Orides Fontela (1940-1998), highly respected in Brazil for her small body of poetry, is not widely known to American readers. Chris Daniels, a lovingly precise translator of many Brazilian poets, has been at work for years to bring her pieces into English. Fontela was born to a poor, illiterate family and became a librarian and a philosopher; her five slim volumes present poetry that is often concerned with the nature of being and meaning. At the heart of her search through and for the solid forms, she reaches a place where the act of seeing both faces itself and yearns for the thing beyond. She is a kind of symbolist poet. Her linguistic universe has little adornment, yet it is one of deep feeling. The minimalism might remind readers of Ponge, each word/thing unornamented, the essences caressed only if the mind's loneliness allows waves of air (or white space) over the shapes of concepts. On first reading, the poems might seem not to have familiar emotional resonance to them because they have few personal pronouns. As Daniels points out, she rarely uses the first person singular ("eu"), but often uses other personal pronouns—first person plural, second person, and third person pronouns. After a few readings, you can understand that her reality has a deep human presence, elemental sorrow, and ecstasy.



In the motionless forest               a rhythm
hidden by the sun                        through branches
at midday            alert fear           the leap

(time will go on    deflagrating

                             its ray

annulling limbo
                            will go on able to wound
the blank center of what is eternal).

Beast:    rhythm and color
              light and shadow

beast:    rhythm in flight

Peril of the beast: false absence
in unwary silence.

Intense beast. Sudden, in the
fear leaps! But meaning appears.



Thing against thing:
useless cruelty
of analysis. Cruel
knowing that rends
the knowing being.

Life against thing:
of form recreating
it in wise and useless
human syntheses.

Life against life:
sterile cruelty
of light that consumes itself
disintegrating essence,


Seven Bird Poems


The bird is definitive—:
we do not seek it:
it will elect us.


If it were the hour of the bird
you'd open and know
the eternal moment.


It will never be the same,
our atmosphere:
we uphold the flight
that holds us up.


The bird is lucid
and lacerates us.
We bleed. No possible
scarring in that


This bird is plumb:
it architects the real and is the very real.


We'll never know
such purity:
bird devouring us
while we sing it.


In light of full flight
we will exist in this bird:
it lives us.



a) morning
             No one yet. Roses greet me
             and I greet the silence
             of roses.

b) absence
             No one here
             and clouds.

c) bird
             Wings hanging in

d) moon

e) Narcissus
             Flower water face
             flower water

f) spring
             From not-hope

g) lake

h) expecting
             Open windows.
             Door merely leaning …

i) vase
             but incommunicant.

j) end
             Absence of roses. The way
             now with no one, to silence.



Against the flowers I live
against limits
against appearance pure attention
constructs a countryside with
no more gardens
than essence.


Translated from the Portuguese by Chris Daniels