squashed on the ground plastered like a rug like the dough from a pascualina8 so like a little animated drawing passed over by a steamroller by a knee the toad plastered, plastered, plastered on the surface. The toad doesn’t watch, it’s a squashed toad, not made into a paste, not a paste, pounded smooth, toad pancaked against the surface of the ground, slim little toad if it were to get up, but no. Toad prefers to be flattened out of love for the floor, out of easy infatuation a tin plate narrow slim potato chip toad toad toad chip, toad has only one thought maybe to be a slim frog, but no, cranwell is generic like a batrachian squashtoad with open legs flat, flatty still green something coming out onto the plastered, something leaking out of him flatty like him, something similar to viscera if toad were to have something more on the surface, toad burst plof!plof! toad doesn’t see even a man with his singular gaze sees stuck flat flatty flatty, not nasty, flatty toad9 doesn’t have an n as in nasty as in No I can’t unstick from the ground of the lot it is indeed dry quite close to me as you are little toadlet, pretty pretty toadlet, like you ironed flat with straight hair fine finite finite toad only says croak croak croak, but frog also says toad toad toad bursting with singular thought says what it says:

    so toad sowed toad so wed toad wife: but Her fly10

    8. Spinach and cheese pie, specific to Argentina and Uruguay (trans. note).

    9. The original here creates a play between “chatito” (flat, snub-nosed, with a squashed or smashed face) and “chanchito” (piggy, dirty, filthy), and then in the next line picks up that play by saying the toad doesn’t have the “n” of “chanchito,” the “n” of “no puedo despegar del piso” (“I can’t unstick from the floor/ground”). In other words, in addition to having to locate multiple ways to describe this toad as “squished,” “flattened” “plastered,” etc (I color-coded Virginia’s use of all those synonyms in the original to be able to keep track of which term to use at which moment in the text), I needed to find a word for “flat” or “squashed” that could transform via the shift of just one or two letters into some kind of expression of filth and/or piggishness—and that transformed word needed also to contain either an N or another letter I could make into a negative to express “no puedo despegar del piso.” My first few attempts were unmentionable. In an earlier draft, I tried out “squished/squalid” and then “L as in unabLe to unstick from the ground” but numerous things about that solution felt unresolved and unsatisfying to me. I’m not sure “nasty” is totally resolved and satisfying, but it’s certainly closer. (trans. note)

    10. Here is an attempt to describe how the Spanish functions in this line: posaposa esposa es sapo: Mari posa

    posa = pose (third person singular), from the verb “posar,” to pose; inverts the word “sapo,” toad
    posaposa contains the word “sapo,” toad, and contains the word “sapo” inverted; it’s the word posa twice
    esposa = wife (also as a verb, is third person singular of handcuff) and contains the word “posa”
    es sapo = is (a) toad
    Mari posa = “mariposa,” butterfly, but also suggests a woman (named Mari) poses

    The closedness of the word “toad,” bookended by consonants, in comparison to the open phonemes of “sapo” continues to irk me. No matter how much I repeat “toad toad toad” to myself (which turned into “towed” and “to wed” and then “sowed” and “so wed” yet resists the tongue-slipping sonic elisions and collisions of Virginia’s line) I can’t find a wife in the word, or really much of any aperture into which to wedge a sassy froggy feminist analysis. It took me many hours of sitting in front of the computer writing word lists and petting Pancake the cat, and then one fortuitous bike ride along the Los Angeles River, to come up with even a draft version of this line I’d be willing to share with Virginia, let alone with other readers. And I’m still thinking it through in dream life and waking life. (trans. note)

    1era. lección

    Trazamos el mapa de la ciudad a la que pertenecíamos. Conocíamos el nombre del arroyo, el puente que unía a la capital, supimos que estaban la comisaría, las dos escuelas y el liceo. Entre dudas alguien pronunció una sigla: UTU. No supimos dónde ubicarlas.
    De las fábricas solo queda el frigorífico, y el aroma de la res volcado en el nombre del arroyo. Para llegar a nuestras casas, mantuvimos en el ejercicio previo de armar el mapa, las señas de siempre – sin nombres – : allí, cruzando el pasaje, a la izquierda del almacén de Rosa, ahí donde están los caballos, enfrente al arroyo, al lado de lo del gordo.
    En la Colonia fue igual: las calles están por hacerse, las numeraciones siguen hablando de la imposibilidad de referir: aquí, el barrio que empieza hace 80 años todavía no es una ciudad: (el cementerio, por suerte, no sabemos dónde ponerlo) algunos vivos estamos11

    11. Repita: fuera del marco está la Colonia Nicolich, paraje comprendido entre las rutas 8 y 101, al norte, al norte de la Ruta Interbalnearia.

    lesson 1

    We drew a map of the city where we belonged. We were familiar with the name of the arroyo, the bridge leading to the capital, we knew the police station was there, the two elementary schools and the high school. Amidst doubts someone mentioned an acronym: UTU.12 We didn’t know where to locate them.
    Of the factories, only the meat processing plant is left, and the dizzying scent of the cattle in the name of the arroyo. To be able to get home, we held on, in the prior exercise of assembling the map, to the same old indications—without names: there, crossing the alleyway, to the left of Rosa’s market, there where the horses are, across from the arroyo, next to the gordo’s place.
    In Colonial times it was just the same: the streets were about to be built, the numbers continue to speak to the impossibility of reference: here, the barrio that began 80 years ago still is not a city: (the cemetery, as luck would have it, we don’t know where to place it) some of us living still are13

    12. UTU, Universidad del Trabajo de Uruguay (Uruguay Workers’ University) (trans. note)

    13. Repeat: outside the frame appears Colonia Nicolich, a spot on the road between bus lines 8 and 101, to the north, to the north of the Ruta Interbalnearia (Inter-Resort Road).

    Máximas ONGenistas:

    En la zona metropolitana la hidroponia no florece aunque los cursos sean gratis.
    En los barrios nuevos la ilusión es todavía demasiado urbana, y el proceso no comulga con el robo ni la changa.
    Aquello de la conciencia de clase queda pendiente en el manual de la mesa de la sala de profesores

    Mi hermano, el maestro, me dice que nuestro padre, el maestro, le mostró un día un retrato: “sabés quién es ese señor flaco?” sí—le dijo orgulloso mi hermano—ese es Varela. Bien, muy bien—le contestó nuestro padre—. Ahora aprendé, que si seguís masturbándote vas a quedar como él.
    Los hijos y la Escuela, la Patria de Varela, mis hermanos.
    Los derechos no divididos, entre el gordo y el flaco.

    Para el realojo de la zona, 400 familias
    piden quedarse en el barrio: todos o nada no es cuestión de palabras

    “libertad o muerte” es el eslogan de unos pocos

    Los que conocen el frío del agua en una inundación, los pliegues de la piel en los pies en una inundación, los que conocen:
    “baja pronto el agua, dos o tres días, nomás”, “¿viste cómo salen burbujitas de la tierra?”

    Los que conocen la palabra “casa”.

    NGOers to the Max:

    In the metropolitan zone hydroponics isn’t blossoming though the classes are free.
    In the new neighborhoods wishful thinking is still too urban, and the process doesn’t square with robbery or odd jobs.
    All that stuff about class consciousness is still pending in the manual on the table in the teacher’s lounge

    My brother, the teacher, tells me that our father, the teacher, showed him a portrait one day: “do you know who that skinny guy is?” yes—my brother told him proudly—that’s Varela. Good, very good—our father answered him—. Now learn this: if you keep masturbating, you’ll turn out just like him.
    Children and School, Varela’s Homeland, my brothers.
    Rights undivided, between the fat and the skinny.

    To bring housing to the area again, 400 families
    asked to stay in the neighborhood: all of them or nothing it’s not an issue of words

    “freedom or death” is the slogan of just a few

    Those who are familiar with how cold the water is in a flood, the wrinkles in the skin of the feet in a flood, those who are familiar:
    “the water goes down quickly, two or three days, no more,” “did you see how little bubbles are coming up from the earth?”

    Those who are familiar with the word “house.”


    Dejar el corazón, músculo exposto a la feroz carnicería que agoniza
    la suave pulsación que move a sangre
    cuando uma joven leona se espregiza

    Haroldo de Campos

    Dejar el corazón, dejar el corazón en la forma del almohadoncito de mi madre
    dejar la mitad del corazoncito en el cuello de él, llevar en el mío el dige de él,
    la otra mitad…mi mitad.

    Desayunar: cuando ella estaba en el baño y él entró la miró celoso, ella le había dicho,
    te quiero dejar,
    ya no, no va,
    no va más.

    Él la miró, la miró desnuda a esa hora de la mañana del verano. El baño era algo precario, él la miró, le miró los senos, y se detuvo en el izquierdo
    le miró ahí el lado izquierdo del bobo y allí fue, en el baño. La atravesó sentada,
    le hundió el seno de un tajo, y cortó, cortó, tajeó, dañó con aquel cuchillo herroso
    rompió de un corte, el lado oscuro del corazón traidor de ella.
    Herida, esa mujer caía de la roja herida…cayó
    con el corazón roto, de celos.

    El niño miró la escena: el padre, la madre, tantos corazones en la baraja…la ambulancia no llegó. La policía hizo el traslado.
    Medidas precautorias: alcohólicos anónimos, en el juzgado.

    E: – Hay formas para cortar: en cubitos, a la juliana, en rodajitas, así, la media naranja o la cebolla, en aritos.
    Yo no sé cortar el corazón, lo dejo expuesto.

    V: – (Es.pére. Espere, espere la receta verde, va a ver que funciona en 10 días).

    I Trans.cribe

    To leave the heart behind, muscle exposed to the fierce dying butchery
    the gentle throbbing that moves our blood
    when a young she-lion stirs from sleep.

    Haroldo de Campos

    To leave the heart, to leave the heart in the shape of my mother’s little pillow
    to leave half her little heart around his neck, to carry in mine his charm,
    the other half…my half.

    Breakfast: when she was in the bath and he went in he looked at her jealously, she had told him,
    I want to leave you,
    It’s not, it’s not working,
    not working anymore.

    He looked at her, he looked at her naked at that hour of the summer morning. The bath was a little precarious, he looked at her, he looked at her breasts, and he stopped on the left one
    he looked at here there on the left side of her corazon and that’s where it happened, in the bath. He pierced through her sitting there,
    he buried her breast with one slash, and he cut, he cut, he
    slashed, he hurt with that steely knife
    he broke with one cut, the dark side of her traitorous heart.
    Wounded, that woman falling from the red wound…she fell
    with her heart broken, from jealousy.

    The boy watched the scene: the father, the mother, so many hearts in the deck of cards…the ambulance didn’t come. The police moved the body.
    Precautionary measures: alcoholics anonymous, in the courtroom.

    E: – There are ways to cut: in little cubes, julienned, in thin slices, like that, half an orange or an onion, in little rings.
    I don’t know how to cut a heart, I’d leave it exposed.

    V: – (Wait. A fa.r.ther wait, wait for the scrip, you’ll see it’ll work in 10 days).