Mario Montalbetti’s El lenguaje es un revólver para dos, translated with grace and beauty by Clare Sullivan for Ugly Duckling Presse as Language Is A Revolver for Two, is poetry of the quotidian, small facets of the world writ large and stark and given a gloss of daily magic.
A Revolver for Two sounds violent, at least to me, but there is little of violence about Montalbetti’s text, which instead makes the day to day magical—sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes just striking. Each poem follows something fundamental: a trip to the end of the road, what creatures (including us) say, though each carries something almost dream-like in its text.
A gray man rides to the end of the line in “As I Conceive It We Are Climates.” The title, I guess, influenced me (or maybe that’s just what comes of growing up near the tracks), and I waited for horror. Instead we get the end of the line, and a charming set of final images: “The gesture gets lost in a frame of local flowers, / they’re green. Over there’s the river, immense, silent; // and there the salt-scented wind and scattered clouds. / The man alights and smiles: the end of the road. // Now he knows it. He has done it before.” The end of the line and of the road become something blurred and beautiful here.
“A Lesson in Economy” tracks around in an economics professor’s head, and it is alternately funny and fascinating. “Il Gran Rifiuto (Dante, Inferno III, 60)” crosses into a dreamy space of fire and horror: “The train pauses. It’s impossible to go on. / There is no path through the flames, // there is no path through the dreaming.” Is it climate change? Is it an abstracted horror seen from the rails? I have no idea, but reading it today, after the climate report, it’s climate change wrought in delicacy and horror and I’ll probably never be able to read it any other way.
Language Is A Revolver For Two is a strange little chapbook, built around the most quotidian of things: the end of the line, the end of the road, the text of a poem, fire around a train, supply and demand. But those things are rendered magical, brought to life by Montalbetti’s text and Sullivan’s exquisite translation. It’s a rich little book, and one to which I will return.