Self Portrait at Twenty Years



“Me dejé ir, lo tomé en marcha y no supe nunca
hacia dónde hubiera podido llevarme. Iba lleno de miedo,
se me aflojó el estómago y me zumbaba la cabeza:
yo creo que era el aire frío de los muertos.
No sé. Me dejé ir, pensé que era una pena
acabar tan pronto, pero por otra parte
escuché aquella llamada misteriosa y convincente.
O la escuchas o no la escuchas, y yo la escuché
y casi me eché a llorar: un sonido terrible,
nacido en el aire y en el mar.
Un escudo y una espada. Entonces,
pese al miedo, me dejé ir, puse mi mejilla
junto a la mejilla de la muerte.
Y me fue imposible cerrar los ojos y no ver
aquel espectáculo extraño, lento y extraño,
aunque empotrado en una realidad velocísima:
miles de muchachos como yo, lampiños
o barbudos, pero latinoamericanos todos,
juntando sus mejillas con la muerte.”

Roberto Bolaño




“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.”

English translation by Laura Healy

4 thoughts on “Self Portrait at Twenty Years

  1. Gorgeous! Thank you for sharing Mr. Bolaño’s amazing work! I started following The Genealogy of Style whilst Googling for Anjelica Huston’s modeling pictures (I am listening to the second part of her autobiography right now), and perusing more intently. I really enjoyed what I saw. And now (in that my blog is all about poetry and writing), imagine my delight seeing this post (and others) involving poetry! Sweet! Cheers, Jamy 😀


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