Two Poems

Alejandro Saravia

Signs of Identity

thirst burnt while crossing the fragile bridge
blood dried the memory in these pupils
time was bluish green and gradually erased
the lines on maps and faces
warriors filed before my eyes
foaming at the mouth
like runaway horses
a thousand taxis cut across the city
no brakes, all screams
until they crash
and start their ruinous race
all over again

all of this I saw before coming to see you
from Brossard to Montreal
worn out dice in my hand
sustaining the faith of my days

perhaps I’ll show you a passport
with my picture taken one afternoon
in an Iranian studio
outside the Jean-Talon metro
but that’s no longer me

perhaps your words perhaps your eyes
could tell me who I am now
on this corner of Sherbrooke Street

perhaps you can recompose
the grammar of my bones
arrange my doubts by order of anguish
catalogue my confused memories
through stained-glass nostalgia

my tongues will betray me
when it’s time to name my cities
my voice will be like snow in your hands
my r’s will come out dragging my g’s behind them
and you will say my Spanish is starting to crack

we will speak
with the silence of the distant
we will burn the logs of childhood
to warm a Montreal afternoon
we will illuminate the recesses of time
the bottom of pots and glasses
the streets where we were children
without haste or passports
children in the most ancient republics

we will do all of this
before oblivion
drags us down a dry river bed
and we become once more the sum of dust
of the Andes and the Rockies
the most silent of silences

Brief Reflection about the Art of Being Bolivian at Four in the Afternoon in Montreal on a Sixth of August

The wood is golden, like brown skin in the August sun.
The hours drink the afternoon
as it hangs its clouds and birds
out on the balcony.

It is August and I should feel patriotic,
tricolour and Bolivian.
I wait.
It might rain.
In Paris they drink wine at the Embassy
and a secretary says on the phone:
“just one thing . . . it’s almost over” (you better not come)
To be Bolivian in August in Paris is to drink some singani,
run into zampoña-wielding andinos in the Odeon metro
to want to cry a little
and feel dry
like a river of burning stones
dreaming of rain.

To be Bolivian in Washington
is to eat salteñas around ten
near the Ballston subway,
dance cuecas at night,
get drunk and feel like you’d die
to see Cala Cala again
and then sleep
under an alka seltzer moon.

The afternoon in Montreal
waves shirts and the ties with their fetishes
turn augural with starch.
In a hotel tonight
someone will sing at the top of their lungs a frog anthem,
and some will sit down and say nothing,
furious to be so boliches.

Then there will be chicharrón, beer
(imagined paceña)
and somewhere
someone will invent illegal chuños,
disguised locotos.
Perhaps to be Bolivian
is a matter of stomach.
To be Bolivian is to be a believing devil
eating fricasé,
an anxious brown-skinned man, a melancholy Pepino.

Four in the afternoon
a forced time to want to feel Bolivian.
A little.

translated from the Spanish by María José Giménez