Because I was a pigmy and yellow and had pleasant features
And because I was smart and unwilling to be tortured
In a work camp or padded cell
They stuck me in this flying saucer
And told me fly and find your destiny. But what
Destiny was I going to find? The damned ship looked like
The wandering Dutchman through the skies of the world, as if
I wanted to flee from my disability, from my particular
Skeleton: a spit in Religion's face,
A silk stab in the back of Happines,
Moral and Ethical support, the forward escape
From my executioner brothers and my unknown brothers.
In the end, all human and curious, all orphans and
Blind players on the edge of the abyss. But all this
Inside the flying saucer could only make me indifferent.
Or remote. Or secondary. The greatest virtue of my traitorous species
Is courage, perhaps the only thing that's real, palpable even in tears
And goodbyes. And courage was what I needed, locked up in
The saucer, casting surprising shadows on peasants and drunks
Sprawled out in irrigation ditches. I invoked courage while the
Flicked through ghettos and parks that to someone on foot
Would be enormous, but for me were only pointless tattoos,
Magnetic indecipherable words. Scarcely a gesture
Hinted beneath the planet's nutria cloak.
Had I become Stefan Zweig and seen the approach
Of my suicide? With respect to this, the ship's bitter cold
Was indisputable. But still, I sometimes dreamed
Of a warm country, a terrace and a faithful, desperate love.
My falling tears would linger on the saucer's
Surface for days, evidence not of my pain, but of
A kind of glorified poetry that more and more often
Clenched my chest, my temples and hips. A terrace
A warm country and a love with big faithful eyes
Approaching slowly through my dreams, while the ship
Left smoldering trails in the ignorance of my brothers
And in their innocence. And we were a ball of light, the saucer and I,
In the retinas of poor peasants, a perishable image
That would never adequately describe my longing
Or the mystery that was the beginning and end
Of that incomprehensible artefact. Like that until the
End of my days, submitted to arbitrary winds,
Dreaming sometimes the saucer was smashing into a sierra
In America and my corpse, almost without a scratch, was rising up
To be seen by old highlanders and historians:
An egg in a nest of twisted shackles. Dreaming
That the saucer and I had finished our ridiculous dance,
Our humble critique of Reality, in a painless, anonymous
Crash in one of the planet's deserts. Death
That brought me no peace, so after my flesh had rotted
I still went on dreaming.
Translated from the Spanish by Laura Healy.
Published by arrangement with New Directions Publishing Corporation, the Heirs of Roberto Bolaño, and Agencia Literaria Carmen Balcells.
Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) was born in Chile and co-founded the Infrarealist poetry movement in Mexico City in the 1970s. His collections of poetry include The Romantic Dogs, Three,and The Unkown University, published pothumously in 2007.