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Announcing the winners of our 2020 Poems in Translation Contest in partnership with the Academy of American Poets. Read more.
from the May 2020 issue

Caviar, Champagne, and Fantasy

In this poem, Camões Prize–winner Arménio Vieira imagines a different future for the Esplanada Morabeza in the capital of Cabo Verde.


The Esplanada in Praia, on Santiago de
                                            [Cabo Verde
on January 29th, 1971
is a sketch for a hydrogen bomb
with no frequency calculations
it’s a moon-bound
                 [rocket
that never takes off
(all that’s left is a crumpled
blueprint for a launch pad)

The Esplanada in Praia—even on days of
                                          [sun and sweat
could be a cool oasis
if our faith (which moves mountains)
were one millionth of a mustard grain.

Coffee would abound
without the need to plant a single seed
in the manager’s ear as he comes and goes
tallying the day’s proceeds.

The Esplanada would boast whiter milk
and stylish shoppers and pretty maids
and limit the
                  [legions of beggars
hunting cigarette butts
and of course there would be a clinic nearby
with cures for everything (even the
                                                 [untreatable)

The Esplanada would have a helicopter for
                                          [its beloved poets
and the nearby fountain would not have gone dry

And there would be white swans gliding by at all
                                                                        [hours
and even a hanging garden
with hothouse tulips and sunflowers

The Esplanada would boast jet planes so close
                                           [you could touch them

there—on the bandstand—
where only musicians and drummers linger
dreaming of fifty mil-réis per week

The Esplanada, thick with the scent of fragrant
                                                                  [DDT
and even with a cathedral designed by Oscar
                                                        [Niemeyer
(so unlike the tiny church there now
with its four square walls
and archaic cross)

The Esplanada in Praia would be a wonder
                                                  [of the world
a pristine, embroidered canopy
refracting the stars

The Esplanada, at last, would have another name
Morabeza is a term no doubt
                                    [invented
to sit limp like a glove or an idiot toad
(I can see him now, on his branch,
                            [dirtying the tank)

Given what’s been said
and what hasn’t—
perhaps it would be best just to die right here and now
rather than celebrate my three decades
                                                     [of life
dreaming of champagne and caviar
on Praia's Esplanada in Santiago de
                                      [Cabo Verde
on the 29th of January, 1971.


© Arménio Vieira. Translation © 2020 by Eric M. B. Becker and David Shook. All rights reserved.

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