Night in the North

Fabián Severo


This language of mine sticks out its tongue at the dictionary
dances a cumbia on top of the maps
and from the school tunic and bow tie
makes a kite
that flies
loose and free through the sky.


Artigas is a lost land in the North
that doesn’t appear on maps.



The River Cuareim runs out back
sometimes it sings, sometimes it sleeps.
Flows and goes
and goes who-knows-where.
The fish are free and I think they go with the river
go to wherever it ends.
They say that’s in the sea
a place where the water doesn’t touch the earth.


The neighborhood is not the same now.
The houses are the same
but not the people.
The Brazilian’s grocery closed.
Carlitos’s bar is now a club for the National Party.
I no longer see
as in those days
the kids filling the sidewalks.

The days of the Three Kings were hot as hell.
I always got to take
a bucket and shovel to play on the beach
but there was no beach.
I dug a hole and filled it with water
and played like I was at the beach

Jorjito always had battery-powered toys
and sometimes he lent them to me.

How I dreamed of being a bus driver for Cotúa
I grabbed my mother’s pot lids
and went for a drive on the sidewalk.

I went horseback riding on a broom handle.
I didn’t have a head for my horse like Jorjito
whose mother bought him one in Cuaraí.
Jorjito had lots of toys and he lent them to me.

I did not have one to lend
but he lent them to me all the same.


years ago
the neighbors helped each other.

Like the time when
Correa’s house caught fire.
We all helped to take his things out to the sidewalk
while Mom cried and wailed
beating her chest.
Afterward everyone helped to clean
and each person brought something.
Even Carlitos’ bar held a raffle.

Another time
when Julio had to have
surgery in Montevideo
and María spent a month alone
with all the kids
the neighbors organized a soccer game
and the price for a ticket was whatever people could give.

I remember
the afternoon when Lula’s horse cart arrived
full of food and clothing.
The men unloaded it
and the women helped arrange everything.

Sometimes I return to the neighborhood
but it’s not as it was before.
Now there’s no one on the sidewalks
and the doors are always closed.



When you’re poor,
and I am poor,
you can’t forget where you come from.

Sometimes I go to the butcher’s
I see Luisito working
and he waits on me
and I want to tell him
cuando nos iva nel río
casá vieja nel agua
i avía unas
que no largavan las pedra
i cuando nos robava guayavo
da casa da vieia Nilda
i ívamos na tua casa
pra cumé guayavo con asúcar
when we went to the river
to catch cleaner fish
and there were ones
that wouldn’t let go of the rocks
and when we stole guava
from old Nilda’s house
and we went to your house
to eat guava with sugar
but he doesn’t listen to me.
After he hands me the things
he says, grasia, el prósimo. . .  thank you, next
and I’m not sure if he doesn’t remember
or doesn’t want to remember.

Or Silvana
who left for Montevideo
to study to be a teacher. . . 
one day I ran into her downtown
she looked at me
and I raised my hand to wave
and she turned her head
and left.

The one that remembers everything
is Manuel.
Sometimes I see him around
drinking maté
and we start talking about those years
and we laugh really hard.

Manuel, what a friend—
that guy was never lucky
he roams the streets
with no job and no family.

Manuel remembers his luck.

translated from the Portunhol by Laura Cesarco Eglin and Jesse Lee Kercheval