Over the years, Chicago Review has frequently published contemporary Latin American poetry, most notably in our special issues spotlighting Latin American writing: issues 17:01 (1964) and 27:02 (1975). Our most recent issue, 60:03 (2017), focuses on the avant-garde Infrarealist movement in Mexico City. Now available online, read selected pieces by Latin American poets from the archives!

Conjectural Poem
Jorge Luis Borges
Chicago Review 17:01 (1964)

Don Francisco Laprida, assassinated on
September 22, 1829 by guerrillas of Aldao,
reflects before dying:

The bullets resound in the final evening.
There is wind, and ashes in the wind;
the day and the deformed battle
disperse, and victory belongs to the others.
The barbarians prevail, the gauchos succeed.
I, who studied both Canon and Law,
I, Francisco Narciso de Laprida,
whose voice shouted out the independence
of these very cruel provinces, defeated,
my face stained with blood and sweat,
without hope or terror, and lost,
flee towards the South through farthest frontiers.
Like that Captain of Purgatory,
who, fleeing on foot and bloodying the plain,
was blinded and routed by death
where an obscure river forfeits its name,
am I to fall. Today is the ending.
The lateral night of the swamps
tracks and delays me. I hear the helmets
of my fiery death seeking me out.
I, who longed to be another, to be a man
of sentences, of books, of opinions,
will lie among marshes under open sky;
but a secret joyfulness deifies my breast
inexplicably. At last I meet
with my Southamerican destiny.
I was borne to this worthless afternoon
by the multiple labyrinth of footsteps
which my days have woven since one day
in my childhood. At last I have discovered
the cryptic key to all my years,
the luck of Don Francisco de Laprida,
the letter that was missing, the perfect
form which God had known since the beginning.
In the mirror of this night I recognize
my unsuspected and eternal face. The circle
is about to close. I hope it will be so.
The shadow of the lances that have sought me
crosses my feet. The mock sounds of my death,
the horsemen and the horsemanes and the horses
are bolting over me… Now, the very first blow,
now, the solid steel that is severing my breast,
the intimate poniard blade planted in my throat.

translated by Robert Lima

 

To a City, Suddenly Considered from a Certain Angle
Alberto Girri
Chicago Review 27:02 (1975)


Similar destiny
the suffering of cities
and of those who construct
and plan them;
the place matters nothing;
their areas, demented growth,
follow us,
each house,
the cozy medium
of someone spilling into it,
attacks
till getting what it wants.
The streets, the streets,
the parade of materials
and lovely tensions;
and the uniform
sentence making the rounds
covers accesses,
a diaphanous,
realistic synthesis:
There is no space left, only
streets. Here not death but the
future is frightening.

 
And to what domain
could we better entrust ourselves?
What a reconciliation
to blacken ourselves
beneath this hour
when the city dims,
gaunt,
alone, entire.

translated by Christopher Maurer

 

The Veil
Henriqueta Lisboa
Chicago Review 27:02 (1975)


The dead are reclining
with a veil on the face.
A tenuous veil on the face.
 
No strength protects them
but this veil on the face.
No bridge divides them
from the living, no sign
marks them but the veil
drawn over the face.
 
The veil models the profile
(filigree on a medal),
follows the rounded eyes,
ascends the curve of the nostrils,
clings to the lips. The dead
breathe from under the veil.
(Also valleys breathe
molded to the mist.)
 
And across the veil the breeze
of a smile is trembling, ready
to reveal a secret.
 
A commonplace veil, tenuous,
guards the secret of the dead.
Nothing but a veil.
 
Remembrance of other veils
other veronicas, other
masks. Symbol, stigma.
 
Of the numberless veils
the living rend or accept,
there only remains for the dead
a veil attached to the face.
Between life and death, a veil.
Nothing but a veil.

translated by Jean R. Longland

 

The Bath of the Buffalos
Cecilia Meireles
Chicago Review 27:02 (1975)


Into viscous water, full of leaves, their hair rose-tinted by the break of day,
go boys to wash the buffalos.
 
Black buffalos, rounded and meek
—oh, ageless motion—
the smells of milk, silence, and sleep.
 
Full of leaves, the viscous water
Sparkles on their flanks and on the twisted
lyric sculpture of their horns.
 
They rise and fall in the thickened water,
fine and slender, amongst the flowers,
these little boys, almost inhuman
 
with the air of children leading the blind
—oh, ageless light forms—
so free of weight and time.
 
Oh limpid day, blue and green,
raising up your shining walls
While in the viscous water play
 
these boys, amongst the flowers,
far from all that’s in this world,
these boys, as if nameless,
 
in divine and ancient poverty,
bathing docile buffalos, immense
—oh, ageless break of day!

translated by Alexis Levitin

 

Stuff of Earth
Homero Icaza Sánchez
Chicago Review 17:01 (1964)


When I say rose they understand apple
and when I speak of the dawn they say it’s geometry
to show me the sea they lead me to an orchard
and chatter of the wind when I remember the lilly.
 
Because we have come to the edge of the tower of Babel
and I fear that tomorrow my memory may not have
the same dictionary to express my anguish
I cling to the remembrance of virgin matter
so the water and time may not erase
the mark of origin and the furrow of blood.
 
It’s of no matter if I deceive myself saying
that I have kept the voice’s savor, the fruit’s tone,
and that I still tremble when maize surprises
my fragmented scent, my docile saliva.
 
I sense that the road is beginning to fork,
the landscape is strange, the horizon foreign.
Therefore I pause, I hold to the substance
of the purest mysteries: language, bread, water
and I incrust in my breast a drop of earth
to rhyme my blood with the voice of childhood.

translated by Julian Palley

 

Ars Poetica
Vicente Huidobro
Chicago Review 27:02 (1975)


Let poetry be like a key
That opens a thousand doors.
A leaf falls; something flies overhead;
Let as much as the eyes see be created,
And the soul of the listener tremble.
 
Invent new worlds and watch your word;
The adjective, when it does not create life, dies.
 
We are in the age of nerves.
Muscles hang,
Like a memory, in museums,
But we are not the weaker for it:
True vigor
Lives in the head.
 
Do not sing the rose, oh Poets!
Make it bloom in the poem.
 
For us alone
All things live under the Sun.
 
The poet is a little God.

translated by Eliot Weinberger

 

Ode to Barbed Wire
Pablo Neruda
Chicago Review 27:02 (1975)


In my country
wire, wire…
 
You cross
the long
thread of Chile,
birds,
solitudes,
from end to end,
and side to side,
un tilled stretches,
wire,
wire…
 
At other places
on the planet
the
grain
overflows,
the wind makes
waves tremble
on the wheat.
In other lands
the livestock
bellow, nutritive and powerful
in the pastures:
here
desert mountains,
latitudes,
not a man
or a horse,
only enclosures,
barbs,
and the empty
earth.
 
In other parts
white cabbage,
cheeses propagate,
loaves
multiply,
smoke shows
its tuft
on the roofs
like the head-dress
of a quail;
villages that hide,
as a hen her eggs,
a nest of tractors:
hope.
Here
lands
and lands,
silenced lands,
blind lands,
lands without a heart,
lands without a furrow.
 
In other parts bread,
rice, apples.
 
In Chile wire, wire…

translated by Christopher Maurer

 

Hallelujah!
Jaime Sabines
Chicago Review 27:02 (1975)


Hallelujah!
What’s going on?
There’s a scale of unseen gold
where invisible hands rise.
I wear a tin flower on my button hole.
I’m happy.
I cut off one of my arms and leave it pointing the way.
A pregnant woman sits in a chair and cheers
the tennis player who is serving to himself.
 
I drink Saturday’s coffee.
To open my eyes I have to shoot them with a gun.
Wake up now.

translated by Ernesto Trejo

 

I Live
Gloria Stolk
Chicago Review 17:01 (1964)


I live only to die
on an arid earth, dry
like a thirst-scorched mouth,
beneath a wind that lashes piquantly, colder
than the cold winds of the North.
And the wind without season, wrathful,
hot, and the earth without soft verdure,
parched, and death without death,
life, absorb me, calcine and exhaust me…
I live only to die yet I love life
upon my land, like a thirsty mouth.

translated by Robert Lima