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MELO NETO, Jose Cabral de

Morte e vida Severina


O meu nome é Severino,
como não tenho outro da pia.
Como há muitos Severinos,
que é santo de romaria,
deram então de me chamar
Severino de Maria.
Como há muitos Severinos
com mães chamadas Maria,
fiquei sendo o da Maria
do finado Zacarias.

Mas isso ainda diz pouco:
há muitos na freguesia,
por causa de um coronel
que se chamou Zacarias
e que foi o mais antigo
senhor desta sesmaria.

Como então dizer quem falo
ora a Vossas Senhorias?

—  Essa cova em que estás,
com palmos medida,
?a cota menor
que tiraste em vida.
— ?de bom tamanho,
nem largo nem fundo,
?a parte que te cabe
deste latifúndio.
— Não ?cova grande,
?cova medida,
?a terra que querias
ver dividida.
— ?uma cova grande
para teu pouco defunto,
mas estarás mais ancho
que estavas no mundo.
— ?uma cova grande
para teu defunto parco,
porém mais que no mundo
te sentirás largo.

The Death and Life of a Severino


My name is Severino,

I have no Christian name ,

There are lots of Severinos

(a saint of pilgrimage)

so they began to call me.

Maria's Severino .

There are lots of Severinos

With mothers called Maria,

so I became Marias’s

of Zacarias, deceased.

But still this doesn’t tell much:

There are many in the parish

because of a certain colonel

whose name was Zacarias

who was the very earliest

senhor of this region.

Then how explain who’s speaking

to Your Excellencies
Translation: Elisabeth Bishop


The grave you’re in

Is measured by hand,

The best bargain you got

In all the land.

– You fit it well,

Not too long or deep,

The part of the latifundio

Which you will keep.

– The grave’s not too big,

Nor is it too wide,

It’s the land you wanted

To see them divide.

– It’s a big grave

For a body so spare,

But you’ll be more at ease

Than you ever were.

– You’re a skinny corpse

For such a big tomb,

But at least down there

You’ll have plenty of room
Translation: John Milton

Landscape of the Capibaribe River

§ The city is crossed by the river

as a street

is crossed by a dog,

a piece of fruit

by a sword.

The river called to mind

a dog's docile tongue,

or a dog's sad belly,

or that other river

which is the dirty wet cloth

of a dog's two eyes.

The river was

like a dog without feathers.

It knew nothing of the blue rain,

of the rose-colored fountain,

of the water in a water glas,

of the water in pitchers,

of the fish in the water,

of the breeze on the water.

It knew the crabs

of mud and rust.

It knew silt

like a mucous membrane.

It must have known the octopus,

and surely knew

the feverish woman living in oysters.

The river

never opens up to fish,

to the shimmer,

to the knifely unrest

existing in fish.

It never opens up in fish.

It opens up in flowers,

poor and black

like black men and women.

It opens up into a flora

as squalid and beggarly

as the blacks who must beg.

It opens up in hard-leafed

mangroves, kinky

as a black man's hair.

Smooth like the belly

of the pregnant dog,

the river swells

without ever bursting.

The river's childbirth

is like a dog's,

fluid and invertebrate.

And I never saw it seethe

(as bread when rising


In silence

the river bears its bloating poverty,

pregnant with black earth.

It yields in silence:

in black earthern capes,

in black earthen boots or gloves

for the foot or hand

that plunges in.

As sometimes happens

with dogs, the river

seemed to stagnate.

Its waters would turn

thicker and warmer,

flowing with the thick

warm waves

of a snake.

It had something

of a crazy man's stagnation.

Something of the stagnation

of hospitals, prisons, asylums,

of the dirty and smothered life

(dirty, smothering laundry)

it trudged through.

Something of the stagnation

of decayed palaces,


by mold and mistletoe.

Something of the stagnation

of obese trees

dripping a thousand sugars

from the Pernambuco dining rooms

it trudges through.

(It is there,

with their backs to the river,

that the city's "cultured families"

brood over the fat eggs

of their prose.

In the complete peace of their kitchens

they viciously stir

their pots

of sticky indolence.)

Could the river's water

be the fruit of some tree?

Why did it seem

like ripened water?

Why the flies always

above it, as it about to land?

Did any part of the river

ever cascade in joy?

Was it ever, anywhere,

a song or fountain?

Why then

were its eyes painted blue

on maps?

─Translated from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith