Roberto Bolaño (1953 – 2003) is one of the best known Chilean literary figures of the last fifty years.

This well known writer and poet, who died in 2003, is especially known for his novels such as “Distant Star” or “The Wild Detectives”. He is also known for being one of the main founders of the infrarealist movement, which sought the free expression of one’s life position regardless of the conventions and limits imposed by society.

The path of this author, although perhaps he received greater recognition for his novels, would begin with his lyrical works, mainly poems in which the author expressed his emotions and thoughts on a wide range of subjects. And in order to be able to observe and deepen his way of seeing things, in this article we present a brief selection of the poems of Roberto Bolaño .

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Ten poems by Roberto Bolaño

We will now leave you with a dozen of Roberto Bolaño’s poetic works, which speak to us about subjects as diverse as love, poetry or death, from a sometimes tragic point of view.

1. Romantic dogs

At that time I was twenty years old and crazy. I had lost a country but had gained a dream. And if I had that dream the rest didn’t matter. Neither working nor praying, nor studying at dawn with the romantic dogs. And the dream lived in the emptiness of my spirit.

A wooden room, in semi-darkness, in one of the lungs of the tropics. And sometimes I turned inside myself and visited the dream: statue eternalized in liquid thoughts, a white worm writhing in love.

A love run amok. A dream within a dream. And the nightmare told me: you will grow up. You will leave behind the images of pain and the labyrinth and forget.
But at that time growing up would have been a crime. I’m here, I said, with the romantic dogs and I’m going to stay here.

This poem, published in the book of the same name, tells us about youth and the madness and lack of control of the passions with which it is usually associated. We also see a possible reference to the fall of Chile into Pinochet’s hands and his emigration to Mexico.

2. Musa

She was more beautiful than the sun and I was not yet sixteen. Twenty-four have passed and she is still by my side. Sometimes I see her walking on the mountains: she is the guardian angel of our prayers. It is the dream that returns with the promise and the whistle, the whistle that calls us and loses us. In her eyes I see the faces of all my lost loves.

Ah, Musa, protect me, I tell you, in the terrible days of the incessant adventure. Never leave my side. Watch over my steps and the steps of my son Lautaro. Let me feel your fingertips on my back again, pushing me, when all is dark, when all is lost. Let me hear the whistle again.

I’m your faithful lover even if sometimes sleep separates me from you. You too are the queen of dreams. My friendship you have every day and someday your friendship will pick me up from the wasteland of oblivion. For even if you come when I go deep down we are inseparable friends.

Musa, wherever I go you go. I saw you in the hospitals and in the line of political prisoners. I saw you in Edna Lieberman’s terrible eyes and in the alleys of the gunmen. And you always protected me! In the defeat and the scratch.

In unhealthy relationships and cruelty, you were always with me. And even if the years pass and the Roberto Bolaño of the Alameda and the Librería de Cristal is transformed, paralyzed, sillier and older you will remain just as beautiful. More than the sun and the stars.

Musa, wherever you go I go. I follow your radiant trail through the long night. No matter the years or the illness. No matter the pain or the effort I have to make to follow you. Because with you I can walk through the great desolate spaces and I will always find the door that leads back to the Chimera, because you are with me,
Musa, more beautiful than the sun and more beautiful than the stars.

In this poem, the author talks about his poetic inspiration, his muse, seeing it in various fields and contexts.

3. Rain

It’s raining and you say it’s like the clouds are crying Then you cover your mouth and hurry up. As if those scrawny clouds are crying? Impossible. But then, where does that anger, that despair that will lead us all to the devil come from?

Nature hides some of her procedures in the Mystery, her stepbrother. So this afternoon that you consider similar to an afternoon of the end of the world sooner than you think will seem to you only a melancholic afternoon, an afternoon of solitude lost in the memory: the mirror of Nature.

Or else you’ll forget her. Neither the rain, nor the crying, nor your footsteps that echo on the path of the cliff matter; now you can cry and let your image fade away on the windscreens of the cars parked along the Paseo Maritimo. But you can’t miss it.

This poetry reflects a sense of strangeness, sadness, fear and helplessness derived from observing the rain, which also symbolizes pain and tears. This is an element of frequent appearance in the author’s work that he also uses as a point of union between the real and the unreal.

4. Strange dummy

Strange mannequin of a subway store, what a way to observe me and feel me beyond any bridge, looking at the ocean or a huge lake, as if it expected adventure and love. And can a girl’s cry in the middle of the night convince me of the usefulness of my face or are veiled moments, copper plates red-hot memory of love refusing three times for the sake of another kind of love. And so we harden without leaving the aviary, devaluing ourselves, or we return to a very small house where a woman is waiting for us sitting in the kitchen.

Strange mannequin from a subway store, what a way to communicate with me, single and violent, and feel me beyond all. You only offer me buttocks and breasts, platinum stars and sparkling sexes. Don’t make me cry on the orange train, or on the escalator, or suddenly going out in March, or when you imagine, if you imagine, my absolute veteran steps dancing through the gorges again.

Strange dummy from a subway store, just as the sun and the shadows of the skyscrapers are tilted, you will be tilting your hands; just as the colors and the colored lights are turned off, your eyes will be turned off. Who will change your dress then? I know who will change your clothes then.

This poem, in which the author dialogues with a dummy in a subway store, tells us about a feeling of emptiness and loneliness, about the search for sexual pleasure as an escape route and about the progressive extinction of illusion.

The great Roberto Bolaño, in his office.

5. The ghost of Edna Lieberman

All your lost loves visit you in the darkest hour. The dirt road leading to the asylum unfolds again like Edna Lieberman’s eyes, as only her eyes could rise above the cities and shine.

And Edna’s eyes shine again for you behind the ring of fire that used to be the road of earth, the path that you walked by night, back and forth, again and again, looking for her or perhaps looking for your shadow.

And you wake up quietly and Edna’s eyes are there. Between the moon and the ring of fire, reading her favorite Mexican poets. And Gilberto Owen, have you read him, says your soundless lips, says your breath and your blood that circulates like the light of a lighthouse.

But it is his eyes that are the beacon that passes through your silence. His eyes that are like the ideal geography book: the maps of pure nightmare. And your blood illuminates the shelves with books, the chairs with books, the floor full of stacked books.

But Edna’s eyes are only looking for you. Her eyes are the most sought-after book. Too late you understood, but it doesn’t matter. In the dream you shake her hands again, and you no longer ask for anything.

This poem tells us about Edna Lieberman, a woman with whom the author was deeply in love but whose relationship soon broke up. Despite this, he would often remember her, appearing in a large number of the author’s works.

6. Godzilla in Mexico

Listen to this, my son: the bombs were falling on Mexico City but nobody noticed. The air carried the poison through the streets and open windows. You had just eaten and watched cartoons on TV. I was reading in the next room when I knew we were going to die.

Despite the dizziness and nausea I crawled into the dining room and found you on the floor.

We hugged. You asked me what was going on and I didn’t say that we were in the program of death but that we were going to start a journey, one more, together, and that you shouldn’t be afraid.
When we left, death didn’t even close our eyes. What are we, you asked me a week or a year later, ants, bees, wrong numbers in the great rotten soup of chance? We are human beings, my son, almost birds, public and secret heroes.

This brief problem reflects quite clearly how the author works the issue of death and the fear and dread of it (in the context of a bombing), as well as the ease with which it can reach us. It also makes us a brief reflection on the issue of identity, who we are in a society that is increasingly individualistic but in which at the same time the person is less considered as such.

7. Teach me to dance

Teach me to dance, to move my hands among the cotton of the clouds, to stretch my legs trapped by your legs, to drive a motorbike in the sand, to pedal on a bicycle under the poplar trees of imagination, to stand still like a bronze statue, to stay still smoking Delicados in our corner.

The blue reflectors of the room will show my face, dripping with mascara and scratches, you will see a constellation of tears on my cheeks, I will run away.

Teach me to stick my body to your wounds, teach me to hold your heart for a little while in my hand, to open my legs like flowers open for the wind for themselves, for the evening dew. Teach me how to dance, tonight I want to follow your rhythm, open the doors of the roof, cry in your loneliness while from so high we look at cars, trucks, highways full of police and machines burning.

Teach me to open my legs and stick it in me, contain my hysteria inside your eyes. Caress my hair and my fear with your lips that have pronounced so much curse, so much shadow held. Teach me to sleep, this is the end.

This poem is the request of someone who is terrified, who is afraid but wants to live freely, and who asks his companion to teach him how to live freely, to free him and to make love to him in order to find peace.

8. Dawn

Believe me, I’m in the middle of my room waiting for the rain. I’m alone. I don’t care whether I finish my poem or not. I am waiting for the rain, drinking coffee and looking out the window at a beautiful landscape of inner courtyards, with clothes hanging still, silent marble clothes in the city, where there is no wind and in the distance you can only hear the hum of a colour television, watched by a family that also, at this hour, drinks coffee gathered around a table.

Believe me: the yellow plastic tables unfold to the horizon line and beyond: to the suburbs where they build apartment buildings, and a 16-year-old boy sitting on red bricks watches the machines move.

The sky in the boy’s hour is a huge hollow screw that the breeze plays with. And the boy plays with ideas. With ideas and stopped scenes. The immobility is a transparent and hard mist that comes out of his eyes.

Believe me: it is not love that will come,

but beauty with its dead albas stole.

This poem refers to the arrival of the sunrise light, the stillness the awakening of ideas, although it also refers to the anticipation that something bad may come later.

9. Palingenesis

I was chatting with Archibald MacLeish in the bar “Los Marinos” in Barceloneta when I saw it appear, a plaster statue walking painfully on the cobblestones. My interlocutor also saw it and sent a waiter to look for it. For the first few minutes she didn’t say a word. MacLeish ordered consommé and seafood tapas, country bread with tomato and oil, and San Miguel beer.

I settled for an infusion of chamomile and slices of wholemeal bread. I had to take care of myself, I said. Then she decided to speak: the barbarians are advancing, she whispered melodiously, a disfigured mass, pregnant with howls and oaths, a long, buttered night to illuminate the marriage of muscle and fat.

Then his voice went out and he dedicated himself to ingesting the food. A hungry and beautiful woman, MacLeish said, an irresistible temptation for two poets, albeit of different languages, from the same untamed New World. I agreed with her without fully understanding her words, and closed my eyes. When I woke up, MacLeish was gone. The statue was there in the street, its remains scattered among the uneven sidewalk and the old cobblestones. The sky, hours earlier blue, had turned black like an unbeatable grudge.

It’s going to rain, said a barefoot boy, shaking for no apparent reason. We looked at each other for a while: with his finger he pointed at the pieces of plaster on the floor. Snow, he said. Don’t tremble, I replied, nothing will happen, the nightmare, although close, has passed without us hardly touching.

This poem, whose title refers to the property of regenerating or being reborn once apparently dead, shows us how the poet dreams of the advance of barbarism and intolerance, which end up destroying beauty in turbulent times.

10. Hope

The clouds are forking. The dark opens, pale furrow in the sky. That which comes from the bottom is the sun. The interior of the clouds, formerly absolute, shines like a crystallized boy. Roads covered with branches, wet leaves, footprints.

I have remained still during the storm and now reality opens up. The wind blows groups of clouds in different directions. I thank heaven for having made love to the women I have loved. From the dark, pale furrow, they come

the days as walking boys.

This poem gives an account of hope, of being able to resist and overcome adversity in order to see the light again.