Carlos Llaza: Arequipa, my hometown, is surrounded by three volcanoes. These omnipresent Apus mark the character of the place and its inhabitants. In fact, the town was originally built using large bricks of white rock known as ‘sillar’, extracted from quarries at the foot of the volcanoes. The idea of home as where we come from and where we are heading back to is explored by this piece. The white stone hence becomes the material with which our transcendence is built. The title, ‘Piedra blanca’ contains a slight reference to one of César Vallejo’s well-known poems, ‘Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca’, albeit adopting a more hopeful approach.
Dorothy Lawrenson: I’m fascinated by the relationship between language and place, and the significance of both for one’s sense of identity. Although I’ve seen Arequipa only in photographs, the white stone with which it is built does look stunning. The repetition of ‘piedra blanca’ in the poem comes to seem almost totemic, as the speaker uses the words to reconstruct this luminous city. Such places live in the poet’s mind and heart, even – or perhaps especially – when the physical location is 10,000 km away.
Scroll down to see a video of poet and translator reading this poem, with English subtitles.
por Carlos Llaza
No como brota el vello o el tallo,
ni como las hojas y otros cuerpos
se hacen tierra, no un espiral de humo;
sino un violento despertar a flor de piel,
un trago de aire atravesado en la garganta,
un traje espléndido y a la medida.
Piedra blanca sobre piedra blanca,
nuestra ciudad reconstruida
bajo el trasluz de la cordillera.
Salimos en busca de nuestros seres
queridos, ahora tan azules y perfectos.
Desenfrenados nos aferramos a sus túnicas,
como si no gozásemos
de todo el tiempo del mundo.
owerset intae Scots bi Dorothy Lawrenson
No lik the sprootin o herrs or spirls
an no lik the wye that leaves an sich
turns tae yird, nor lik a pirl o reek;
raither a roch waukenin on the scruif,
a gowp o air stickit i the thrapple,
a brave an brawly-fittit suit o claes.
White stane on white stane,
oor toun re-biggit
unner the cordillera’s leamin licht.
We set awa seekin oor dear yins,
the noo sae blae an perfit.
Capernoitit, we claucht at their claes,
as if we havenae
aw the time i the warld.
translated into English by Carlos Llaza and Dorothy Lawrenson
Not as hair sprouts or green shoots,
nor as leaves and other objects
become earth, not a spiral of smoke;
but a violent and raw awakening,
a gulp of air stuck in the throat,
a splendid and bespoke outfit.
White stone on white stone,
our city reconstructed
under the light of the cordillera.
We set out in search of our loved ones,
now so blue and perfect.
Frantic we cling to their robes,
as if we did not have
all the time in the world.