Let’s settle this: you’ll never be
nor will I ever be García Lorca.
You’ll continue blotching these neighborhoods
with your smoke, while I will continue pounding
out poems on this keyboard.
Hurricanes will come and go.
The buses, more ramshackle,
will rattle across Independence.
The All-Ya’-Can-Eat Chinese buffets will multiply.
The secondhand stores.
The payday loans.
The evangelical churches.
Where there was a house
they will raise a building.
Where there was a park or baseball diamond,
they will plant a supermarket, low income
housing, a motel.
Those of us who once skipped
down the street bouncing a ball,
will strut the sidewalk, wielding a pistol.
When the ambulance siren
disturbs our sleep, we’ll clutch our chests
to assure ourselves we’re safe and sound.
Metaldom: How many Toyotas, how many Mazdas,
how many Daihatsus,
will you sacrifice tonight?
Just like the strophes
from an Epic Greek Poem
your column of smoke rises before the sea
to appease the Gods,
but the Gods are departed,
leaving no forwarding address.
Metaldom, in the year 2060 you will be a Five Star Hotel,
and I will be an old crank
in a wheelchair,
reciting verses on Sundays
Remember: you’ll never be General Motors
nor will I ever be García Lorca.
*A smelting factory in Santo Domingo.
In Damen there’s a bar
where employees loosen their ties
and guzzle beer next to girls who shoplift
poetry from the corner bookstore.
Seated on a stool, I wrote a poem
that pleases me.
I returned the following week, attempting
to write more poetry,
but struck out.
And it’s like a few days ago
when I gazed at an urban sunset,
I said to myself: I must write a poem.
Or on Monday, I saw a bird bang
against the office window,
I promised to dedicate it a poem.
Or when I chased after the girl
who paints her body orange
on Michigan Avenue
and she got wind of me while I ran after her
shouting: I gotta write a poem!
Now I scribble next to the barmaid who laughs and puffs a cig
and the employees and girls who laugh and puff,
pilfered books inside their purses.
While I write, this poem fills with strangers,
readers I have never glimpsed, European readers, my Chinese readers,
Argentines, Arabs…suddenly the poem’s like a bar
where people puff and jabber,
and the only odd-man-out is myself.
John Keats stated there’s nothing less poetic than a poet.
Poet is to poetry what pipes are to water.
I’d like to add the poet only writes, uses the words, hoists them,
lowers them, brushes them,
a construction worker laying bricks, applying plaster,
the poet builds houses for readers, those ingrates who leave without paying,
and sometimes one puts a shotgun in one’s mouth just because one’s lacking
what’s inside a poem,
and to those who seek and sigh, to the evicted
the poet shelters them, as well as the melancholic, the lovesick, whores,
loonies, retired cops…
as soon as the poet constructs his house
he’s no longer the owner,
so he sets off, building houses elsewhere.
Night is falling in Damen.
Outside, wind pushes
the swings in the park.
The lights behind the windows turn on.
Year-and-a-half old, I rolled
down the stairs to the second floor.
Six, I almost drowned in the pool.
At seven, a river current dragged me.
They hit me with a stick, with a rifle’s butt,
with a 2 x 4. They elbowed me in the face
and again in the stomach, kneed me,
struck me with machetes and fists.
Neighbor’s dog bit a chunk off my arm.
They cut an ear while shaping my sideburns.
Knocked out. Slapped. Slandered.
Hounded by sergeants astride motorcycles. By two debt collectors.
By three Mormons pedaling their ten-speeds.
By girls from the ‘hood.
I’ve been mugged thirty times.
In vans. Taxis. Speeding buses. On foot.
He hooked me up with a ride and then asked: You straight?
They stole a television, a mattress,
six pairs of sneakers, four wallets,
a watch, half of the titles from my bookshelves.
They carried off my manuscripts and committed plagiary.
With all the junk they stole one might as well open
a pawnshop for the middle-class.
I busted my right arm, the annular,
the hip, the femur, and I lost four teeth.
My bro’ Abelardo gave me a headbutt that still aches.
At my graduation ceremony, they jumped me, then chucked bottles.
Soon after, I published a collection of verse and a skeptical neighbor
thumbed through it then remarked she could scribble
better poems in the blink of an eye…and did.
A burro incident on the highway.
Attempted suicide at a beach resort.
Tachycardia. Hepatitis. Liver all messed up.
Satanized in Eastern Europe. Stomped by Mexicans in Chicago.
A waitress from the boondocks swore she’d kill me.
(Even now, she’s sticking pins into a doll of my spitting image.)
Neighbors dream of my bullet-riddled corpse.
Some poets dream of writing Odes to me.
Others of spraying gasoline on my head,
striking a match, then seeing my ringlets ablaze.
Others, getting me into the sack.
Just a few weeks ago, a cop stopped me and asked
if I wasn’t that poet who had recited poems
one night and I nod and the cop
says Well they’re some damn-good poems
and then bows or something like that.
Translated by Anthony Seidman