En la Sala de Lecturas del Infierno (In the Reading Room of Hell)

A poem by Roberto Bolaño, the brilliant, remarkable, complex Chilean poet and novelist who died in 2003.



Enough has been said about him already, the only biographical detail I will add is: like myself, Bolaño loved the work of Nicanor Parra, his fellow Chilean poet, who is still alive and, at age 97, still writing.

This poem appeals to me for many reasons. It can be read in many different ways. Surprisingly, the English translation is as strong, spare and emotionally subversive as the Spanish original.


Primero la versión original –



En la sala de lecturas del Infierno    En el club

de aficionados a la ciencia-ficción

En los patios escarchados    En los dormitorios de tránsito

En los caminos de hielo    Cuando ya todo parece más claro

y cada instante es mejor y menos importante

Con un cigarrillo en la boca y con miedo    A veces

los ojos verdes    Y 26 años     Un servidor


a reading room in another Hell

And then the English translation –



In the reading room of Hell     In the club

for science-fiction fans

On the frosted patios     In the bedrooms of passage

On the iced-over paths     Where everything finally seems clearer

and each instant is better and less important

With cigarette in mouth and with fear     Sometimes

green eyes     And 26 years old     Yours truly


sala de lectura de un Infierno disfrazado

One of the reasons I love the poem – and Bolaño too….I read his words but I see myself inside them. I get the feeling his words are a mirror of things I haven’t looked at, or don’t want to see, or recognize, in myself.  You have to be fucking good to have your words do that to another….he is. He was. He still is. I find myself looking at old photos of him, always with his glasses on, always looking out at the world with what I think of as cynical bemusement.

What are you looking at right now? What are you seeing?

I have those moments too.  Where everything finally seems clearer     and each instant is better and less important.  I don’t forget them. Or, at least, I try not to.

And for those of you who are interested, by the way, Hell’s reading room is just down the hall…from Hell’s kitchen….and if you keep going to the rear of the building, all the way in back, you will find the bedroom. Bed unmade. It hasn’t been slept in for some time….the former occupant is in the reading room. Engrossed in a text that alternately grips, disturbs and terrifies him….but he can’t seem to put it down.

2 comments on “En la Sala de Lecturas del Infierno (In the Reading Room of Hell)

  1. Adriana Degetau says:

    Me encanta! Puedes poner los Nueve Mandamientos de Lautréamont?

    • Los Nueve Mandamientos de Lautréamont? Bueno, vamos a ver. Pero…..si los pongo….creo que también tendré que poner Craig Clevenger’s 9 Rules of Writing. But maybe I’ll do it backwards, starting with #9: Write every story as though it’s your last.

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