Natan Barreto

Natan Barreto was born in Salvador, Brazil. He is the author of two volumes of poetry, published in Portuguese: Under the Roofs of the Night (1999) and Hiding Places on Paper (2007). He has also translated into Portuguese a collection of poems by Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, from Madagascar, Nearly Dreams & Translated from the Night (2009) . He has presented Brazilian poetry readings at the Brazilian Embassy, the Museum of London, Royal Court Theatre, the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and the universities of Nottingham and Queen Mary. He is an actor, interpreter and primary teacher.






About last night

Last night I went out to meet your absence –
the cold of the night inside me.
Through time I travelled through time to reach your house,
threw your name to the wind, as if throwing a stone,
but the weight of the word couldn’t break the glass.
I misted the glass with the warmth of my voice.
I whispered secrets, almost in silence,
but the stillness of your room made no reply.
I scratched the empty veins of the glass,
with the tip of the key of a borrowed car.
I dragged my fingers, with scarcely a sound,
across the clear skin of the glass.
And left traces of my prints,
bleeding from the pain I felt.

Ship of several trees

I already know that I’ll never be a perfect polyglot.
Neither can I try and make the journey back.
The rule of the fatherland is over.
I’m in the middle of the world.
I’m a citizen of cities.

I’ve smeared myself with the mud of many languages.
My mother tongue licks me,
but it doesn’t wash
off the lava of words that carry me away.

And my own Babel does not crumble.

Great mangrove swamp world!
I come across ancestral sounds
that connect
without saliva or blood,
in solitary wisps
from mouth to mouth.

And so I kiss the flow –
flames of the burning word
inside the night of humankind.

But the fire doesn’t cease
however dirty the sound,
rivers of roots in flames
fix their anchors in the skull
and go on troubling underground water
suspended in the chaos of the brain.

I’m a tree trunk with many grafts –
I’m a ship made of several trees.


A man travels a road like a river in its bed,
as if carrying in his flesh reflections of the banks,
the frames of broken buildings – the ruins of his town.

These recent ruins do not excite archaeologists.
They are debris of the war, not the erosion of time.
The eyes that examine them have no need to invent a past.
A past era lives on and on in the restless memory of the living.

This civilisation was not lost.
With fear, it peeps out, like grass between stones.

Under the sky of this town,
after the flames, the smoke, the ashes,
after the hate,
all looks static.
But the flow of the solid does not cease;
all streams to a future reconstruction,
when real rivers will reflect new buildings.

… Guernica, Dresden, Hiroshima…

(resolute minds slowly rebuild what was quickly destroyed)

… Belgrade, Kabul, Baghdad…

A man travels a road like a river in its bed.
They are no mere reflections, the ruins in his flesh.

One Response to Natan Barreto

  1. Ciaran McKinney says:

    Hi Natan..first time to read to read your poetry in translation. It’s beautiful, which of course, I expected from you. Best wishes Ciaran x

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