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ISSUE:  Summer 1990
You, my familiars,
sweet-toothed nibblers,
everyday flies,
you bring back everything.
  Old flies, voracious
as bees in April,
annoying old flies that
landed with an itch
on my infant scalp.
  Flies of my first tedium
in the family parlor
those bright summer afternoons
when I first began to dream.
  And in abhorred school,
funny flies, whizzing around,
for having a sheer love of flight
—flying is all that counts—
buzzing, ricocheting from window to window
on autumn days . . . .
Flies from hour to hour,
  flies of infancy and adolescence,
of that later, golden youth;
and of this second innocence
that can find nothing to believe in.
  always . . . . Everyday flies,
so commonplace
you’ll never be sung by any worthy singer:
I know you’ve alighted
  on the favorite toy,
on the closed scholar’s text,
on the love letter,
on the rigid eyelids
of the dead.
  Unavoidable, with a sweet tooth,
who neither labor like bees
nor glitter like butterflies,
you, tiniest of rebels,
you, old familiars, bring back everything.

Antonio Machado (1907)
Translated by David Johnson


A cold and gray afternoon
in winter. The schoolchildren
study. A monotony
of rain beyond the glass.

It is class time. The first flash card
shows fugitive Cain
and dead Abel
beside a crimson spot.

In a pompous and empty tone
the master thunders—an elderly man
badly dressed, lean and dry,
carrying a book in his hand.

And a choir entirely of children
begins singing the lesson:
one thousand times one hundred, one hundred thousand;
one thousand times one thousand, one million.

A cold and gray afternoon
in winter. The schoolchildren
study. A monotony
of rain on the glass.

Antonio Machado (1907)
Translated by David Johnson


Tag was running as pure as it could be.
When I was “It,” I caught them all, almost,
especially the boys who didn’t think
a skinny girl like me could run so fast.
I ran them down. An arrow from its bow
could not have gone more straight and clean than I
along that dusty path behind the school.

But the game wasn’t as simple as it seemed,
for there was one who scarcely ran a step,
who stood so close to me I’d hear him breathe
and smell the sweet butterscotch on his breath.
And Dave would dodge and twist and laugh at me;
I’d lunge and he’d be gone. He was the one
I wanted most but couldn’t ever catch.
I’d feign a lack of interest, chase the rest
and watch him from the corner of my eye,
dancing then and forever out of reach.

There’s this recurring dream in which the game
is only for the two of us. The path
is blue with moonlight; the school is darkened.
The other kids are home in bed, I guess.
Now Dave is It and stumbles after me,
but I’m lithe as the wind and dance in air,
wearing this wild silver fairytale dress
that swirls around me as I hover there.
Dave looks up, confused; I have my revenge.
He can’t reach me.
            But now the game’s no fun.
I see him crying, come back down to earth,
hold out my hand, and now the game is done.


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