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Words Without Borders is an inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winner!
from the December 2014 issue

Night Up North

Noite nu norte

Artigas is an abandoned station
the hope left behind by a train that won’t come back
a road that disappears heading south.                                        

            *

I don’t know how it is in civilized places
but in Artigas
people have a last name.
Mr. Nobodies
like me—        
we come from the border.
Not from this side, not from the other.
The ground we walk on isn’t ours
nor the language we speak.                                                       

            *

Artigas has a language that nobody owns.                                 

            *

This tongue of mine
sticks out its tongue at the dictionary
dances a pagode on top of the map                             
makes a kite from a schoolboy’s tunic and sash
flies loose and free in the sky.                                                                                          

            *
Artigas is a land lost up North
that doesn’t show up on maps.                                                 

            *

Artigas had a sky filled with stars        
a river of fish
fields green with trees
earth brilliant with stones
but someone’s taken it all to some other place
and we’re left with nothing.                                                     

            *

Before
I wanted to be from Uruguay.
Now
I want to be from here.                                                                        

            *

I don’t go where the buses go—           
I’m afraid I wouldn’t find there
the things that I like.

In Artigas in the morning
I see lamps lit in doorways with nylon curtains
hunkered-down dogs keeping watch
house numbers whitewashed on unplastered walls
yards full of weeds
washtubs leaning on wires for hanging out clothes
windows with flowerpots in bloom
houses half-built
and always open.                                                                      

            *

The hour when the sun becomes hidden—
that’s the time when you listen.
The stars press out and light up the fireflies.
The crickets sing
that bring good luck.
I close the front door
and go into myself so I can think,
so I’m able to write.                                                                 

            *

The Río Cuareim flows out back;         
sometimes it sings, sometimes it sleeps.
It flows downhill and goes
and goes who knows where.
The fishes are free; I think they go with the river,
just go to wherever it ends—
they say that’s the sea,
a place where the water doesn’t touch the earth.                      

            *

I didn’t know what I could write
until my godfather said one day,          
Yiribibe, tu vas fasé istoria:
You’ll make up stories, kid.
He didn’t use those words.
He spoke very well.
So I started to write.

I enjoy the nights up North.
The flies are asleep
and I write in the notebook la Negra gave me.

My padrino was right,
I wasn’t going to end up like Mónica’s kids,
good for nothing but gossip and scandal.
I hooked up with la Negra,
then I found work at Arrieta’s place.
Now we have a house and we’re expecting a child.

I write to show the boy when he starts asking questions.
La Negras nephew must be about five years old—
I see him always asking.
Children these days are a guiding light.
They want to know everything, and they never stop.              

            *

When I’d go to my padrinos house
I’d see my madrina giving a bath to Luisa
who had blonde hair and blue eyes
and she’d say
Viste Yiribibe—watch me, boy.
If you want to turn out like Luisa,
you’ve got to scrub hard and the water has to be hot.

So I spent hours washing
got red in the face from scrubbing myself so much
burned myself with hot water
but I kept on being black.                                                         

            *
Fito would always say, God helps the early risers.
And God always helped him.
I’d try to get up before he did
but he was always first, and God helped him.

Whenever I woke up
I’d look outside and see him sitting there,
hunched over, skinny,
drinking sweet maté and eating bread
left over from yesterday.

That’s how it was in our house.
God helped the one who got up first.
Those of us who didn’t
had to wait until noon
for something to eat.                                                               

            *

We come from the border
like the sun that’s born here
behind the eucalyptus trees
and shines on everything over the river
then goes off to sleep
behind the Rodríguez house.

From the border
just like the moon
that turns night almost to day
laying down its light
on the banks of the Cuareim.

Like the wind
that makes the flags dance
when the rain
carries off the houses on the other side
right along with ours.

We all come from the border
when birds fly in from over there
singing in a language
we all understand.

We came from the border
we head to the border
when grandparents and children
eat the godforsaken bread
of affliction
at this end of the earth.

We are the border
more than any river
more than any bridge.                                                 

Noite nu norte © Fabián Severo. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Dan Bellm. All rights reserved. 

Noite nu norte

Dois

Artigas e uma estasión abandonada
a esperansa ditrás de um trein que no regresa
uma ruta que se perde rumbo ao sur.

Treis

Noum sei como será nas terra sivilisada
mas ein Artigas
viven los que tienen apeyido.
Los Se Ninguéim
como eu
semo da frontera
neim daquí neim dalí
no es noso u suelo que pisamo
neim a lingua que falemo.

Nove

Artigas teim uma lingua sin dueño.

Des

Miña lingua le saca la lengua al disionario
baila um pagode ensima dus mapa
i fas com a túnica i a moña uma cometa
pra voar, livre i solta pelu seu.

Onse

Artigas e uma terra pirdida nu Norte
qui noum sai nus mapa.

Dose

Artigas tevi um seu yeio distrela
um río yeio de peiye
um campo verde, asím de árbol
uma terra briliante de pedra
mas alguém levou tudo pra otru povo
i nos fiquemo seim nada.

Tresi

Antes,
eu quiría ser uruguaio
agora
quiero ser daquí.

Disesete

Yo no voi pra donde van los ónibus
pois teño medo de no incontrar las cosa que gosto.
En Artigas, por las mañá
veyo lamparitas asesas
nas puerta con cortina de nailon
i us cayorro deitado, viyilando.
Números pintado con cal nas parede sin revocar
patios yeio de yuyo disparejo
as pileta arrecostada nus alambre pra tender ropa
yanelas con maseta rompida
casas pur a metade
i siempre abertas.

Chisoito

Na ora qui u sol sisconde es la ora qui um iscuta.
Las estreya impurran i asenden los biyo de lus.
Cantan los griyo que trasen boa suerte.
Eu feyo la portera
i me adentro em mim pra matutar
i pudé iscrevé.

Disenove

El río Cuareim camiña nus fundo
asvés canta, asvés dorme.
Camiña pra abayo, i se vai, se vai asta noum sei onde.
Los peye som livre i yo ayo que se van con el río
se van pra onde ele termiña
dis que es nu mar
um lugar aonde la agua noum toca la tierra.

Vintitrés

Yo no sabía que pudía iscrevé
asta que mi padriño un día dise
Yiribibe, tu vas fasé istoria.
El no dise con esas palavra
purque el falava mui bien.
Intonse impesé iscrevé.
Aproveito las noite nu Norte
nou avoa uma mosca i iscrevo nu caderno
presente de la Negra.
Meu padriño tava serto
yo no ía terminar como us fío da Mónica
aqueles nou presta pra nada, so pra fofoca.
Eu me yuntei con la Negra
dispós consiguí imprego nus Arrieta
agora temo casa i tamo isperando ijo.
Yo iscrevo pra amostrar el día que u gurí pergunte.
Yo veyo quel subriño da Negra
que deve andar pelos sinco ano, pergunta tudo.
Los gurí de agora son una lus
quereim sabé tudo i noum se calam nunca

Cuarenta

Cuando yo iva na casa de mi padriño
vía como mi madriña bañava la Luisa
que era ruiva i oios claro
i ela disía
Viste Yiribibe, para que fiques igual que la Luisa
tenés que fregarte bein forte i con agua bein caliente.
Yo pasava oras me lavando
ficava colorado de tanto misfregar
i me queimava con la agua quente
mas siguía siendo negro.
i yo deiyé.

Cuarentaiúm

El Fito sempre disía, quien madruga Dios lo ayuda.
I Dios sempre le ayudava.
Yo tentava me levantá antes quel
mas ele sempre gañava y Deus ayudava ele.
Cuando yo me despertava
oiava pra la i lo veía sentado
jorovado i magro
tomando mate dose i cumendo el pan
que avía sobrado de onteim.
Nas casa era asím
el que se levantava primero, Deus le ayudava.
Us que noum madrugava
tíñamos que isperar asta u meiodía
pra pudé cumé.

Sincuentioito

Nos semo da frontera
como u sol qui nase alí tras us ucalito
alumeia todo u día ensima du río
i vai durmí la despós da casa dus Rodrígues.
Da frontera como a lua
qui fas a noite cuasi día
deitando luar nas maryen del Cuareim.
Como el viento
que ase bailar las bandera
como a yuva
leva us ranyo deles yunto con los nuestro.
Todos nos semo da frontera
como eses pásaro avuando de la pra qui
cantando um idioma que todos intende.
Viemos da frontera
vamo pra frontera
como us avó i nosos filio
cumendo el pan que u diabo amasó
sofrendo neste fin de mundo.
Nos semo a frontera
mas que cualqué río
mas que cualqué puente.

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