Categorized | Literature

Lyric Poetry is Dead (Selected Poems), by Ezequiel Zaidenwerg


[I] On Civil War

Ezequiel Zaidenwerg, author of "Lyric Poetry is Dead" (Photo: Valentina Siniego)

Lyric poetry is dead. At last.

The moment that we’ve all been waiting for has come.

Now we can unequivocally say
an era has concluded. The splendid order of the centuries
is being newly shuffled, freshly founded.

An iron child is born for poetry,
and with his advent, through the resignation of the ancient golden lineage,
a steely progeny shall rise up
in its place: in any case, it’s time
for us to sing
of more important matters.

An iron child is born
for poetry, and the horizon darkens with a sole unknown:
Will his parents smile tenderly upon him?
Will bitter laughter overcome them?
Will he view them with scorn? Or with suspicion? Perhaps
what’s worse: will he repay his life and their support
with an indifferent face?

Lyric poetry
is dead. And so it is, although her death
–whether the ones who now take credit for it like it or not–
occurred unceremoniously:
as a tree falls, a nameless trunk amid deep woods
that no one passes through,
she fell. Technique was also lacking:
the cross’s shoddy planks,
the rusty nails, the crown entwined with thorns,
the vinegar-soaked cloth a human hand
with rudimentary skill once warped
–they played no part in the affair,
which had no witnesses, no exemplary punishment,
and came to pass with little forethought,
leaving no mark.

She’s dead. And so it is.

And so a savage destiny sweeps up
the poets and the crime of fratricide,
as of the moment when her blood was spilled,
like a curse on her heirs,
upon the earth:
it happened on a piece of open ground; the blow
surprised her from behind.

She’s dead.

Lyric poetry is dead.

She didn’t die like Christ; they murdered her
like Abel.

[2] Sodom and Gomorrah

Lyric poetry is dead.

And though I pleaded
many times for God to kill her
and end my suffering,
I now remember her with bittersweet

It happened many years ago:
tired of the chaos of the city,
I fled the Capital and took my family
to a small village, isolated in the middle
of the prairie.

The early months
passed happily, unhurried,
among the lethargy of work,
domestic life, and the continual

On weekend afternoons,
we’d go to walk around the park
and nod our heads in greeting, always
to the same drowsy faces
whose eyes would brighten only
if someone shared a bit of gossip
with superficial malice.

My sons –as was
expected– were the first
to grow accustomed to that life: they quickly
struck up friendships with the locals,
mingling so closely they could almost be
mistaken for each other, amid the banter
over beer, cars, football, women. As for the others
–my wife, my daughters, and myself–
the adjustment was a bit more difficult,
despite the mildness of the climate,
except for the humidity.

In any
case, such tranquil days
would have to end eventually:
in early autumn, I began to notice
that, underneath the weary plainness
of that provincial folk, there lay concealed
a deviance I wouldn’t want
to find myself required to detail.

And so
our mutual distrust took root;
at first, from our side only,
but it didn’t take them long
to notice it: a slant about the smile,
a lowering of the gaze
in greeting.

As months went on
and days grew shorter,
the strain grew stronger, though
it wouldn’t openly reveal itself
until the winter.

It was
a night of bitter cold. By chance,
some relatives had come to visit
from the city. All seated
at the table, we were sharing
the meat, the bread, the wine, and suddenly
we heard a knock at the front door: we opened it
to find the entire town outside,
assembled at our entrance.

One of the neighbors, who appeared to be
the leader of the angry
mob, demanded:

“Where are
the ones who came tonight to see you?
Bring them, so we can meet them.”

I left the house and closed the door behind me
and begged them all to leave,
but they just sneered:

“And did you really think
that you could come here from the city
to tell us what to do?”

My daughters, seeing
that my efforts were in vain,
leaned out the door and offered,
in exchange for leaving us alone,
to go with them, but even so
they would not be persuaded.

Within the house, my relatives reached out
their hands and, pulling me inside again, closed
the door tightly.

Meanwhile, outside, the townspeople
attempted to tear it down; and others
clutched the metal bars protecting
the windows, making faces
and threatening gestures; they would have
taken us as prisoners, or maybe
something worse, if the unexpected
hadn’t then occurred:
a midnight sun
all of a sudden rose above the plains,
and it was day. Dazzled,
the rabble paused a moment
in their violence; a gentle rain
began to fall,
and from inside we saw the people
raising their hands, receiving it
with joy, and then they started, one by one,
to shed the clothing on their

And so, the men with naked
torsos, the women in their bras,
they suddenly began to dance
despite the intensifying rain,
although there was no music. The steam
fogged up the windows more
and more, until we could see
nothing from inside. The light
outside appeared to strengthen
and then we felt abruptly that the heat
was rising faster:
we watched enormous raindrops
run down the windowpanes, now clouded over,
our bodies drenched in sweat;
meanwhile, the rain resounded, making it
impossible for any sound
outside to reach us.

All this continued for an hour, an hour and a half.

And then we felt the heat begin to drop,
and all at once the lights went out.

I opened the door hesitantly;
an icy wind struck hard. I found my coat
and stepped into the night, dimly illuminated
by the moon: upon the site
where, moments earlier, had stood a town,
I saw a field of ashes
and the soil itself gave off
a vaguely sweet aroma.

Without delay,
I gathered up my family and we set out,
not really knowing where we’d go;
once we had left behind, at last,
those devastated bounds
that had contained the village, my wife
looked back; with teary eyes
and faltering voice,
she said to me:
“The smoke is rising from the ground
as from an oven.”

Seeing her stiff,
I struck her hard
to force her to react.

We reached the road
soon after and we followed it,
walking for several hours,
until at last we could make out
the poorly lighted sign of a gas station.

From there we used the phone to call for help
from other relatives, who came
by noon to rescue us; so
we commenced our journey to the city,
from which we’d never move

Time passed. And with its passing,
did its work: resentment toward
the prior horror soon became forgetfulness;
forgetfulness submitted to the daily chores
of wanting what was missing, which consumed
my days.

And yet, I’m often wakened
in the night by the distressing sense
that they, the people of the town, were acting
to defend some kind of love exactly like
my own, and I’m tormented by the certainty
that it was all for nothing:
both the others and ourselves,
to keep on living
just like always,
like in any other place.

[3] Ernesto Rafael Guevara de la Serna

Lyric poetry is dead.

In that one photograph
that went around the world, the strangest company
encircles the cadaver: three
civilians (two observe it, curious, while the third
averts his eyes); a pair of soldiers
with frightened faces; one photographer,
back to the camera, with three quarters of his body
out of the frame; and two
officials dressed in ornamented uniforms:
one glances to the camera pointed at him
while he supports the lifeless head,
posed like a hunter with his trophy;
the other, who appears of higher rank,
points with his right-hand index finger
to where the heart had beat,
as if he could revive it with his touch.

With open eyes and a clear stare,
the body seems like it could rise, a Lazarus
returned to life for just an instant,
if only to sink back at once
in death.

Lyric poetry is dead.

And I imagine
what they’ll be saying, those who had believed in her
to justify it
(the same as always):
that she was not herself the light,
that she came only as a witness to the light;
and that she came to that which was her own,
and yet her own did not receive her.

What’s certain is, it went like this:
we captured her at dawn,
maimed by a bullet in the leg
after an ambush that had lasted
from noon till late,
the night far gone.

In those conditions, even so,
—not just the leg; the asthma too, oppressing
the lungs—, she’d persevered in combat,
until her rifle was destroyed completely
after a shot that crushed the barrel;
in any case, the pistol’s magazine
was empty.

Moved to the barracks
(which used to be a school), to be interrogated,
she said beauty was patience
and spoke of lilies—what
are lilies like? I’ve never seen one—,
which, in the field,
after so many nights under the earth,
break through one day
from straight green stalk to white corolla.

But here, in these parts,
everything grows chaotically and without purpose,
and I, who came to the world and grew up
ferociously, against and then despite it all,
like grass that struggles up between the pavement cracks,
flattened by passing cars—but here
the roads aren’t paved, and there are hardly any cars—,
I couldn’t understand that she, delivered into everything,
her parents’ own investment in the future
—and time, to her, was like an arrow moving deliberately
toward its conclusion, while to me it was a sequence regulated
not by the urgency of longing, nor the instinct’s deaf impressions,
but rather something sacred, though remote—;
I couldn’t understand how she’d abandon
what she had left behind (the aimlessness
of comfortable existence, or perhaps an excess
of arbitration?) to come to this wilderness
where everything can grow,
but only hunger thrives,
to go in circles, and to witness how her comrades fell
one by one, in combat with an adversary
innumerable in its members
and their invisible divisions,
battling for the triumphant glory
of an Idea: we, born here
in this wild place,
where nature still
exists distinctly from the will of man,
learn early in our lives that liberty
is never of this world, and love
is act, not potency.

But I said nothing.

And then there was a silence:
while we interrogated her, we heard
the charge to kill her. (Whatever happened to her hands
was after she had died. I didn’t see it. I even heard
about an order to cut off her head,
which was defied.)

Some hours passed.

A captain told us we should wait
in case there were a counter-order,
which never came (the radio already informing of her death).

Midday arrived. We had to kill her.

And as for how the facts were given,
it isn’t true: that we could hardly bear it,
and so we drank to give us courage,
and even then we couldn’t.

We simply did
what they had ordered us to do:
we went into the room where we were keeping her
and killed her as you’d kill an animal
that you had raised to eat.

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