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International Reflective Writing


Affonso Romano de Sant' Anna

Affonso Romano de Sant’Anna (1937, Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil). Poet, essayist, art critic and journalist. Has published more than 40 books and actually is considered in his homeland the most Brazilian poet of the last decades.

As the director of the National Library at Río de Janeiro he promoted reading, created the national library system and published Poesia Sempre, a journal which published Latin American poets in Portuguese and Spanish.

He taught Portuguese literature at the national universities of Minas Gerais and Río de Janeiro, and was visiting professor at California (Los Ángeles), Texas (Austin), Cologne (Germany) and Aix-en-Provence (France).


Obama, Come with Me to Carthage

Maybe I can invite you for "a cup of coffee" 
or if you prefer, a "cold one" in the White House garden 
as you did with the black guy and that policeman 
who went after each other in a misunderstanding.

But the best place for us to meet
                               --is Carthage.

As García Lorca said: 
       Nothing ever happens there 
       two Romans always kill 
       three Carthaginians. 

But really there's a more portentous place 
to meet and talk face to face.

In Carthage 
       as in Massada 
               or in Numantia 
people go there to fight 
                                  and die.  

In school (who knows whether in Palestine and Baghdad) they tell us that the Punic wars lasted 120 years, and in the Third Rome decreed


after a three-year siege 
they reversed the "let it be" 
and for six days and six nights 
Carthage lived darkness and destruction: 
hordes of legionnaires attacking through olive groves and vineyards replenished each other in successive waves.

Scipio Emilianus alone 
             ever vigilant 
                     did not hesitate. 
Reaching the outskirts of Byrsa 
he raised ladders up to the terraces 
             and advanced 
while there below the swish of swords and screams of disemboweled women 
                               brought to mind My Lai.

Escape was not an option. Like a lizard set on fire 
history burned as only skin does with Napalm.  

That was when, questioned by a TV reporter 
who evinced not the slightest horror, 
a legionnaire from Texas replied: 
           --"This is my job".

So 10 senators from Rome arrived 
to report on the destruction. 
was turned over to the soldiers 
but the gold, the silver, the offering to the gods 
and the oil 
were set aside as other nobles' spoils.

Neither Tanit, nor Ba'al 
could save Hannibal 
and his 300 pachyderms 
nor could they protect 
Hasdrubal, his younger brother 
and all of those who no longer cared for war.

Between Carthage and Rome 
between Dido and Aeneas 
Ambiguous relationships were never easy: 
       Love stalked death 
       Death stalked love.

Now I know why the Romans everywhere built 
so many public baths-- 
                  they'd plenty of blood to wash away.

So come with me, Obama, and we'll explore the ruins here of the thermal baths of Antonio Pius. 
There's no water, there's no rain to wash away 
so much petrified remorse.

Now, as I write, I am in Rome 
a scant ten meters from the portentous Pantheon 
and I eye the sunset tinged with gold and blood 
the cupolas and roof tops. 
Some doves pose on Agrippa's and Hadrian's temple 
as if disembarked from Noah's ark 
or from that poster for peace by Picasso.

And I, a Roman, who yesterday, in Carthage, 
celebrated the fast of Ramadan 
and surrounded by oleanders and jasmine 
contemplated the history of Sidi Bousaid's lofty gardens come to Rome 
to settle accounts with Cato 
and all the offspring of Scipio the African.

No way you could stay out of this matter, Obama
--"you are the man" 
And after what Cato and Scipio 
did in Iraq 
I fear that the next Carthage 
is Afghanistan.

The symbols and the ruins pursue me. 
I look at that Islamic Moon, that scimitar sharpening its blade on the baroque tower of Borromini.

We need to talk, Obama
--"you are the man" 

And the best place, as it's the most horrific 
is Carthage.

      Nothing happens there 
      two Romans always kill 
      three Carthaginians. 

Translated from the Portuguese by Fred Ellison


Letter to the Dead

Friends, nothing has changed

in essence.

Wages don't cover expenses,

wars persist without end

and there are new and terrible viruses,

beyond the advance of medicine.

From time to time, a neighbor

falls dead over questions of love.

There are interesting films, it is true

and as always, voluptuous women

seducing us with their month and legs.

But in matters of love

we haven't invented a single position that's new

Some astronauts stay in space

six months or more, testing equipment

and solitude.

In each Olympics new records are predicted

and in the coutnries social advances and setback.

But not a single bird has changed its song

with the times.

We put the same Greek tragedies,

reread Don Quixote and spring

arrives on time each year.

Some habbits, rivers and forests

are lost.

Nobody sits in front of their houses anymore

or takes in the breezes of afternoon,

but we have amazing computers

that keep us from thinking.

On the disappearance of the dinosaurs

and the formation of falazies

we have no new knowledge.

Clothes come and go with the fashions.

Strong governments fall, others rise,

countries are divided

and the ants ant and the bees continue

faithful to their work.

Nothing has changed in essence.

We sing congratulations at parties,

argue footbal on streetcorners,

die in senseless disasters

and from time to time

one of us looks at the star-filled sky

with the same amazement we once looked at cabes.

And each generation, full of itself,

continue to think

that it lives at the summit of history.

translated by Mark Strand

Published in The New Yorker, October 9, 2000


Verbal Ambush

There are many ways to kill a man:

with a buttet, starvation, a sword

or wtih posioned


No need for force.

All you need is for the mouth to let fly

with a cocked phrase

and the fellow will die

in the ambush of syntax 


Published in Poets of Brasil, a bilingual selection, Frederick G. Williams, Brigham Young University, Ed. Univ. Bahia, 2004.


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