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PARRA, Nicanor

Recuerdos de juventud

What's certain is that I kept going back and forth,

Sometimes I bumped into trees,

I bumped into beggars,

I would make my way through a forest of chairs and tables,

With my soul hanging by a thread I would watch the great leaves fall.

But all of it was useless,

I kept sinking deeper and deeper into a kind of jelly;

People would laugh at my fits of rage,

Individuals would shake in their armchairs like algae moved by the waves

And women gave me hate-filled looks

Making me cry and laugh against my will.

All of this produced a feeling of disgust,

It produced a storm of incoherent sentences,

Threats, insults, oaths that were beside the point,

It produced certain exhausting hip movements,

Those funereal dances

That left me breathless

And unable to lift my head for days

And nights on end.

I kept going back and forth, it's true,

My soul floated down the streets

Asking for help, asking for a little tenderness;

With a sheet of paper and a pencil I would go into cemeteries

Determined not to let them fool me.

I would go round and round the same subject,

I would observe things closely

Or in a fit of fury I would tear out my hair.

That's how I made my debut in the classrooms,

Like a man with a gunshot wound I dragged myself through the literary societies,

I crossed the thresholds of private houses,

With the sharp edge of my tongue I tried to communicate with the spectators:

They would read their newspapers

Or disappear behind a taxi.

Then where could I go!

By that time the store was closed;I would think about a slice of onion that I saw at supper

And about the abyss that separates us from the other abysses.

Preguntas a la hora del té

This pale gentleman seems like

A figure in the wax museum;

He looks through the torn curtains:

What is worth more, gold or beauty?

Is the moving stream worth more

Or the immobile grass on the bank?

In the distance a bell is heard

That opens one more wound, or closes it:

Is the water in the fountain more real

Or the girl who looks at herself in it?

No one knows, people pass him by

Building castles in the sand.

Is the transparent glass superior

To the hand of the man who creates it?

One breathes a tired air

Of ashes, of smoke, of sadness:

What was once seen is not seen again

The same way, say the dry leaves.

Time for tea, toast, margarine,

Everything enveloped in a kind of fog.

I a Sinner / Yo pecador

I a born delinquent

Caught infraganti

Stealing flowers by the light of the moon

I beg the whole world's pardon

But I do not admit that I am guilty


I don't know how I wound up here

I was running happy and content

With my hat in my right hand

After a phosphorescent butterfly

Who drove me wild with joy

When suddenly pow! I tripped

And I don't know what happened to the


The landscape changed completely!

My mouth and nose are bleeding.

Really I don't know what happened

Save me once and for all

Or shoot me in the back of the neck.

El peregrino

Attention, ladies and gentlemen, your attention please!

Turn your heads toward this side of the republic for a moment,

Forget your personal affairs for a night,

Pleasure and pain can wait at the door:

A voice is heard from this side of the republic.

Attention, ladies and gentlemen! Your attention please!

A soul that has been bottled up for years

In a kind of sexual and intellectual abyss,

Barely feeding himself through the nose

Wants you to listen to him.

I want to be told about some things,

I need a little light, the garden is covered with flies,

I'm in a disastrous mental state,

I reason in my own way;

While I say these things I see a bicycle leaning against a wall,

I see a bridge

And an automobile that disappears between the buildings.

All of you comb your hair, that's true, you walk through gardens,

Under your skin you have another skin,

You have a seventh sense

That lets you go in and out automatically,

But I am a child behind the rocks who calls to its mother,

I am a pilgrim who kicks stones up to his nose,

A tree that shouts to be covered with leaves.


In Santiago, Chile

The days are interminably long:

Several eternities in a day.

Like the vendors of seaweed

Travelling on the backs of mules:

You yawn - you yawn again.

Yet the weeks are short

The months go racing by

And the years have wings.

Ultimo brindis

Lo queramos o no

Sólo tenemos tres alternativas:

El ayer, el presente y el mañana.

Y ni siquiera tres

Porque como dice el filósofo

El ayer es ayer

Nos pertenece sólo en el recuerdo:

A la rosa que ya se deshojó

No se le puede sacar otro pétalo.

Las cartas por jugar

Son solamente dos:

El presente y el día de mañana.

Y ni siquiera dos

Porque es un hecho bien establecido

Que el presente no existe

Sino en la medida en que se hace pasado

Y ya pasó...,

como la juventud.

En resumidas cuentas

Sólo nos va quedando el mañana:

Yo levanto mi copa

Por ese día que no llega nunca

Pero que es lo único

De lo que realmente disponemos.

The Last toast

Whether we like it or not,

We have only three choices:

Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

And not even three

Because as the philosopher says

Yesterday is yesterday

It belongs to us only in memory:

From the rose already plucked

No more petals can be drawn.

The cards to play

Are only two:

The present and the future.

And there aren't even two

Because it's a known fact

The present doesn't exist

Except as it edges past

And is consumed...,

like youth.

In the end

We are only left with tomorrow.

I raise my glass

To the day that never arrives.

But that is all

we have at our disposal.

La víbora

For many long years I was condemned to love a contemptible woman

To sacrifice myself for her, to suffer countless humiliations and deceptions,

To work day and night to feed and clothe her,

To carry out a few crimes, commit a few misdeameanors,

Perform petty burglaries by the light of the moon,

Forgeries of compromising documents,

For fear of being disgraced in the sight of her fascinating eyes.

When we got along we would meet in parks

And have our picture taken together steering a motorboat,

Or we would go to a nightclub

Where we would lose ourselves in shameless dancing

That went on until all hours of the morning.

For long years I lived a prisoner under the spell of that woman

Who would show up in my office completely naked

Performing unimaginable contortions

Intended to draw my poor soul into her orbit

And, above all, to get hold of my last cent.

She gave me strict orders not to have anything to do with my family.

My friends were alienated from me by means of defamatory libels

That the viper had published in a newspaper that she owned.

Deliriously passionate, she didn't give me a minute's peace,

Urgently demanding that I kiss her mouth

And immediately answer her foolish questions

Several of which had to do with eternity and the afterlife,

Subjects which made me feel terrible

And gave me buzzing in the ears, recurrent nausea, sudden fainting spells

That she knew how to take advantage of with that spirit of practicality that was characteristic of her-

She would put on her clothes without wasting any time

And leave my apartment and me in the lurch.

This situation lasted for more than five years.

Sometimes we would live together, sharing the rent,

In a round room in a high class neighbourhood near the cemetery.

(Some nights we had to interrupt our honeymoon

And fight off the rats that squeezed in through the window).

The viper kept a detailed account book

Where she wrote down every penny I borrowed from her;

She didn't even let me use her toothbrush although I had given it to her myself

And she accused me of having ruined her youth:

With flashing eyes she subpoenaed me to appear in court

And pay part of what I owed her with all due speed

Because she needed that money to continue her studies.

Then I had to take to the street and live on public charity,

Sleeping on the benches in the square

Where the police often found me half dead

Among the first autumn leaves.

Fortunately that situation did not go on much longer

Because once when I was in a square again

Posing to have my picture taken

A pair of delicious feminine hands suddenly covered my eyes

While a voice that I loved asked guess-who.

You're my love, I answered calmly

Darling! she said nervously.

Let me sit on your knees one more time!

Then I could see that she now came complete with a small loincloth.

It was a memorable meeting, though full of discordant notes:

I've bought some land, not far from the slaughterhouse, she exclaimed,

I plan to build a kind of pyramid there

Where we can spend the rest of our lives.

I've finished my studies, I've passed the bar exam,

I'm pretty well off;

Let's go into some profitable business, just the two of us, my love, she added,

Let's build our nest far from the world.

That's enough nonsense, I answered, your plans make me suspicious,

Remember that at any time my real wife

Could leave us all in the most frightful poverty.

My children are grown up now, time has gone by,

I'm absolutely exhausted, let me rest for a minute,

Woman, bring me a little water,

Get me something to eat somewhere,

I'm dying of hunger,

I can't work for you anymore,

Everything is finished between us.

Me retracto de todo lo dicho

[Antes de despedirme

Tengo derecho a un último deseo:

Generoso lector

quema este libro

No representa lo que quise decir

A pesar de que fue escrito con sangre

No representa lo que quise decir.

Mi situación no puede ser más triste

Fui derrotado por mi propia sombra:

Las palabras se vengaron de mí.

Perdóname lector

Amistoso lector

Que no me pueda despedir de ti

Con un abrazo fiel:

Me despido de ti

con una triste sonrisa forzada.

Puede que yo no sea más que eso

pero oye mi última palabra:

Me retracto de todo lo dicho.

Con la mayor amargura del mundo

Me retracto de todo lo que he dicho.

I Take Back Everything I’ve Said

Before I go

I’m supposed to get a last wish:

Generous reader

burn this book

It’s not at all what I wanted to say

Though it was written in blood

It’s not what I wanted to say.

No lot could be sadder than mine

I was defeated by my own shadow:

My words took vengeance on me.

Forgive me, reader,

good reader

If I cannot leave you

With a warm embrace,

I leave you

With a forced and sad smile.

Maybe that’s all I am

But listen to my last word:

I take back everything I’ve said.

With the greatest bitterness in the world

I take back everything I’ve said.

translated by Miller Williams

El túnel

I spent a period of my youth in the house of

some aunts

Because of the death of a gentleman who

had been an intimate friend of theirs

And whose ghost annoyed them mercilessly

Making their life impossible.

At first I was deaf to their telegrams

To their letters written in the language of

another time

Full of mythological allusions

And the proper names of people I knew

nothing about

Some of them belonged to ancient wise men

To second rate medieval philosophers

Or simply to people in the neighborhood

where they lived.

Leaving the university just like that

Breaking with the charms of the gallant life

Interrupting everything

Just to satisfy the whims of three hysterical

old women

Full of all kinds of personal problems

Seemed, to a person like me, to be

A not very attractive future

A mad idea.

Nevertheless, I lived in The Tunnel for four


In close proximity to those fearful ladies

Four years of constant martyrdom

Martyrdom day and night.

The hours of happiness I spent under the


Soon turned into weeks of boredom

Into months of anguish which I did my best to


So as not to arouse curiosity about myself.

They turned into years of ruin and misery

Into centuries of imprisonment that my soul


Inside a bottle on the table!

My spiritualist conception of the world

Put me in a position of absolute inferiority

when confronted by real facts:

I saw everything through a prism

At the bottom of which the images of my

aunts wove in and out like living threads

Forming a kind of impenetrable armor

That wounded my vision and made it more and more


A young man of limited means doesn't know

about things.

He lives in a bell jar called Art

Called Lust, called Science

Trying to make contact with a world of


That only exist for him and a small group of


Under the effects of a kind of water vapor

That filtered in through the floor of my room

And filled the air and made everything


I spent my nights at my desk

Absorbed in the practice of automatic writing.

But why go any further into these unpleasant


Those matrons made a miserable fool of me

With their false promises, their strange


Their skillfully simulated sorrows

They managed to keep me in their nets for


Tacitly obliging me to work for them

Doing agricultural chores

And buying and selling animals

Until one night, looking through the keyhole

I realized that one of them

My paralyzed aunt!

Could walk perfectly well on tiptoe

And I came back to reality with a goddamn

awful feeling.