Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday's Poetry: "Self Portrait at Twenty Years"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Chilean novelist and poet, Roberto Bolano, died in 2003 at the tender age of fifty.  Bolano became a definitive force in Latin American literature during his short lifetime.     My two favorite Bolano novels are The Savage Detectives and 2666.   Both have a strong connection to the small towns Sonora Desert, the geographic feature that laps across the border and up against my current home in the West Valley of Phoenix.

Today's poem, Self Portrait at Twenty Years,  is a tribute to young Latin Americans coming of age and striking out on their own.  It is Bolano recognizing the courage that he displayed in early adulthood as he began stepping into his own future.   The poem speaks to the spirit of independence that many aspire to, yet not all have the courage to pursue aggressively.

Roberto Bolano became his own man on his own terms, and he left an enormous impact on the literary landscape of the Americas and Europe.

Self Portrait at Twenty Years
by Roberto Bolano

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.

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