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Three Poems by Heberto Padilla

SELF-PORTRAIT OF THE OTHER

Are they shiverings, sicknesses,
effusions,
or instead these desires
that a man at times has to shout aloud?
I don’t know. I come back on stage.
I walk toward the footlights
like yesterday,
   sharper than a squirrel,
with my child’s spittle
and a tricolored flag in my breast,
agitator, irascible
among the students.

The truth is at last
   they have managed to confine me
to that baroque garden I hated so much
and this opal gleam

in my eyes

makes me unrecognizable.
The little gladiator (bronze)
which I have put on my table
—a scowling, agile hero
with his short, white spear—
and his snarling bitch
are now my only buddies.
But whenever my troop of jesters
   is likely to appear,
we’ll file through the bars
and I’ll break out.
Doors are the things there are too many of.

Under the plastic moon
have I become a parrot
or a nylon clown
who twists and plays with orders?
Who can be sure?

Is it a nightmare
which I myself could obliterate?
Opening
my eyes suddenly
and rolling away the dream like a barrel
and the world too, already mixed up in my own fermentation?
Or would these desires still be there
which a man at times has to shout aloud?
The Right is sometimes pleased with me
   (that way they will do me in).
The Left has made me famous
   (has that not begun to whet your doubts?)
But in any case
I warn you I am alive in the streets.
I walk about without dark glasses.
And I don’t carry time bombs in my pockets,
nor a hairy ear—a bear’s.
Give me some room now
without saying hello, I beg you.
Without even speaking to me.
If you see me, keep off to one side.

TO PABLO ARMANDO FERNANDEZ

Pablo, when I die,
you (as we all know well) who can argue with death
on its own terms,
you will look at my letters, my photographs, my poems
and still you will insist
   —as you have always done—
over my shoulder:
“Don’t you think you had all the proof and the loyalties?”
and, looking again, you’ll see the same old shoes
I wore out walking so much.
You will carry away the flower which time does not alter, which death does not touch.
I a hat,
felt, dead,
and that fine cloth I carry
which proclaims me a son too of the air,
   of the heart of the fire,
because you are the father.
Friend of my best and most difficult years.
I know you will go on with your simple work (but enormous).
You will save me
because you have
the seven keys of the seven doors,
the seven certain lights which give rise to the word,
the seven girls who can open up
the business of divination,
and seven docile slaves
who stop when you tell them,
even in the act of your fornication.
The houses which now appear
to stand in your way
will come to you to be made over,
for there is no magic beyond the reach of your hand
and all our language has learned from yours.
If, after my death, anyone wants to,
only you would be able to show them,
one by one, the keys to me.

OVERBOARD

Overboard
the poison which breathing builds up
in spite of the wonderful functioning of the lungs
Overboard
these vivid times
   dragging behind the world
without understanding
miserable brawls at the walls
the stains of obsession

all platforms

Overboard
the clown’s outfit
   which made nobody laugh
the black pirate’s costume
the ads
   of the snake-oil dealer
to relieve the gnawing of despair
Overboard
   the one who got ahead unfairly
objects stolen
   in the persuaders’ auction
Overboard
   the business of being well-known
I mean cheap fame
And dice
   playing cards
which turned pointless at my feet
when they should have
   turned to account in my hands
Overboard the agonizing dream
bitterness
the archer’s outfit, the arrow, the deceptions
but not the hope
   nor the passion for life
all that keeps one
   going on, going on.

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