Five Poems by Raúl Gómez Jattin

BOMB 86 Winter 2004
086 Winter 2004 1024X1024

New York Live Arts presents

Marjani Forte
Nov 15-19


1.

Oh God
you who do not exist
are so fortunate
not to care
for the whole human race.
Instead I
die every day
mad, broken
by stupidity
With the beggar
I die
with the distraught lover
I suffer
with the whore trapped
in a cantina
I weep
then go back to being
alone
gnawing the rock-hard
bread of exile
among so many people
I sometimes
love.

 

2.

In the mental wards
the worse ones are the nuns
more violent
than hypodermic needles
than fever and madness
the nun is a quiet gorgon.
In the mental wards
when I cry the nun laughs.
I could say the nun
is neither evil nor good
she simply hates
all that moves
all that lives
all that has a heartbeat
all that is
not her dead God.

 

3.

To go back to the village
and find the streets
unchanged.
The same elderly people.
The same beautiful faces
of boys and girls.
The same river
coursing round
and round. My heart
is heavy and somber.
My parents are dead
the family house
in ruins
flattened by a cyclone
of death and solitude.
All I have left is poetry
and the young men
who ask me about it
and read me.
What wouldn’t I give
for my parents
to know I am loved
for what I write.

 

4.

How it rankles his old friends
to know that despite the ups
and downs of life
he still hungers
for the adventure of being
a poet who writes.
They find it peculiar
he doesn’t live in wards
or hasn’t died in jails
and they miss him.
They’re all winners
in prestige and gold.
What is it about poetry
that incites a kind of avarice.
The doctors and sad
businessmen bite the deaf anger
of feeling anonymous
blind to themselves
and to the uncharted
world of spirit.
I take pleasure in knowing
they envy me.

 

5.

And suddenly
as unannounced
as a summer shower
a strange man appeared
barefoot
smiling
singing
giving
away his verses to the people
In the newspapers
of the capital
his photo
along with a commentary
full of praise
said
he was one
of the greatest of the great
poets of his country
and the public authorities
who knew him
since he was a boy
gave orders to drag him
to prison
sixteen times
in four months
to teach him
the rich
are deeply disturbed
by the topic of art
regarding
which a lawyer type
from a poor family
but an aristocrat in spirit
announced the sad news
that art was important
in a manner
unattainable by the mighty
but as is so often the case
small-mindedness
won out
Today
when this poet’s work
is admired by many
his tormentors make haste
to greet him
as a friend.
But he has not forgotten.

Translated from the Spanish by Jaime Manrique and Dean Kostos.

Jaime Manrique is a novelist, poet, and essayist. His books include Tarzan, My Body, Christopher Columbus (Painted Leaf Press, 2001), Eminent Maricones (University of Wisconsin Press, 2002) and Latin Moon in Manhattan (St. Martin’s Press, 1993). Among his honors are Columbia’s National Poetry Award and a Guggenheim fellowship. He is an associate professor in the MFA at Columbia University.

Dean Kostos is the author of The Sentence That Ends with a Comma (Painted Leaf Press, 1999) and Celestial Rust (Red Dust, 1995) and the coeditor of Mama’s Boy (Painted Leaf Press, 2000). His poems have appeared in Boulevard, Chelsea, Rattapallax, and Southwest Review. His translations from the modern Greek have appeared in Barrow Street and elsewhere.

—Born in 1945, Raul Gomez Jattin was a leading Colombian poet who also worked as an actor and a director. At the time of his suicide in 1996, he was living as a homeless person.

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Originally published in

BOMB 86, Winter 2004

Featuring interviews with Brooke Alfarmo, Stanley Greaves, Santiago Sierra, Erna Brober, Jorge Volpi and Martin Solares, and Jesus Tenreiro-Degwitz and Carlos Brillembourg.

Read the issue
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