Manuel del Cabral: Tropical Stonecutting (From Spanish)

Tropical Stonecutting
By Manuel del Cabral
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Black men swing down their picks on the white stones.
Within their picks they hold the sun entwined,
And, as if pressed and wrung from them, wept drops
Of patent leather spill out of their spines.

Men with light voices rinsing their dark skin
Rinse it with pearls of stubborn sweat and stand
Cracking the savage cashbox of the wilds,
Cracking the land, but never touching Man.

Leaping from stones, as soon as each pick picks,
A fragment of sheared sun is sparked and blown
Out but resurges with returning picks
Like God himself exploding in the stone.

Enormous yet not great, the morning can
Enter a single drop of sweat and sink.
Struck sparks leap upward from the stones' own skulls
And are the only thoughts the stones can think.

Black men are singing as they swing their axes
As if their song could soften what they break.
But at these stones they delve, and delve forever,
Delving into the quarry of their ache.

Swinging against the innocent light stones,
These Haitians toil out in the noonday rum.
These blacks that bid the cracked stones bristle sparks
Are nights that chip away at chunks of sun.

Today in search of earthen ore, they hit
upon a greater gold: its lode is day,
the very day that took their human picks
and studded them with star-shards, as if they
stood on the summit, hacking God away.


The Original:

Trópico Picapedrero

Hombres negros pican sobre piedras blancas
tienen en sus picos enredado el sol.
Y como si a ratos exprimieran algo...
lloran sus espaldas gotas de charol.

Hombres de voz blanca, su piel negra lavan
la lavan con perlas de terco sudor.
Rompen la alcancía salvaje del monte
y cavan la tierra pero al hombre no.

De las piedras salta, cuando pica el pico
picadillo fatuo de menudo sol,
que se apaga y vuelve cuando vuelve el pico
como si en las piedras reventara Dios.

Dentro de una gota de sudor se mete
la mañana enorme — pero grande no.
Saltan de los cráneos de las piedras chispas
que los pensamientos de las piedras son.

Y los hombres negros cantan cuando pican
como si ablandara las piedras su voz,
más los hombres cavan y no acaban nunca
cavan la cantera: la de su dolor.

Contra la inocencia de las piedras blancas
los haitianos pican bajo un sol de ron
los negros que erizan de chispas las piedras
son noches que rompen pedazos de sol.

Hoy buscando el oro de la tierra encuentran
el oro más alto, porque su filón
es aquel del día que ponen en los picos
astillas de estrellas, como si estuvieran
sobre la montaña picoteando a Dios.

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