In New York’s Counterfeit Dawn

I visited New York City last week after exactly ten years and while the city still charms one with it’s frantic pace and liveliness, I could not but also recollect Federico García Lorca‘s poem New York (Office and Denunciation). It appears in the book Poet in New York, a collection of poems that Lorca wrote as a student in NY between 1929-30. Particularly imaginative are his description of the city as: ‘it’s money, cement or wind  in New York’s counterfeit dawn’ and ‘where the Hudson gets drunk on oil.’

The goriness of “they slaughter four million ducks… and two million roosters that smash the skies to pieces” brings home the truth of the underbelly of the razzmatazz that “the city of the yellow devil” offers from the outside.

New York (Office and Denunciation)

Under the multiplications,
a drop of duck’s blood;
under the divisions,
a drop of a sailor’s blood;
under the additions, a river of tender blood.
A river that sings and flows
past bedrooms in the boroughs-
and it’s money, cement or wind
in New York’s counterfeit dawn.
I know the mountains do exist.
And without wisdom’s eyeglasses,
too. But I didn’t come to see the sky.
I’m here to see the clouded blood,
the blood that sweeps machines over waterfalls
and the soul toward the cobra’s tongue.
Every day in New York, they slaughter,
four million ducks,
five million hogs,
two thousand pigeons to accommodate the tastes of the dying,
one million cows,
one million roosters
that smash the skies into pieces.

It’s better to sob while honing the blade
or kill dogs on the delirious hunts
than to resist at dawn
the endless milk trains,
the endless blood trains
and the trains of roses, manacled
by the dealers in perfume.
The ducks and the pigeons,
and the hogs and the lambs
lay their drops of blood
under the multiplications,
and the terrified bellowing of the cows wrung dry
fills the valley with sorrow
where the Hudson gets drunk on oil.

I denounce all those
who never think of the other half,
the irredeemable half,
who raise their mountains of concrete
where the hearts of little
forgotten animals beat
and where all of us will fall
in the final fiesta of jackhammers.
I spit in your faces.
That other half hears me,
eating, pissing, flying in their purity,
like the supers’ children
who take their flimsy palettes
to the holes in spaces where
insects’ antennas are rusting.
This is not hell, this is the street.
That is not death. That is the fruit stand.
There are broken rivers and distances just out of reach
in the cat’s paw smashed by a car,
and I hear the song of the worm
in the hearts of many young girls.
Rust, fermentation, earth tremors.
You yourself are earth drifting among numbers in the office
What am I going to do, put the landscapes in their right
places?
Put in good order the loves that soon turn into photographs,
that soon become pieces of wood and mouthfuls of blood?
No, no: I denounce,
I denounce the conspiracy of these deserted offices
which erase the plans of the forest,
and I offer myself as food for the cows milked empty
when their bellowings fill the valley
where the Hudson becomes drunk with oil.

Federico García Lorca, 1929-1930

(translation of the first half of the poem by Greg Simon and Steven F. White)

(translation of the second half of the poem by Galway Kinnell)

The second half of the poem above (“I denounce all those…”)is from the blog Noctuary. I could not find the text of the first half (“Under the multiplications,… where the Hudson gets drunk on oil”) and have transcribed it myself from Lorca’s  Poet in New York (Penguin)  translated by Greg Simon and Steven F. White.

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7 Replies to “In New York’s Counterfeit Dawn”

  1. There is a little section missing in the second half, in between “mouthfuls of blood” and “no no, I denounce;” it says “San Ignacio de Loyola asesinó un pequeño conejo y todavía sus labios gimen por los torres de las iglesias.” : )

  2. I don’t know why it put that unhappy-looking face by my comment, but I just want to make it clear that this was not a complaint! I very much enjoyed the translation, thank you for posting it.

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