Cattle of the Lord
Love. Sex. Death. Meat. Traffic. Pets. In Cattle of the Lord, Rosa Alice Branco offers a stunning poetic vision at once sacred and profane, a rich evocation of daily life troubled by uneasy sacramentality.
In a collection translated by Alexis Levitin and presented in both Portuguese and English, readers find themselves in a world turned upside down: darkly comic, sensual, and rife with contradiction. Here, liturgical words become lovers’ invitations. Cows moo at the heavens. And chickens are lessons on the resurrection.
Over the course of the collection, Branco’s unorthodox—even blasphemous—religious sensibility yields something ultimately hopeful: a belief that the physical, the quotidian, and the animalistic are holy, too. Flesh, in all its meanings—the body of the other, caressed; the animals we abuse, and eat; the sacrificial offering of Christ—demands reverence.
Writing at the boundaries of sense and mystification, combining sensuous lyrics and wit with theological interrogation, Branco breaks down what we think we know about religion, faith, and what it means to be human. “Lord, how much compassion will it take for you,” her speaker cries, “To be godfather at the Sunday barbecue?”
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Praise and Prizes
“With what kind of voice shall we interrogate God? In Cattle of the Lord, it is anxious, sardonic, sensuous—but never despairing. In these incisive and vulnerable poems, the problem of the divine is filtered through the modern world. We’re shown again and again how faith is inextricable from doubt, how eros is inextricable from death. In Rosa Alice Branco, via the compelling translations of Alexis Levitin, we find a poet of immense spiritual, as well as intellectual, curiosity.”
“A wild and sneaky book, filled with intelligence, wit, and theological anxiety. These poems inhabit a lush, often pastoral world—of not-quite-trustworthy dogs, shuffling cows, village feasts, occasional angels. The enormity of God and questions of mortality and spirit are set against the noise and rhythms of daily life. This is a marvelous, moving, and obsessive book—and Alexis Levitin, one of this country’s best translators of poetry, offers an inviting rendering into English.”
“Rosa Alice Branco’s thoughtful collection looks to a shared future and offers a solution for the present: ‘on the coldest nights we rub our bones together / and lie there watching stars spark from the two of us.’ . . . In a world marked by pain and death, these poems whisper to the earth and cry out to the heavens, seeking faith and joy.”
“Rosa Alice Branco’s poems commune with a miraculous intelligence, translate it for us into an understandable language, and meld it with the darkly erotic. As ‘on the coldest nights we rub our bones together / and lie there watching stars spark,’ we read Cattle of the Lord and our minds spark against it, alight with the possibilities it offers us and to literature. It is a book not only to savor, but to study.”
“Rosa Alice Branco’s brilliant poetry offers a profound vision of the human condition, both dark and engaging, with bright veins of tenderness. Presented here in a deft and sensitive translation by Alexis Levitin, Cattle of the Lord deploys a remarkable range of images and symbols. Branco is among the foremost of contemporary poets; this translation of her work has a place in the library of all those who appreciate extraordinary writing.”
“Alexis Levitin masterfully voices Rosa Alice Branco’s bold lyrics, which are by turns playful, tender, surreal, and elegiac. Hope is undercut by loss, despair by irony—but tactile language, startling images, and ‘our daily one another’ provide shine and pleasure, accomplishing the poet’s stated ‘Tasks of the world’—‘To count the minutes, pound by pound.’”