Chus Pato (translated by Erin Moure)

Omnidawn, 2016

There’s a deceptive difficulty in Chus Pato’s Flesh of Leviathan, originally published in 2013 as Carne de Leviatán, and translated from Galician by Erin Moure, who has also translated four of Pato’s previous books. Often, the language of the poems seems simple, and the poems themselves do not feature many difficult passages—each line moves straightforwardly from its beginning to its end. And yet the poems are difficult. Their difficulties arise between their lines—not only from the interpretive gaps that seem to expand from line to line to line, but also from the occasional break in sense, as seen between lines three and four (and then, expanding, between lines five and six, six and seven, and eight and nine) of “Anthem,” reprinted here in full:

The poplar for the end of the world
does not waste away
it stands on the verges
the wail
accompanies you
the hand that covers the face
the poplar
for the day at the end of time
the wail

The physical spaces described in the poems are often somewhat vague and obscure; nouns tend to be elemental and therefore carry a great deal of accumulated symbolic weight. When Pato writes “the poplar at the edge of the world,” the poplar is no physical poplar at the edge of the physical world, not even in service of metaphor. For Pato, words seem to exist as things largely independent from, and stand in only imperfectly for, and, crucially, beside, the things which they are often thought to name: The things would exist, and would be more thoroughly themselves, if the words that name them did not exist:

our language
which bleeds dry in the mouth

the borders as they’re already overrun

this final one
by teeth

Flesh of Leviathan uses vagueness in the service of precision—a precise saying of an unsayable, which by its nature forbids precision. Pato uses language against what might seem to be its own interests, but in doing so, works in the interests of both the world as it is said to be and the world itself. The flesh of leviathan is given back, and leviathan’s mystery, its final distinctness from any human understanding of it, accompanies the flesh. It is this, especially, that accounts for the difficulty of these poems; their task is difficult, enormous, and necessary.