Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I was leafing through my old copy of Cesar Vallejo: The complete posthumous poetry.
I originally picked this this up at a used bookstore somewhere. The frayed front page opens up to a page where people will write personal inscriptions.

There are two inscriptions in this book but one of them has been erased with white-out. Of course, I put the page up near a light-bulb but the words are illegible except one - the sign-off begins with the word 'Love,'

The second inscription reads "Merry Christmas Paul, Please keep this book... Love, Rosemary (Christmas 1989)"

Who erased the first inscription? Why would someone write a second inscription over a first one? What is the secret history of this book? Well now it sits in my hand. I open it up to page 67 and it reads...

Today I like life much less,
But I like to live anyway: I have often said it.
I almost touched the part of my whole and restrained myself
with a shot in the tongue behind my word.

Today I touch my chin in retreat
and in these momentary trousers I tell myself:
So much life and never!
So many years and always my weeks!...
My parents buried with their stone
and their sad stiffening that has not ended;
full length brothers, my brothers
and, finally, my Being standing and in a vest.

I like life enormously
but, of course
with my beloved death and my cafe
and looking at the leafy chestnut trees in Paris
and saying:
This is an eye, that one too; this a forehead, that one too...and repeating:
So much life and the tune never fails me!
So many years and always, always, always!

The poem continues. This poem is not particularly dark for Vallejo, who often writes about how men are tossed around cruelly by fate - many poems are about his own imagined death or the alienation he felt as a man in Paris or simply as a man.

I turned back to Vallejo recently since starting to read some books by Alfredo Bryce Echenique. Bryce Echenique is the author of El Guia Triste de Paris (The Sad Guide to Paris) , a collection of tales about strangers in Paris. Bryce Echenique shares with Vallejo, and also with a host of other Latin American writers such as Julio Cortazar, the sense of being suspended between two worlds. A small exodus of latin american writers led to Paris being referred to as the 'European capital of Latin America'. Many fled their homeland after having rejected their own society, living among it as curious outcasts. Arriving in Paris, however, many also discovered that the culture they sought was still in other ways alien to them. They existed as a sort of half-children in perpetual self-exile.

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