El Puente Invisible: The Invisible Bridge by Circe Maia, translated by Jesse Lee Kercheval. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015.
Review by Judy Barisonzi
The poet Circe Maia may be unfamiliar to you so here is an introduction: Maia, now 82, is a Uruguaya poet well known in Latin America. The Invisible Bridge were written throughout Maia’s long career and were selected by the Spanish translator rather than by the poet and they do not make up a unified collection. None the less, one can draw some conclusions about Maia’s poetic concerns and strategies.
A professor of philosophy, Maia is preoccupied with basic philosophical concepts: being, time, and paradox. Her poems meditate on separation, confinement and silence along with clarity, light and communication. Her outlook is sometimes profoundly pessimistic, sometimes cautiously hopeful. Objects, like people, don’t want their life to end: “The sharp bit of the fire does not want/to stop being a drill” (“The End, p. 79). And life itself is perhaps meaningless: “The plot, if it exists, is brief” (“Guests,” p.131). At moments, however, everyday objects and ourselves are transformed: “The door to being opens.
You are.” (“Leaf, “p. 35). In Maia’s best poems, these philosophical abstractions become metaphor. In “The City of the Sun,” for example, the imprisoned Dominican friar Tomasso Campanella sees a shining “solar city,” its inner walls “covered with drawings, with signs, with paintings . . .” (p. 63). But such
visions do not last:
Nothing strange: the stone, the water
They are suddenly like stone and water,
Nothing else, just that” (“Pool of Siloam,” p. 141).
A moment of vision cannot change the inevitable outcome, as Maia dryly comments after
“The City of the Sun”:
(Also in the 1500s
Another Thomas, the Englishman Sir Thomas Moore,
dreams of his fantastic Utopia
while the axe of the executioner is sharpened.) (p. 63).
Maia frequently employs the metaphor of imprisonment, but also that of “a golden, a fragile bridge” (“The Bridge,” p. 3). Words form such a bridge, a connection: “Hard work to lean on them [words] without their breaking/and to walk across an invisible bridge” (“Words,” p. 15). Separation and connection chase each other through these succinct poems written in limpid Spanish and beautifully translated. My favorite poem is “Brief Sun,” where the rays of a setting sun illuminating a grove of trees provide a perfect metaphor for Maia’s despair at man’s fleeting existence as well as her irrepressible
the chosen one’s shine
with golden bark. Ascending,
the light reaches other foliage, then moves on,
illuminates one far away. Already there is no time
to get there.
Who knows? Let’s go. (p. 119)
Or, as Maia comments in another, “against the sticky/ foam of nothing, /the light swims, stubbornly.” (“The End,” p. 79). That stubborn, swimming light will remain in my mind and perhaps in yours. Enjoy the poems.