(Author Photo from Latinoamerica- online)
It's been a while since I've posted a poem, and thought I'd put this up, since the subject of translation has been one some friends and I have been discussing recently. This is by the amazing Chilean author, Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) whose work the angels at New Directions have been issuing in English in recent years. Bolaño's massive, glorious novel, The Savage Detectives has made most if not all of the "Best of 2007" booklists I've seen (both the New York and Los Angeles Times, for example).
An excerpt from Bolaño's 'fictional dictionary' Nazi Literature in the Americas, appeared in the wonderful Virgina Quarterly Review's "South America in the 20th Century" issue; a short story, Álvaro Rousselot's Journey appeared in The New Yorker, his poem "Godzilla in Mexico" appears in a recent issue of The Nation., and this one, reprinted on the New Directions site, first appeared in Harpers (Take THAT "The Magazine is Dead" people)
!Que viva Bolaño!
"Self-Portrait at Twenty Years"
I set off, I took up the march and never knew
where it might take me. I went full of fear,
my stomach dropped, my head was buzzing:
I think it was the icy wind of the dead.
I don't know. I set off, I thought it was a shame
to leave so soon, but at the same time
I heard that mysterious and convincing call.
You either listen or you don't, and I listened
and almost burst out crying: a terrible sound,
born on the air and in the sea.
A sword and shield. And then,
despite the fear, I set off, I put my cheek
against death's cheek.
And it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing
that strange spectacle, slow and strange,
though fixed in such a swift reality:
thousands of guys like me, baby-faced
or bearded, but Latin American, all of us,
brushing cheeks with death.
Roberto Bolaño (translated from the Spanish by Laura Healy)