Four Poems by Julián Herbert

BOMB 94 Winter 2006
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The Ass’s Hexagram

What’s to say of an ass?
I never said a thing.

An ass stood next to Leticia’s mouth:
his ardor sprang from the moon
and he scratched
against me furiously.
There was an ass in Juan Luis’s house
and they charged us five pesos to ride him.
I never rode him.
There was one swollen and black floating in a stream,
another very yellow in an Arctic dream,
and the ass of the comic strips,
and an ass a little crosseyed in Gabriela’s gaze
looking over its shoulder from a country of scent.

So beastly this word
that it disgusts me still. How to found
the angels’ flight in a back kick.
How to be the fur and chew
upon the blinking
of a sonorous breath among the sunflowers.
Without carriage drivers or feats, hardly honeycombed
by modesty
or a girl’s insolence.
Without laws or allegory, just submerged
in the copperish afternoon
like a train by Turner.

The sameness—I never told you—
this same ass
detained in his rat-colored skin
in front of a vulgar backdrop of green stalks.
The pleasure of living like an animal and striving
but bitter
like the sage or the laurel.


Don Juan, Defeated

All my women wish to be with someone else.
They abandon me for some teenager,
praise their husbands while I embrace them,
run away with journalists,
well-endowed blonds, warriors,
singers from overseas.
They are all tremendous, hysterical,
unfaithful: they caress me
with the disturbed blade
of a dagger made of bras and panties
and they leap to dance in the filthy tavern
mounted on acid hot horses.

(They always dance with another:
my life is a blunder among the orchestra’s pauses.)

I desire them off and on
like a mad and violent crocodile
who likes his prey dressed with poison.
I desire them on love’s thinnest cornices.

Successive gulfs and perpetual gifts,
their bodies extend in me until I can’t tell them apart:
one buys curtains,
this one asks me to please slap her,
that one’s seated in an empty park,
with a lost look, eating an ice cream.
I bite their necks,
touch each league of their skin,
I talk to them with the piety of an epileptic
who speaks to his nightmares.
They never go to sleep: betrayal
is their only passion.

Jealous. Fickle.
They drag me from their lives like a blue prince
thrown out from the fancy dress party
with nothing more than a disposable cup in his hand.
They all cheat me. All of them.

In their arms,
going from one pair of arms to another,
I feel like Caesar who looked
at some of the faces he most loved—
while the knives burned in his breast.


The Heart of Saturday Night

Wind drops from the woods. The boulevard’s light
dances like a veil on the window’s ledge.
A lukewarm sky. Mountains form a crown
around us. Someone talks of football
amidst the sleeping field of the parking lot
and the shouts that come out of the saloon’s door.
On the bar, the colored lights
leap from empty glasses,
as in a game of Chinese Checkers.
The music is a trembling river of stars.
A vodka bottle
makes the moon more transparent.



The lion from the Latin Quarter
dropped in today.
We lunched on salmon with crackers
and looked through the window
at the dips of the Zapalinamé mountain range.

I told him: “I feel
miserable. I love a slave
who rubs my skin with oils
while I dream of my wife’s cold
and tender whiteness” … and he (scratching
his eyebrows): This
came first: six centuries
had not been packed up.
It concerned working with material
not found in the Commedia.

In the furrowed sitar of his face
green phases paraded,
reds and oranges;
I do not know if they were melancholic moods
or flashes of singing birds
generated intentionally by a verbal trick.

“Master,” I begged him, “forgive these fins,
the vulgar vocation of walking like a penguin
through the undulations of reference,
my Latin F learned in Perales,
my affected manner of watching soap operas.”

He brushed off the flecks in his beard
and asked your name.

“Anabel,” I answered.
Anabel, Anabel, Anabel: it was many
and many a year ago
in a kingdom by the sea.” And the eyes
of the ancient lion photographed in black and white
were twin Beatrice Portinaris
spilled on my skin
like a fraudulent Chinese balm.

Hours passed. Sequences of light. An instant
of well-being occurred when the shadows
descended over all the forms,
keeping watch over their beauty.
He lit a lamp and said: “your hair
will also change its color.”
He then took his books, a last sip of coffee,
and explained to me that he loved
Provence’s sunny terraces more than a lover’s opium.

I was jealous of the sweetness
of his senile sincerity: spring
so far away.

Translated from the Spanish by Indran Amirthanayagam.

Indran Amirthanayagam writes poetry in English, Spanish, and French, and was the recipient of 1994 Paterson Poetry Prize for his book The Elephants of Reckoning (Hanging Loose Press, 1993). His translations of Mexican poet Manuel Ulacia were included in Reversible Monuments: Contemporary Mexican Poetry (Copper Canyon Press, 2002). He has been awarded fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts for his poetry and the US/Mexico Fund for Culture for his translations.

—Julián Herbert’s books of poetry include El nombre de esta casa (Mexico, 1999), La resistencia (Mexico 2003), and Autoretrato a los 27 (Buenos Aires, 2003). He has also published a novel, Un mundo infiel (Mexico, 2004).

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Signor Hoffman by Eduardo Halfon

From the train I could look out onto the infinite blue of the sea. I was still exhausted, wakeful from the overnight transatlantic flight to Rome, but looking out at the sea, that Mediterranean sea that was so infinite and so blue, made me forget it all, even myself. I don’t know why.

Originally published in

BOMB 94, Winter 2006

Featuring interviews with Plastilina Mosh, Andy Palacio and Christopher Cozier, Pedro Reyes, Francisco Goldman, Pablo Vargas Lugo and Ruben Gallo, Carlos Brillembourg, Julieta Campos, Jose Castillo, Julieta Campos, Daniel Sada, Jose Luis Rivas, and Beto Gomez.

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