“Sleepless City (Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne)”

Federico Garcia Lorca
Selected by Molly Rose Quinn

Lorca in New York

Although it is safe to say that my sleepless Brooklyn nights are nothing like Lorca’s might have been, I think I might know an inch of the feeling of that boy, “buried this morning […] who cries because he doesn’t know bridges exist” (“que llora porque no sabe la invención del puente”). I’ve always lived in cities with bridges, like this city, where I work and write now, and oftentimes famous ones. I have often found myself haunted by these passageways and what can pass over them (and what can’t). “Life is no dream,” Lorca tells us. “¡Alerta! ¡Alerta! ¡Alerta!” And beneath the bridge, Lorca’s restless grief glows, shakes, a hallucinatory menagerie he configures. Along these streets, “Live iguanas will come to bite the men who don’t dream” and “furious ants / will attack the yellow skies that take refuge in the eyes of cattle.” A hollowing kind of pain, but how we’re left, a warning: “But at night, if someone has too much moss on his temples, / open the trap doors so he can see in moonlight / the fake goblets, the venom, and the skull of the theaters.”

—Molly Rose Quinn, Director of Public Programming at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe


Sleepless City
(Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne)

Out in the sky, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
No one sleeps.
Lunar creatures sniff and circle the dwellings.
Live iguanas will come to bite the men who don’t dream,
and the brokenhearted fugitive will meet on street corners
an incredible crocodile resting beneath the tender protest of the stars.

Out in the world, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
No one sleeps.
There is a corpse in the farthest graveyard
complaining for three years
because of an arid landscape in his knee;
and a boy who was buried this morning cried so much
they had to call the dogs to quiet him.

Life is no dream. Watch out! Watch out! Watch out!
We fall down stairs and eat the humid earth,
or we climb to the snow’s edge with the choir of dead dahlias.
But there is no oblivion, no dream:
raw flesh. Kisses tie mouths
in a tangle of new veins
and those in pain will bear it with no respite
and those who are frightened by death will carry it on their shoulders.

One day
horses will live in the taverns
and furious ants
will attack the yellow skies that take refuge in the eyes of cattle.
Another day
we’ll witness the resurrection of dead butterflies,
and still walking in a landscape of gray sponges and silent ships,
we’ll see our ring shine and rose spill from our tongues.
Watch out! Watch out! Watch out!
Those still marked by claws and cloudburst,
that boy who cries because he doesn’t know bridges exist,
or that corpse that has nothing more than its head and one shoe—
they all must be led to the wall where iguanas and serpents wait,
where the bear’s teeth wait,
where the mummified hand of a child waits
and the camel’s fur bristles with a violent blue chill.

Out in the sky, no one sleeps. No one, no one.
No one sleeps.
But if someone closes his eyes,
whip him, my children, whip him!
Let there be a panorama of open eyes
and bitter inflamed wounds.
Out in the world, no one sleeps. No one. No one.
I’ve said it before.
No one sleeps.
But at night, if someone has too much moss on his temples,
open the trap doors so he can see in moonlight
the fake goblets, the venom, and the skull of the theaters.
 

Ciudad sin sueño
(Nocturno del Brooklyn Bridge)

No duerme nadie por el cielo. Nadie, nadie.
No duerme nadie.
Las criaturas de la luna huelen y rondan sus cabañas.
Vendrán las iguanas vivas a morder a los hombres que no sueñan
y el que huye con el corazón roto encontrará por las esquinas
al increíble cocodrilo quieto bajo la tierna protesta de los astros.

No duerme nadie por el mundo. Nadie, nadie.
No duerme nadie.
Hay un muerto en el cementerio más lejano
que se queja tres años
porque tiene un paisaje seco en la rodilla;
y el niño que enterraron esta mañana lloraba tanto
que hubo necesidad de llamar a los perros para que callase.

No es sueño la vida. ¡Alerta! ¡Alerta! ¡Alerta!
Nos caemos por las escaleras para comer la tierra húmeda
o subimos al filo de la nieve con el coro de las dalias muertas.
Pero no hay olvido, ni sueño:
carne viva. Los besos atan las bocas
en una maraña de venas recientes
y al que le duele su dolor le dolerá sin descanso
y al que teme la muerte la llevará sobre sus hombros.

Un día
los caballos vivirán en las tabernas
y las hormigas furiosas
atacarán los cielos amarillos que se refugian en los ojos de las vacas.
Otro día
veremos la resurrección de las mariposas disecadas
y aún andando por un paisaje de esponjas grises y barcos mudos
veremos brillar nuestro anillo y manar rosas de nuestra lengua.
¡Alerta! ¡Alerta! ¡Alerta!
A los que guardan todavía huellas de zarpa y aguacero,
a aquel muchacho que llora porque no sabe la invención del puente
o a aquel muerto que ya no tiene más que la cabeza y un zapato,
hay que llevarlos al muro donde iguanas y sierpes esperan,
donde espera la dentadura del oso,
donde espera la mano momificada del niño
y la piel del camello se eriza con un violento escalofrío azul.

No duerme nadie por el cielo. Nadie, nadie.
No duerme nadie.
Pero si alguien cierra los ojos,
¡azotadlo, hijos míos, azotadlo!
Haya un panorama de ojos abiertos
y amargas llagas encendidas.
No duerme nadie por el mundo. Nadie, nadie.
Ya lo he dicho.
No duerme nadie.
Pero si alguien tiene por la noche exceso de musgo en las sienes,
abrid los escotillones para que vea bajo la luna
las copas falsas, el veneno y la calavera de los teatros.
 

Poet in New York - Federico García Lorca

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Federico García Lorca, one of Spain’s greatest poets and dramatists, was born in a village near Granada in 1898 and was murdered in 1936, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

Molly Rose Quinn is Director of Public Programming at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe.

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  • Charles Laster

    A great book of poetry.