31. I dreamt that Earth was finished. And the only
human being to contemplate the end was Franz
Kafka. In heaven, the Titans were fighting to the
death. From a wrought-iron seat in Central Park,
Kafka was watching the world burn.
32. I dreamt I was dreaming and I came home
too late. In my bed I found Mário de Sá-Carneiro
sleeping with my first love. When I uncovered them
I found they were dead and, biting my lips till they
bled, I went back to the streets.
33. I dreamt that Anacreon was building his castle
on the top of a barren hill and then destroying it.
34. I dreamt I was a really old Latin American
detective. I lived in New York and Mark Twain
was hiring me to save the life of someone without
a face. “It’s going to be a damn tough case, Mr.
Twain,” I told him.
35. I dreamt I was falling in love with Alice Sheldon.
She didn’t want me. So I tried getting myself killed
on three continents. Years passed. Finally, when I
was really old, she appeared on the other end of the
promenade in New York and with signals (like the
ones they use on aircraft carriers to help the pilots
land) she told me she’d always loved me.
36. I dreamt I was 69ing with Anaïs Nin on an
enormous basaltic flagstone.
37. I dreamt I was fucking Carson McCullers in a
dim-lit room in the spring of 1981. And we both felt
38. I dreamt I was back at my old high school
and Alphonse Daudet was my French teacher.
Something imperceptible made us realize we were
dreaming. Daudet kept looking out the window
and smoking Tartarin’s pipe.
39. I dreamt I kept sleeping while my classmates
tried to liberate Robert Desnos from the Terezín
concentration camp. When I woke a voice was
telling me to get moving. “Quick, Bolaño, quick,
there’s no time to lose.” When I got there, all I
found was an old detective picking through the
smoking ruins of the attack.
40. I dreamt that a storm of phantom numbers was
the only thing left of human beings three billion
years after Earth ceased to exist.
41. I dreamt I was dreaming and in the dream
tunnels I found Roque Dalton’s dream: the dream
of the brave ones who died for a fucking chimera.
42. I dreamt I was 18 and saw my best friend at
the time, who was also 18, making love to Walt
Whitman. They did it in an armchair, contemplating
the stormy Civitavecchia sunset.
43. I dreamt I was a prisoner and Boethius was
my cellmate. “Look, Bolaño,” he said, extending
his hand and his pen in the shadows: “they’re not
trembling! they’re not trembling!” (After a while,
he added in a calm voice: “But they’ll tremble when
they recognize that bastard Theodoric.”)
44. I dreamt I was translating the Marquis de Sade
with axe blows. I’d gone crazy and was living in the
45. I dreamt that Pascal was talking about fear with
crystal clear words at a tavern in Civitavecchia: Miracles don’t convert, they condemn, he said.
46. I dreamt I was an old Latin American detective
and a mysterious Foundation hired me to find the
death certificates of the Flying Spics. I was traveling
all around the world: hospitals, battlefields, pulque
bars, abandoned schools.
Translated from the Spanish by Laura Healy.
Laura Healy has translated two collections of Roberto Bolaño’s poetry: The Romantic Dogs and Tres, which is the source of this excerpt and is forthcoming from New Directions in September 2011. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, and works as the managing editor of Harvard Review.
—Roberto Bolaño was born in Santiago, Chile in 1953. He grew up in Chile and Mexico City, where he was a founder of the Infrarealist poetry movement. His first full-length novel, The Savage Detectives, received the Herralde Prize when it appeared in 1998 and the Rómulo Gallegos in 1999. Roberto Bolaño died in Blanes, Spain, at the age of 50.
This issue of First Proof is sponsored in part by the Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation and the Thanksgiving Fund. Additional funding is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The New York State Council on the Arts, and readers like you.