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 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
And then the English translation –
IN THE READING ROOM OF HELL
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
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.
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.