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THE DEAD

Those three blows from hands smacking the wall:
Knock on the wall: who is going to fall?
While they ring out we rush forward
then stop, watching Death whose back is turned,
but who will whirl round suddenly to catch out
anyone still teetering from their rush,
and eliminate them from that game forever.

Knock on the wall: who is going to fall?
The light is fading. Like a spot of gold, the candle
makes the shadows in the bedroom tremble.
Why is that post-war time so bitterly cold?
Death turns round and sees how my sister,
in her fever, tosses and cries under her ice-packs.

Knock on the wall: who is going to fall?
The past was my father’s face:
prison-cells and scars, defections.
How the blows from those hands
smacking against the wall terrified him.
He cannot suppress a restless movement.
Anger and fear denounced him to Death.

Knock on the wall: who is going to fall?
We never strayed from its side.
And now I play with my dead child.
Why did I never read that look in her eyes?
But the future is crafty, and always cheats.
I never heard the three blows: she smiled at me
and her empty space was already beside me.
And the game had to go on.

Knock on the wall: who is going to fall?
I no longer care if Death can see me:
I turn round to smile at those who follow me.
Now that I’ve reached the wall,
I know nothing of what there might be behind it.
I only know I am going there with my dead.

 

This poem follows a children’s game. There are similar versions of the game in a lot of countries. Facing a wall, a child smacks it three times with the palms of his hands and calls out the refrain of the game: this refrain in Catalonia is “Un, dos, tres, pica paret” (one, two, three, knock on the wall). In the UK children would say Knock on the wall: who is going to fall? In the meantime, from a little way off, the rest of the children move forward. The child turns round, and, if someone is moving, he or she is out of the game.

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