16 Poems by Roberto Bolaño

An excerpt from Roberto Bolaño’s new collection of poetry, Tres, out from New Directions.

Roberto Bolaño 01

Roberto Bolaño

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

irrationally happy.


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.

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.

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.

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