You lose days, strength, and love for the nation,
warm love for the woman loved warmly,
the will to live, sleep, and the right to tenderness;
you walk along there, insight, peace, glowing desire,
hidden desires, full of madness and discoveries,
and you know nothing, because it is said:
you should know nothing
as if words were the dead footsteps of hunger
or the dense wave of vice, beating in your ear,
or the funeral gleam of cold marble,
or the tree’s agonizing nakedness,
or the silk unquiet of water…
In the air there’s a river of windows and fire,
a sea of empty voices, a moan of savagery,
things and thoughts that wound;
there’s the brief rumor of dawn
and the scream of agony of one night, another night
all the world’s nights
in the maddening breath of bitter mouths.
You walk as if among cypresses,
under the long shadow of fear,
always at the foot of death. And you know nothing,
because it is said you should shut your mouth and know nothing,
because everything said seems an order,
a plea, a pardon, a prayer, a chant.
You should ignore the compassionate glance,
walk through that jungle at the pace of a man
who barely owns the sky that shelters him,
speaking Spanish with a century-fear,
sad under the blue burst of other people’s eyes,
dwarf before the long-legged tribes,
conquered by the day’s terror and the night’s misery,
the hypocrisy of all souls, and, for good measure,
saved by the pervert angel of the poem and its wings.
March toward condemnation and martyrdom,
pierced by the spines of the country lost,
choked by the deaf murmur of the hotels
where everything rots in between seas of whiskey and of gin.
March toward nowhere, forgotten by the world,
blind to Juárez’s marble and his laurel wreath, ridiculed
by assholes small and great;
hunted by Alabama’s lukewarm azaleas,
Mississippi’s hot magnolias,
wild prairie roses,
and the pelican politicians of Louisiana,
the violet castes of Illinois,
the bluebonnets of Texas…
and the millions of Bibles
like millions of dead pigeons.
You watch the trees and the light and dream
with the purity of beloved things
and the untouchable goodness of the ancient streets
with ancient laughs and the golden lightning bolt
of skin tanned lovingly by a sun full of love.
Greet your friends, and your friends
seem the shadow of friends,
the shadow of rose and geranium
the bled-out shadow of the mourning laurel.
What country, what territory do you live?
Where is the magic of silence, the weep
of silence in which everything is loved?
(So many millions of men— will we all speak English?)
You ask yourself
and you back away from the very question
as from burning straw.
Because it seems everything is burning
and everything is a pile of cold ashes,
a hive of perfumed worms
in the danceless going of the young women
a sob for their destinies
in the extinguished faces of the young men,
and a game with the tomb
in the stained eyes of the old man.
Everything seems to burn, like
a fortress taken in blood and fire.
The landscape’s heart smells,
the air smells of dead ideas,
the poets have the dry smell of statues
— and everything burns slowly
like in a vast cemetery.
Everything seems to die, to agonize,
everything seems a million-times-stamped-on dust.
The nation is dust and living flesh, the nation
should be, and is not, the nation
is what they yank from your heart
and they stamp on the heart pitilessly.
So you flee before the assault of the buffalo
which knock everything over; before the imperial fury
of the golden calf which has bought everything
— the little republic, the little tyrant,
the rivers, electric energy, the banks —
and it’s useless to invoke the name Lincoln
and it’s pointless to turn your eyes to Juárez,
because the axe has taken both their heads
and there’s no respect for any peace,
for any love.
There’s no respect even for the air you breathe,
for the woman loved so sweetly,
not even for the poem you write.
There’s no pity for the nation,
which is gold dust and flesh grown rich
on the martyr’s sacred blood.
So it seems all is lost, brothers,
while, bitterly, triumphally,
on Avenida Juárez in Ciudad de México
—sorry, Mek-siko Sit-ee—
the long-legged tribes, savagery in the flesh,
the tourists who adore Gone With the Wind
the neurotic millionairesses a hundred times divorced,
the gangsters and Miss Texas,
trample beauty, debase art,
guzzle the Gettysburg Address and Whitman’s poetry,
Paul Robeson’s passport and Chaplin movies,
and leave you laid out in the middle of the street with your ears torn to pieces
and a wrinkled postcard of Chapultepec between your fingers.