like fullness in swollen things...

João Cabral de Melo Neto

... poems for changing eye and hand ...


Here is a man dreaming
along the beach. Another
who never remembers dates.
Here is a man running away
from a tree; here is another
who’s lost his boat, or his hat.
Here is a man who is a soldier;
another being an airplane;
another going, forgetting
his hour, his mystery
his fear of the word “veil”;
and in the shape of a ship,
still another who slept.

             (Trans. Jean Valentine)


João Cabral de Melo Neto, a marvelous Brazilian writer, is the model that would fit JFK’s dictum of poetry and politics.

“Windows” is a poem that, no doubt, should be read on many levels, but I read versions of one self, one being, one participant in life. Note the variations of human endeavor and foible that are present. And the ending… such a perfect image as paradox: the stillness of sleep and the implied drift of waves over the sea. This poem is alive, and could walk off the page any time it wants.


Here’s another of his poems, at it’s heart an astounding paradox … the nothing that is something. I connect with the fist section in such a frightening and wonderful way.

The Emptiness of Man

The emptiness of man is not like
any other: not like an empty coat
or empty sack (things which do not stand up
when empty, such as an empty man),
the emptiness of man is more like fullness
in swollen things which keep on swelling,
the way a sack must feel
that is being filled, or any sack at all.
The emptiness of man, this full emptiness
is not like a sack of bricks’ emptiness
or a sack of rivets’, it does not have the pulse
that beats in a seed bag or bag of eggs.


The emptiness of man, though it resembles
fullness, and seems all of a piece, actually
is made of nothings, bits of emptiness,
like the sponge, empty when filled,
swollen like the sponge, with air, with empty air;
it has copied its very structure from the sponge,
it is made up in clusters, of bubbles, of non-grapes.
Man’s empty fullness is like a sack
filled with sponges, is filled with emptiness:
man’s emptiness, or swollen emptiness,
or the emptiness that swells by being empty.

             (Trans. Galway Kinnell)

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