‘You either listen or you don’t, and I listened’

Roberto Bolaño has in recent years won posthumous fame as a novelist. However he considered himself to be above all a poet, and poetry to be a higher form of literature as compared to the novel. This poem is an illustration of his breathtaking repertoire.

‘Self Portrait at Twenty Years’ by Roberto Bola
ño

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 by Laura Healy, The Romantic Dogs, his first collection of poetry to be translated into English)

Source: The Threepenny Review  via Literary Saloon

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