Monday, September 8, 2014

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

by Pa Rock 
Poetry Appreciator

Mexico has been on my mind much of this week, ever since I acquired a tiny Chihuahua last Monday.  The Chihuahua, the world's smallest dog breed, is a native of the northern state of Chihuahua in Mexico, an impoverished and desolate landscape that has little to offer other than its unique desolation and itty-bitty dogs.

I tried to find a Chihuahua poem for this week - and there are many, but most sound like verses for Hallmark Cards.   After finally coming to the conclusion that a satisfactory poem about the little dogs wasn't going to show itself, I turned to the subject to the State of Chihuahua - and there I knew exactly which poet to tap.

The late writer, Roberto Bolano, was a very influential poet and novelist.   Bolano was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1953, and spent much of his adulthood in Mexico.  He was particularly taken with the arid wastes and small villages of northern Mexico, an area that figured prominently in several of his novels.   The writer met an early death due to natural causes at the age of fifty in Spain where he was residing at the time.

Roberto Bolano helped to found the school of Infrarealist Poetry in Mexico in the 1970's.  

The following poem by Roberto Bolano gives an insight into the thoughts and pressures on young Latin Americans as they grow into their uncertain and often dangerous futures, and it is particularly timely in that regard.    The poem also speaks to all of us as we mature and change and move cautiously into the future.

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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