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Gonzalo Rojas


Against Death


I pluck out my visions and pluck out my eyes each passing day.

I don’t want to see, I can’t! see men dying every day.

I’d rather be made of stone and dark

than endure the nausea of softening myself inside

and smiling left and right to prosper in my business.


I have no business other than to be here saying the truth

in the middle of the street to the four winds:

the truth of being alive, uniquely alive,

with my feet grounded and my skeleton free in this world.


What do we gain from leaping toward the sun in our machines

at the velocity of thought, the devil take it: what

do we gain on dying without any hope

of living outside of dark time?


God’s good for nothing. Nothing’s good for anything.

But I breathe, and eat, and even sleep

thinking that I have ten or twenty years before I go

face down, like them all, to sleep in six feet of cement down there.


I don’t cry, don’t weep. Everything has to be as it has to be,

but I cannot see coffins and more coffins

passing, passing, passing, passing every minute

full of something, stuffed with something, I cannot see

the blood in the coffins still steaming.


I touch this rose, I kiss its petals, I adore

life, I am not tired of loving women: I nourish myself

opening the world in them. But it’s all useless,

because I myself am a useless head

reading for lopping, not understanding what it means

to hope for another world out of this world.


They talk to me of God or talk of History. I laugh

that it’s so far to seek the explanation of the hunger

that devours me, the hunger to live like the sun

in the grace of air, eternally.



           —Translated from the Spanish by John Oliver Simon





Once Chance Was Named Jorge Cáceres


Once change was named Jorge Cáceres

and wandered twenty-five years on earth,

had two clear eyes and a dark glance,

and two quick feet and wisdom,

but wandered far, so freely far

that nobody saw his face.


Could have been a volcano, but was Jorge Cáceres

this living marrow,

this hurry, this grace, this precious flame,

this purest animal running through his veins

for short days, that entered and left all at once

through his heart, finally reaching the oasis

of suffocation.


Now he is in light and velocity

and his soul is a fly buzzing in the ears

of the newborn:

Why do you weep? Live.

Breathe your oxygen.



Jorge Louis Cáceres: Chilean poem (1923-1949). At fifteen, he became

the youngest member of the Chilean surrealist group Mandrágora; according to

Rojas, “the only poet who had a truly surrealist angel.”



           —Translated from the Spanish by John Oliver Simon





Aleph, Aleph


What do I see on this table? tigers, Borges, scissors, butterflies

that never flew, bones

which did not move this hand, empty

veins, unfathomable board?


Blindness I see, I see a spectacle

of madness, things that speak

only to be talking, to throw themselves

into the meagreness of that species

of kiss that approaches them, I see your face.


              —Translated from the Spanish by John Oliver Simon





Farewell to the Concubine


This is the last dialogue: up to here

I hear the rowing of your laughter

like a whore and all,

                                             in war

you win or lose and I lost

and you lost too, there are no secret little hairs

to soften the riddle: uterus is uterus and phallus is

     phallus, there’s no

aura nor distinction, not any Dance,

                                            you do your number

in the show and split, it’s all business between man

and woman, no secret hairs and you are all the animals

at once, and for that matter who betrays whom, that’s

    the beast

—you and me—we are.


           —Translated from the Spanish by John Oliver Simon





English language translation copyright ©2006 by John Oliver Simon and Green Integer.


Gonzalo Rojas, the seventh son of a coal-miner, born 1917, in Lebu, Chile, is often introduced as "the youngest poet in Latin America." Author of 27 books of poetry, awarded the Premio Reina Sofía by the King of Spain and the Chilean National Prize for Literature, his work has been little translated into English. Gonzalo Rojas is a quicksilver poet, his thought a dazzling wriggle of lightning that strikes down the page in rigorous freedom. A new translation of his work titled From the Lightning, translated by John Oliver Simon, will be published by Green Integer later this year.