Last week a Chilean actor and poet named Eric Polhammer died. When I read his poem “You”, I loved it. Once again, I discovered an example of creativity trespassing all frontiers!
With a bit of “poetic license”, I will share that poem. I made some minimal changes. As an example, the bus line where the poet and the woman travel, in my translation, is located in the Latino “barrios” of San Francisco. Perhaps the most complex part is the word “Usted.” In Spanish, we use that word to denote respect. Respect towards someone we just met, or towards some older person. When trust is developed , we use the more colloquial “tú”. The profound essence of the poem remains untouched. Enjoy!
by Eric Polhammer
You are riding a bus. The 14th Mission…
the 12th Folsom…
Or the one that goes on Bryant St.
You are bored….worried…or maybe happy.
Not sure…but for sure you are falling sleep!
…after a long day at work.
You think that your kids don’t respect you.
Or that it was good to break up with your
ex-boyfriend, the jealous one.
Although you still feel that you love him
You are not crying over him:
You cry because you feel lonely.
You are pretty
but today you look terrible
according to your own decree.
You are me, now that you are writing,
but you don’t know what to say,
because you are not a writer.
You are a Capricorn.
Still have not found something
good to bite and grow with,
except some corny thoughts.
You no longer celebrate your birthday, as if
those candles can’t light happy thoughts.
You feel unconsciously neurotic and
the surrounding tension terribly affects you.
Your name is María Sepúlveda, or González.
Infinite nights without lovemaking!
Your ex-husband married your best friend.
He fell in-love with your face
but you gained too much weight
burying boredom and anguish
with “pork carnitas” and sweet breads.
Sometimes, you read bits of “El Tecolote”.
It was there where you found a poem like
this one, for the first time.
You pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe
and say “the Lord be with you!”
I love you.
I am the only person who truly does
and I know that you didn’t want to get up
an assault of bitter thoughts
crashed into you, like the threat of a storm.
You don’t know that I know you,
that you’re wearing some torn black panties
and that you have two molars that
smell like two fetid widows.
You don’t know for whom to vote,
if sometime you can actually vote,
‘cause you don’t know if you’ll be alive
if that chance ever comes.
You used to love Don Francisco,
don’t know the cause
of the French Revolution
and you could not care less about it!
You went to Primary School #24, in Puebla,
and you only got to the Sixth Grade,
because your father died of old age
while he was still a young man.
But you can recite the rosary.
A while back I saw you
seating on a green bench
at La Raza Park
I looked straight at you. You did not see me.
You wore a black skirt and a
light-blue sweater. A tiny copper cross
hanged nicely on your neck.
Then, you got up, thoughtful,
looking at the Jehovah’s Witnesses
threatening the world…
and you considered joining, but recalled
the accordion of your evangelic ex-husband
who always came home drunk.
You felt disappointed with everything.
You even felt that the Holy Father was fake!
And you tried to kill yourself by tying up
an over-ironed shirt sleeve to your neck
…but you had a vision of The Devil
and got back as if nothing had happened
to the reality of your room, where you have
a single bed and a broken window
through which the cold comes in winter
and the mosquitoes in the heat of summer.
With renewed desires to start again
you still await for that person
who will truly love you.
Man! Cooking oil is so expensive!
You ask, “What’s that verse doing there?”
The verse’s there, ‘cause oil is so expensive!
I’m always with you.
At times, I even think that you are me
and that I am you, with a different name.
You like that guy Messi,
even if he’s Argentinian.
A playful kid, like your son,
the one who left for Jalisco.
You cried for three months
but now you calmed down.
You know that you lost it all.
Sometimes, a new life begins there.
This poem might feel incompressible
But you like it. You know there’s love in it.
Once, you invited me to eat tamales.
At times, you can’t understand yourself!
You’ve hardly finished the “Our Father”
and you start thinking some mischief!
Now you’re tired of reading. You need
new glasses! Those that you have are
no good: they belonged to someone else.
When it rains, remember:
Someone’s crying even harder than you.
And when the rooster sun with a red crest
appears, don’t forget that I am happy
that you are just the way you are.
— Translated by Carlos Barón