José Manuel Cardona

José Manuel Cardona

José Manuel Cardona (July 16, 1928 – July 4, 2018) was a poet from Ibiza, Spain. He is the author of El Vendimiador (Atzavara, 1953), Poemas a Circe (Adonais, 1959), El Bosque de Birnam: Antología poética (Consell Insular d’Eivissa, 2007).

He was co-editor of several literary journals and wrote for many publications. He participated in the II Congreso de Poesía in Salamanca and belonged to the Cántico group.

The Franco regime forced him into exile in France. He holds PhDs in literature and humanities (University of Nancy), and political sciences (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva). He wrote his thesis on the Mexican revolution at the Instituto de Cultura Hispánica de Madrid and is an attorney (University of Barcelona).

He worked for the United Nations most of his life, in Geneva, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Belgrade, Sofia, Kiev, Tbilisi, Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Panama, among many places.


Hélène Cardona

Hélène Cardona’s seven books include Life in Suspension and Dreaming My Animal Selves (both from Salmon Poetry); and the translations Beyond Elsewhere (Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac, White Pine Press), winner of a Hemingway Grant, Ce que nous portons (Dorianne Laux, Éditions du Cygne); Birnam Wood (José Manuel Cardona, Salmon Poetry); and Walt Whitman’s Civil War Writings for WhitmanWeb.

She holds a master’s in American Literature from the Sorbonne, worked as a translator/interpreter for the Canadian Embassy in Paris, and has contributed to The London Magazine, Washington Square Review, World Literature Today, Poetry International, The Brooklyn Rail, Asymptote, and The Warwick Review.

Acting credits include Chocolat, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Jurassic World, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Spy, and Serendipity, among many

Poetry below from José Manuel Cardona’s Birnam Wood (Translated from the Spanish by Hélène Cardona)

Birnam Wood / El Bosque de Birnam – A poetic anthology
José Manuel Cardona (Translated from the Spanish by Hélène Cardona)
ISBN: 978-1-912561-18-6
Page Count: 94
Published by Salmon Poetry in 2018


I will tell you a name as written in lime
by the fiery index finger of a sylvan archangel.
There are names that are the fire
as if roughly sewn.
This is the name I bear in the lines of my hands,
the name that tells a legend
and writes the story of my twenty five years.

It is beautiful to be born like birds
on a stone nest,
lift the wings like an antenna of light
over the bitter sea,
carry the name of the beloved
on the wings.
But more beautiful still
is to be this rare bird, this sword silent
like a snake tongue,
this blaze of burning lava and rocks,
this name stretched in the brooks,
this body awaited in the midsummer heat,
this voice, these hands, this mouth,
this innermost scratch of fable and glass.
This is why I am the way I am,
why I am named this way and no other,
why the land has made me prisoner.
This is the mystery,
a name, a word, a blaze,
a little geography.

I am crushed by love
between four walls of live lime.
Under the lemon trees,
in the scented shade of pomegranate trees,
where basil and rosemary exude their aromas,
the figure of palm trees as if beautiful women.

Now you know the mystery of my life,
this lacquer name unearthed for you
by the thirst of my salt works.
Now you know this name of torture,
this name of fig tree and quince,
this fragrant branch of orange blossoms,
this frothy shroud of rough sea
where the birds nest,
this lustful woman with red mane
who wrote the legend of my twenty five years.

Now I have no mystery for you.
I am the man from the island of Ibiza.

José Manuel Cardona, from Birnam Wood (Salmon Poetry, 2018)
© Translated by Hélène Cardona
First published in Waxwing Literary Journal

Poem to Circe IV

Ancient bronzes, we reached the sea.
Missing is the man who says: the sea is mine.
Under this sea Phoenician amphorae
Sleep their languid female curves.
Do you know amphorae? Have you
Seen their figure, their elegance?
Beneath the waters their whiteness
Laughs like spotless marble, indolence
Wakens love, they expand.
They’ve slept between sands for centuries.
They are like soft fish that escaped
The potter’s greedy love.
They already belong to the sea much as
Drowned sailors at the bottom of the algae.
Foreign sailors from faraway
Countries whose fragrance dissipates.

With floating and dispersed beards,
With beards in loops, extended
By the sea like golden curls.
Circe, I love amphorae. It hurts me
To see them out of the sea, without sea or sand.
They remind me of the drowned youth
Who left at dawn and has forever been
sleeping blue beneath the waters.

José Manuel Cardona, from Birnam Wood (Salmon Poetry, 2018)
© Translated by Hélène Cardona
First published in Plume

Poem to Circe IX

Humanly I’m illuminated.
I’m amazed every day by the roaring
Song that overflows like erosive
Blackberry juice, by the joyful
And boisterous song of men.
Voices stretch like branches,
Footprints like branches, flesh
Kindred to my flesh, and life’s
Juicy wind ripens.
I reincarnate with their centuries old footprints,
Their secular voices, their joy
So often painful, like a sick
Child carried on one’s back.
Oddly it’s on this island, Circe,
I have the strength to live.
Here humanity is embraced and screams
Mixing laughter with its colors,
Speaking the same language with varied
Accents. Love’s display
Becomes a ritual we officiate.

We arrived and the miracle happened.
It was the sea and the wind in the bells.
We came from far, from years
Thirsty as dust, from humble
fishermen’s nets on barren shore.
We arrived and the miracle with us.
It has jumped into the net like a liquid fish
And it has multiplied for all
And we satiated ourselves, and all of us
We walk through the sand as one.
You see, Circe, the miracle occurs
Whenever man wants it. The search
That is the mystery of all things.

José Manuel Cardona, from Birnam Wood (Salmon Poetry, 2018)
©Translated by Hélène Cardona
First published in The American Journal of Poetry

Poem to Circe XV

By what uneasy paths of defeat
Did you reach your shore? By what Andean
Loneliness do I remain serene
Like the equestrian herbalist of your knolls?
The cave is the temple and its columns —
Where jasper dampens the snakes —
Have flooded the rapture of the Sphinx.
We will never know what happened to the mane.
There were always questions in the wounds,
Questions broken loose from silence.
But the subtle song hasn’t been told.
I kept the secret of the voices,
Ariadne, I say Circe, I say island,
Speaking cosmically, and I dare —
I have declared enough — the adventure
Chained to the mast by others.

I never wanted to close my ears.
Even though mortification devoured
My nails and that voice was like
Quicksilver, those strange voices
Others didn’t hear for fear.
And metamorphosis and spell,
To what extent are they inseparable?
I say love, I say anger, not to return
When I set forth and this homeward
Journey turned into a boundless temple.
I don’t understand abundance and rainfall
But believe we are the same,
Which is the trade of dethroned kings.
And with little I hold my vigil.
Don’t ask me anymore about the extent
Of my watchful arms. Distance
Counts sometimes as little as time.

José Manuel Cardona, from Birnam Wood (Salmon Poetry, 2018)
© Translated by Hélène Cardona
First published in The American Journal of Poetry

Poem to Circe XVII

And I remain alone and amazed.
The wonder is announced in the throat
Of men who suffer. Storms
Have covered the steps of my temple
With anthills, and the rubble
Remains on the shore like a naked
Body. Porters have descended
With their black canticles and the aroma
Of the voices burned like incense.
I clasped their hands one by one,
They were open and rugged hands.
Coarse hands of relentless men.
I will not explain the clamor of drums,
The clamor of the jungle when the blind
Traveler passes between the lindens
And the silence spreads out and never ends.

Circe, you recognize, you decipher
Enigmas and the color of the omen.
I always await the revelation.
I am among those who believe in magic.
I want to see the mask and pulp.
I scratch the bark and bite the stem.
I created you, Circe, and I don’t ignore you.
My drums follow you through the forest.
I ripped the eyes of thousands
Of slaves to ensure your steps.
I have cut the hands I love most
And you take them with you and they protect
You from other blue and curved hands.
I have left my friends without feet
So you can walk better through the desert.
There is a chorus of voices repeating
Your name with their severed voices.
I have sown the jungle with idols
And burned the tribes and the bonfire
Rose in bronze, perpetuating
Your figure with its ardent clamor.
I have bitten the sexes of women
Like columns and the spasm
Raged in your image, it raged
Until the flesh exploded, mutilating itself.

Lion claws –– their victims’
Blood still fresh –– engrave
Your name in marble and guard
Your effigy in their murderous paws.

I carry on in this island whipped by typhoons
Chained to the sea when the waves
Crash against the dam, and I proclaim you.
I scream, until hoarse, your beloved name.

José Manuel Cardona, from Birnam Wood (Salmon Poetry, 2018)
© Translated by Hélène Cardona
First published in The American Journal of Poetry

Ode to a Young Mariner

               To my brother Manuel

The sea is a bride with open arms,
with stout rubber balls for breasts.
It is difficult to refuse her caress,
dry from the lips her brackish aftertaste,
forget her sweet bitterness.
Underneath her waters wails a rosary of dead
centaurs, watchmen of the shadows.
Handsome men, hard as anchors torn
from the chest of a barbarian god.

It is difficult to refuse the call
of the sea, cover one’s ears,
grasp the neck with both hands
and become suddenly mute, or pluck out one’s eyes
and feed them to the fish. To ignore the gulls
and red masts and so many pennants,
and the ships arriving from unknown countries
and the ships departing for others
barely known, or perhaps for ours.

Because we carry within
like a blue keel or masts and spars
the marine bitterness of kelp,
the stripes on the back of fishes,
the tarry death
and our initials written in the sea.

Brother moving away to the bridge
like one more piece of our island,
the sea of mariners, your bride.
You know the smell of death
because you tread beneath a cemetery
that can be yours and you go brightly.

You know how the sea smells of life,
how at times she spits a ferocious foam,
how she wails wild and rises
like an atavistic being, a primitive creature.

We all carry death within written in furrows
like a name traced by the keel
of your boat in the sea. We are all sailors
of a sleeping bride with round breasts.

I don’t want to depart for the land,
to sprout like a eucalyptus branch
my eyes blinded by grass.
Wait for me, brother, when you anchor
your vessel in the sea you’ve loved.
No need to depart so alone, mariner
brother of a seaman gripped
by the earth’s open jaws.

José Manuel Cardona, from Birnam Wood (Salmon Poetry, 2018)
© Translated by Hélène Cardona
First published in The Plume Anthology of Poetry 3 (Mad Hat Press, ed. Daniel Lawless)

For other contributions by Hélène Cardona, please follow the links below:

Published with the permission of Hélène Cardona