Strangely happy


It is raining on the empty square.
There is a single taxi at the taxi-rank.
The driver’s wait is a very long one.
He has turned off the engine and it is very cold.
A door opens, a rain-soaked passenger,
tired, bad-tempered: he gives an address.
When they go through a red light, he shouts at him.
Turning round, the driver murmurs:
It is a week since my son died.
Silenced, the passenger sinks back in his seat.
Later on that night, when a group of passengers
board, making a racket, he tells them:
It is a week since my son died.
We’ve all got to die, they reply,
amid clumsy jokes and guffaws.
Comes the time to sign off, back at the garage,
he goes across to the radio-hut:
It is a week since my son died.
Her eyes red with fatigue, Yes,
the woman replies, while she attends to the voices
emanating with other sounds from the transmitter.

This is, in fact, one of Chekhov’s stories.
There it is a coach with a horse, and it is snowing.
I know the taxi-driver will not be able to sleep.
Is death inside the fist raised by life?
Or else, is death the fist in which we are grasped?
In Chekhov’s story, the coachman
will still have the horse to whom he’ll confide
that his son has died. All at once I feel it
inside me, and that fear is turning to ice,
and I light a fire to warm us all,
the taxi-driver, the coachman, me and my dead,
you who are reading me
and Chekhov, and all together we see how life
falls, like snow, in solitude.
A night-train, washed with pink,
at dawn traverses the olive-groves.
Here—weary, full of sleep and, at the same time,
strangely happy—I end this poem.


I wear all the years we have lived together
like a heavy overcoat on a winter’s night:
it protects so many hours of grief.
While the darkness freezes waiting for dawn,
there are passing headlights far-off. No murderer
can frighten me if I wear the thick coat
beneath which I conceal my love
like a sawn-off shotgun.
I feel the poem in my gut:
a hunger that saves me from death.
There is so much darkness inside each sleeve
that my hands, arthritic and cold,
are now a forgetting or a farewell.


Once destroyed, the past is what we always
try to rebuild, like an old country house.
But no one lives there. There is not even the liturgy
that the motorway has, early in the morning.
I understand very little now about those days.
What endures are the consequences. Hard at times.
A dolls’ house and the warmth
that hid your loneliness.
Ugly wounds under white bandages.
I walk beneath flawless moons
that shone on your childhood,
I hear a catalogue of stories to send you to sleep.
I think of the dignity of that girl
relinquishing in favour of her sister—so much weaker—
her place as princess. There are no mistakes
that can be made without our realising
as remote as the ones we make over children.
If you don’t know which love I am
and if I don’t know which love you are
then we must have lost our guiding star.
Although it is many years since I have known anything
of your fears, your hopes
when you find yourself alone in a hotel bedroom,
and I shall never know which of my faces
you will one day choose to remember me by,
I feel, suddenly, that we have survived,
without caresses, an abandonment.


We all will be in the port with the Unknow
JV Foix (On Ferrater’s death)

The liturgical harmonium of the street,
Germany’s poorest organ,
took ship with those emigrating,
who brought it to the brothels of Buenos Aires.
Like a priest who has apostatized,
there it trailed about among stories
of loneliness and melancholy.
I always loved tangos. I heard them
when I was a child, on Sunday afternoons,
with my father and mother dancing
up and down the hallway of our house.
They are the voice of an epic that is lost,
with the bandoneon trailing
words that speak of guilty love.
Those who danced them in the hallway
now are only in a tango.
Strangely happy, an old man sings it
attempting a dance-step as he comes closer
with a smile to the Unknown.


The moon brings its ancient prestige
to the small, remote rubbish-tip,
now closed-off, that looks down on the valley,
where the lights of a few villages are twinkling.
When we used to come at night
to throw away our rubbish,
we’d stop and gaze at the firmament.
Under the moon, the old rubbish-tip
is today covered in fennel and thyme:
there is the rustle of creatures crossing the undergrowth,
owls dazzled by the headlamps of cars.
But it no longer has the power it had
when we’d stand here and gaze,
surrounded by rubbish, at the stars.


Do you remember? Joana had died.
You and I were going by car northwards,
to the flat that faces the sea,
and we listened to this symphony.
We began the journey
on a luminous morning. In the music
the day was made of walls covered in ice,
shadows of passers-by with half-empty sacks
and sledges with corpses on the lake.
Like a runway in the sun,
the motorway ran onwards and, behind the sounds,
there stretched the fog from the howitzers
and tank-tracks in the snow.
It was a blue-gold July morning
sparkling on the crystal sea.
In the brass and strings was the echo
of glory, which is always in the past,
rejecting, always rejecting, life.
At night there remained only the murmur
of the waves below the terrace.
In us, though, just as in the music,
there raged the storm of snow and iron
that is unleashed when a page of history turns.


Memory needs to utter some name
in order to live with that which it fears.
He thinks of her: he began to lose her
when he embraced her that first night.
The man breaks open the past like a money-box
and inside there was nothing but darkness.
In time’s bones there is no tenderness.
The places no longer exist.
Girls are now either old or dead.


The man reads insomnia in the dark pane.
Here, where later they built the hotel,
that lad concealed beneath a stone
a love-letter and made a map,
the real map of a treasure.
But the treasure was an act of cowardice:
the words he didn’t dare to say to a girl.
His final love-letter,
that he did indeed put into her hand.
Then the cowardice or the contempt—
he will never know—came from a woman.
Dawn was approaching the hotel windows
like a warship.
No woman remembers any letter.
The clouds forecast cold and snow.


Over the wood in silence falls the snow,
a thick blanket which does not warm
the wretched multitude of oaks.
Well wrapped-up, I cross it on foot:
Where the path was has stayed covered
and the only trace that remains is my steps.
I come upon a fallen nest, a very large nest,
as though it were the cradle of a dead child.
Now, to go back the way I have come I need
my own footprints, but the snow
is falling and keeps silently wiping them out.
A gust of wind sets up a disturbance
and the nest is dragged along, bowling
through dumb, cold weather, with no paths.


The father, shot.
Or, as the judge says, executed.
The mother, poverty and hunger,
the petition someone types out for her:
Saludo al Vencedor, Segundo Año Triunfal,
Solicito a Vuencencia (*) to have my children
put in the Casa de la Misericòrdia.

The coldness of her request is in a petition.
The orphanages and hospices were hard,
but the weather was harder.
True charity is frightening.
It is like poetry: a good poem,
however beautiful, has to be cruel.
There is nothing else. Poetry is now
the final orphanage, the last house of mercy.


This is the literal translation of the Catalan and means an orphanage
(*)In Spanish in the Catalan original: Hail to the Conqueror, Second Year of Triumph, I beseech your worship…Fascistic and rhetorical post-war language. Franco prohibited all use of the Catalan language.