Dead Idyll

(The Eagle’s Gift)

I recounted for her the great predilection that he had for poetry, and how I used to read it to him when we had nothing else to do. He would listen to poems on the premise that only the first or sometimes the second stanza was worthwhile reading; the rest he found to be indulgence on the poet’s part. There were very few poems, of the hundreds I must have read to him, that he listened to all the way through. At first I read to him what I liked; my preference was for abstract, convoluted, cerebral poetry. Later he made me read over and over what he liked. In his opinion a poem had to be compact, preferably short. And it had to be made up of precise poignant images of great simplicity.

In the late afternoon, sitting on that bench in Oaxaca, a poem by Cesar Vallejo always seemed to sum up for him a special feeling of longing. I recited it to la Gorda from memory, not so much for her benefit as for mine.

 

I wonder what she is doing at this hour

my Andean and sweet Rita

of reeds and wild cherry trees.

Now that this weariness chokes me, and blood dozes off,

like lazy brandy inside me.

I wonder what she is doing with those hands

that in attitude of penitence

used to iron starchy whiteness,

in the afternoons.

Now that this rain is taking away my desire to go on.

I wonder what has become of her skirt with lace;

of her toils; of her walk;

of her scent of spring sugar cane from that place.

She must be at the door,

gazing at a fast moving cloud.

A wild bird on the tile roof will let out a call;

and shivering she will say at last, “Jesus, it’s cold!”