poems by Julio Cortazar
A LOVE LETTER
Everything I’d want from you
is finally so little
because finally it’s everything
like a dog going by, or a hill,
those meaningless things, mundane,
wheat ear and long hair and two lumps of sugar,
the smell of your body,
whatever you say about anything
with or against me,
all that which is so little
I want from you because I love you
May you look beyond me,
may you love me with violent disregard
for tomorrow, let the cry
of your coming explode
in the boss’s face in some office
and let the pleasure we invent together
be one more sign of freedom.
PROFIT AND LOSS
I’m lying again, with grace,
I bow respectfully before the mirror
reflecting my collar and tie.
I believe I am that gentleman who goes out
every morning at nine.
The gods are dead one by one in long lines
of paper and cardboard.
I don’t miss anything, I don’t even
miss you. I feel a little hollow, but it’s just
a drum: skin on either side.
Sometimes you return in the evening, when I’m reading
things that put me to sleep: the news,
the dollar and the pound, United Nations
debates. It feels like
your hand stroking my hair. But I don’t miss you!
It’s just that little things are suddenly missing
and I might like to seek them out: like happiness,
and the smile, that furtive little creature
no longer living between my lips.
( LA MUFA )
You see the Southern Cross,
you breathe the summer with its smell of peaches,
and you walk at night
my little silent ghost
through that Buenos Aires,
always through that same Buenos Aires.
THE BRIEF LOVE
How smoothly and how sweetly
she lifts me from the bed where I was dreaming
of profound and fragrant fields,
she runs her fingers over my skin and sketches me
in space, suspended, until the kiss
alights curved and recurrent
a slow flame kindling
the rhythmic dance of the bonfire
weaving us together in flashes, in spirals,
going and coming in a storm of smoke—
(So why is
what’s left of me, afterwards,
just a sinking into ashes
without a goodbye, with nothing more than a gesture
of letting our hands go free?)
AFTER SUCH PLEASURES
Tonight, seeking your mouth in another mouth,
almost believing it, because that’s how blind this river is
that throws me into some woman and submerges me in her eyes,
and it’s sad to swim finally toward the shore of sleep
knowing pleasure in that lowlife slave
who accepts counterfeit coins and circulates them, smiling.
Forgotten purity, how could I hope to recover
that ache of Buenos Aires, that ceaseless hopeless expectation.
Alone in my open house above the port
to begin being in love with you again,
to meet you again over the morning coffee
with nothing that can’t be forgiven
And without my having to remember this oblivion that rises
to no purpose, to erase your squiggles from the backboard
and leave me nothing more than a starless window
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Look, I don’t ask much,
just your hand, to hold it
like a little frog who’d sleep there happily.
I need that door you gave me
for coming into your world, that little chunk
of green sugar, of a lucky ring.
Can’t you just spare me your hand tonight
at the end of a year of hoarse-voiced owls?
You can’t, for technical reasons. So
I weave it in the air, warping each finer,
the silky peach of the palm
and the back, that country of blue trees.
That’s how I take it and hold it, as
if so much of the world depended on it,
the succession of the four seasons,
the crowing of the roosters, the love of human beings.
out of the smokes, the coffee and the wine
they rise to appear at the edge of night
like those voices you hear singing somewhere
far down the street, what song you can’t make out.
Brothers whom destiny has loosely bound,
sons of Zeus, pale shades, they shoo the flies
of my habits and they keep me afloat
when the vortex threatens to suck me down.
The dead speak louder, whispering the past,
the living are a warm hand and a roof:
my total losses and my total gains.
So one day, when I’m ferried through the gloom,
I’ll cinch their absence to me like a vest
of this old tenderness that says their names.
THE HAPPY CHILD
That flash of happiness
twists in the air and settles
lightly on your hair like a petal
along with the breeze’s bees
Out of this airy happiness flows
the beauty where you go dancing
oh girl blind to the stirring
wings of a black rose
I feel myself dying in you, overtaken by expanding
spaces, which feed on me just like hungry butterflies.
I close my eyes and I’m laid out in your memory, barely alive,
with my mouth wide open and the river of oblivion rising.
And you, patiently, with needle-nosed pliers, pul out
my teeth, my eyelashes, you strip
the clover from my voice, the shade from my desire,
you open up windows of space in my name
and blue holes in my chest
through which the summers rush out in mourning.
Transparent, sharpened, interwoven with air
I float in a drowse, and still
I say your name and wake you, anguished.
But you force yourself to forget me,
and I’m barely a bubble
reflecting you, which you’ll burst
with the blink of an eye.
IF I’M TO LIVE
If I’m to live without you, let it be hard and bloody,
cold soup, broken shoes, or in the midst of opulence
let the dry branch of a cough jerk through me, barking
your twisted name, the foaming vowels, and let the bedsheets
stick to my fingers, and nothing give me peace.
I won’t learn to love you any better this way,
but abandoned by happiness
I’ll know how much you have me just by sometimes being around.
I think I understand this, but I’m kidding myself:
there’ll need to be frost on the lintel
so the one taking shelter in the vestibule feels
the light in the dining room, the milky tablecloths, and the smell
of bread passing its brown hand through the crack.
As far apart from you
as one eye from the other,
out of this affliction I’ve taken on
will be born the gaze that deserves you at last.
In evening’s dome each bird is a point of memory.
It’s amazing sometimes how the years’ fervor
returns, returns without a body, returns for no reason at all,
how beauty, so brief in its violent love,
saves us an echo as night falls.
And so, what can you do but stand there slack-armed,
your heart overloaded and that taste of dust
that was a rose or a road—
Flight outflies the wing.
Without humility you know this remnant
was wrung from the dark by the work of silence,?
that the branch in your hand, the dark tear
are your inheritance, the man with his story,
the lamp shining its light.
Awash with bees
in the wind besieged by emptiness
I live like a branch
and amid grinning enemies
my hands weave the legend
invent the dazzling world
this sail unfurled
I’m half-in-the-dream, a wedge between curtains, a diver in washbasins.
I meet things, what to make of it, strange occupations,
I seem to have found a new way to understand the sonata.
Now I’m awake, and some knowledge
lingers, some timid memory. But from the clock’s
viewpoint, a void
and so you inspect your nose, your eyebrows hair by hair,
and you resemble yourself if you can with the pleasure
of slipping back into your shoes, your vest.
How nice, how-just-like-yesterday,
they fit so well! (And still that dream, that
so-soft so-inward so-unforgotten,
barely daylight, barely the coffee again, my name and the news
from-outside from-outside from-outside.)
The one who leaves his country because he’s afraid,
he isn’t sure of what—the mouse inside the cheese,
the rope amid the mad, the scum on the soup.
Then he tries to swap himself like a trading card,
the hair he used to plaster in place with pomade in front of the mirror
he lets fall over his forehead, he unbuttons his shirt, switches customs, wines and language.
He realizes, the wretch, that he’s doing okay, and sleeps
like a pussycat. He even changes his style, and he makes friends
who know nothing of his ridiculously domestic provincial history.
Every so often he asks himself how he could have waited so long
to leave the shoreless river, the strangling collars,
the Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
A clean slate, sure, but careful:
one mirror is every mirror,
and the passport says you were born and you are,
and white skin, straight-backed nose,
Buenos Aires, September.
He brushes off the fact that he can’t forget,
because that’s an art few master, what he wanted:
that alphabet soup with stars
which he’ll tirelessly sip
at countless tables in various hotels,
the very same soup, poor kid,
till the little fish in his ribcage takes a stand and says enough.