Birnam Wood / El Bosque de Birnam
by José Manuel Cardona
translated from the Spanish by Hélène Cardona
If you’ve ever seen one of those .gifs that is meant to help regulate your breathing when you feel an anxiety attack coming on, you’ll recognize the mood set in this collection of poetry. Birnam Wood is a collection you pick up when the cycle of life—creation, destruction, love, everything—gets to be too much. These poems are the kind that make you feel small in the world, but in a cottony kind of way: being small does not mean being insignificant. Being set into a myth, even as an observer, needn’t be frightening, and here is even grounding.
The book is divvied up into three sections: Poems to Circe, The Vintner, and Other Poems. For this reader at least, it is hardly an easily-perceived division as, while the subject matter itself varies, the feeling and movement of the collections rushes up and over itself overwhelmingly, like sitting in sucking and rushing waves on a stony black beach. The delineations in the book are buoys marking your progress as you’re swept further and further out.
In a world that needs more witches, this collection is a joy to read: the author gives the power to the reader to create the witch, our Circe, and carry her name and spells with us. It is this creation that is so much the crux of the work, but the reader is continually reminded that creation has a price. And when you’re creating an immortal witch, you’re playing with fire and crags, and love.
[…] love itself was making you.
I created you, Circe; humanly
I keep recreating me in your image,
I keep recreating you and living
My creation in you, until I don’t know
Or confuse, by dint of knowing,
Where you, reality, start
And where I, desire, end.
There is a cloying need in this creation, a desperation to be recognized as creator and loved in turn as much as the creator loves the creation. When there is no home on the horizon, the creator must create and so becomes in creation, and vice versa. The author created Circe to see her make magic, created her so that he can believe in magic. It is a beautiful selfishness, a living haunting.
I have the ageless power of volcanoes
And I feed my thirst for adventure.
You already recognize, Circe, my bones.
I’ve traded my peace for the knife.
I’m here to abolish Death.
Those who believe in me will not die.
These are the rules of Cardona’s poems: Creation is possession. Destruction is possession. Love is possession. Possession is destruction. Recognition is immortality.
Here, love is the space between the symbiosis of creation and destruction. It is the yin-yang symbol pushing itself around and within, endlessly and hypnotically.
A creature with no home is a living ghost. The stubbornness of living, of refusing to die, in creating so as to preserve one’s own bones when they no longer belong to us, is the anxiety-inducing and poignant linchpin of this collection of poems. The need to be seen and loved trumps all else, and makes a fool of the creator. But we love the fool, because the fool is us. Just as the creation is also us: in reader, we are created as reader by author. We are claimed and owned, just as we, like Circe, by turns shuck off and adore the eyes and hands of the creator.
Only man is capable of destroying
what he never created
and he alone believes belongs to him.
Seeing is not enough to live,
everything has to be his, owned.
I do not read Spanish at all, and am grateful to Hélène Cardona, translator and daughter of author and creator José Manuel Cardona, for rendering this collection in English. Because it is a rendering, as the words themselves seem rent from the Spanish and forged and recast into English, much like the “crown like a yoke / Macerated in irons and crystals.” The translation, the poems, glimmer and cast shadows, breaking over the cliffs the lines comprise of. The poems spill over themselves but then come to collect themselves in little pools: the anxiety breaks over the reader’s head but collects into the vintner’s glasses of heady wine that cozily overwhelms.
All is consumed, Circe, and I live.