The Poems of Octavio Paz


  Sun throughout the day Cold throughout the sun

  Nobody on the streets parked cars

  Still no snow but wind wind

  A red tree still burns

  in the chilled air

  Talking to it I talk to you


  I am in a room abandoned by language

  You are in another identical room

  Or we both are

  on a street your glance has depopulated

  The world

  imperceptibly comes apart Memory

  decayed beneath our feet

  I am stopped in the middle of this

  unwritten line


  Doors open and close by themselves Air

  enters and leaves our house Air

  talks to itself talking to you Air

  nameless in the endless corridor

  Who knows who is on the other side? Air

  turns and turns in my empty skull Air

  turns to air everything it touches Air

  with air-fingers scatters everything I say

  I am the air you don’t see

  I can’t open your eyes I can’t close the door

  The air has turned solid


  This hour has the shape of a pause

  This pause has your shape

  You have the shape of a fountain made

  not of water but of time

  My pieces bob

  at the jet’s tip

  what I was am still am not

  My life is weightless The past thins out

  The future a little water in your eyes


  Now you have a bridge-shape

  Our room navigates beneath your arches

  From your railing we watch us pass

  You ripple with wind more light than body

  The sun on the other bank grows upside down

  Its roots buried deep in the sky

  We could hide ourselves in its foliage

  Build a bonfire with its branches

  The day is habitable


  The cold has immobilized the world

  Space is made of glass Glass made of air

  The lightest sounds build

  quick sculptures

  Echoes multiply and scatter them

  Maybe it will snow

  The burning tree quivers

  surrounded now by night

  Talking to it I talk to you

  Objects and Apparitions

  for Joseph Cornell

  Hexahedrons of wood and glass,

  scarcely bigger than a shoebox,

  with room in them for night and all its lights.

  Monuments to every moment,

  refuse of every moment, used:

  cages for infinity.

  Marbles, buttons, thimbles, dice,

  pins, stamps, and glass beads:

  tales of the time.

  Memory weaves, unweaves the echoes:

  in the four corners of the box

  shadowless ladies play at hide-and-seek.

  Fire buried in the mirror,

  water sleeping in the agate:

  solos of Jenny Colonne and Jenny Lind.

  “One has to commit a painting,” said Degas,

  “the way one commits a crime.” But you constructed

  boxes where things hurry away from their names.

  Slot machine of visions,

  condensation flask for conversations,

  hotel of crickets and constellations.

  Minimal, incoherent fragments:

  the opposite of History, creator of ruins,

  out of your ruins you have made creations.

  Theater of the spirits:

  objects putting the laws

  of identity through hoops.

  “Grand Hotel de la Couronne”: in a vial,

  the three of clubs and, very surprised,

  Thumbelina in gardens of reflection.

  A comb is a harp strummed by the glance

  of a little girl

  born dumb.

  The reflector of the inner eye

  scatters the spectacle:

  God all alone above an extinct world.

  The apparitions are manifest,

  their bodies weigh less than light,

  lasting as long as this phrase lasts.

  Joseph Cornell: inside your boxes

  my words became visible for a moment.



  for José Alvarado

  It’s better not to go back to the village,

  the subverted paradise silent

  in the shatter of shrapnel.

  Ramón López Velarde

  Voices at the corner’s turn voices

  through the sun’s spread hand almost liquid

  shadow and light The carpenter whistles

  the iceman whistles three ash trees

  whistling in the plaza The invisible

  foliage of sounds growing

  rising up Time

  stretched to dry on the rooftops

  I am in Mixcoac Letters rot

  in the mailboxes The bougainvillea

  against the wall’s white lime flattened by the sun

  a stain a purple passionate calligraphy

  written by the sun

  I am walking back back to what I left

  or to what left me Memory

  edge of the cliff balcony

  over the void I walk and do not move forward

  I am surrounded by city I need air

  need a body need

  the stone that is pillow and slab

  the grass that is cloud and water

  Spirit flickers Noon

  pounding fist of light

  To collapse in an office or onto the pavement

  to end up in a hospital the pain of dying like that

  isn’t worth the pain I look back

  that passerby nothing now but mist

  Germination of nightmares

  infestation of leprous images

  in the belly brains lungs

  in the genitals of the college and the temple

  in the movie houses the phantom populations of desire

  in the meeting-places of here and there

  this and that in the looms of language

  in memory and its mansions

  teeming clawed tusked ideas

  swarms of reasons shaped like knives

  in the catacombs in the plaza

  in the hermit’s well

  in the bed of mirrors and in the bed of razors

  in the sleepwalking sewers

  in the objects in the store window

  seated on their throne of glances

  The vegetation of disaster

  ripens beneath the ground They are burning

  millions and millions of old notes

  in the Bank of Mexico On corners and in plazas

  on the wide pedestals of the public squares

  the Fathers of the Civic Church

  a silent conclave of puppet buffoons

  neither eagles nor jaguars buzzard lawyers

  locusts wings of ink sawing mandibles

  ventriloquist coyotes peddlers of shadows

  beneficent satraps the cacomistle thief of hens

  the monument to the Rattle and its snake

  the altar to the Mauser and the machete

  the mausoleum of the epauletted cayman

  rhetoric sculpted in phrases of cement

  Paralytic architectur
e silenced neighborhoods

  rotting municipal gardens mounds of saltpeter

  deserted lots camps of urban nomads

  ant-nests worm-farms cities of the city

  thoroughfares of scars alleys of living flesh

  the Funeral Parlor by the window display of coffins

  whores pillars of vain night

  At dawn

  in the drifting bar the enormous mirror thaws

  the solitary drinkers

  contemplate the dissolution of their faces

  The sun rises from its bed of bones

  The air is not air it strangles without arms or hands

  Dawn rips the curtains City

  heap of broken words


  on the dusty corners turns the papers

  Yesterday’s news more remote

  than a cuneiform tablet smashed to bits

  Cracked scriptures languages in pieces

  the signs were broken

  was split

  atl tlachinolli

  burnt water

  There is no center

  plaza of congregation and consecration

  there is no axis the years dispersed

  horizons disbanded They have branded the city

  on every door on every forehead

  the $ sign

  We are surrounded I have gone back to where I began

  Did I win or lose? (You ask

  what laws rule “success” and “failure”?

  The songs of the fishermen float up

  from the unmoving riverbank Wang Wei to the Prefect Chang

  from his cabin on the lake But I don’t want

  an intellectual hermitage

  in San Ángel or Coyoacán) All is gain

  if all is lost I walk toward myself

  toward the plaza Space is within

  it is not a subverted paradise it is a pulse-beat of time

  Places are confluences flutters of beings

  in an instantaneous space Wind whistles

  in the ash trees fountains

  almost liquid light and shadow voices of water

  shine flow are lost a bundle of reflections

  left in my hands I walk without moving forward

  We never arrive Never reach where we are

  Not the past the present is untouchable

  In the Middle of This Phrase . . .

  I am not at the top of the world. The moment

  is not the stylite’s pillar, time

  doesn’t rise from my feet, doesn’t burst

  in my skull with a silent black explosion,

  an illumination identical to blindness.

  I am on the sixth floor, I am

  in a cage dangling from time.

  Sixth floor: clatter and surf,

  battle of metals, glass shatter,

  engines with a human rage. The night

  is a disjointed murmur, a body

  caressing itself, tearing itself apart. Blind,

  clumsily soldering its pieces, it collects

  its broken names and scatters them.

  With lopped fingers

  the city touches itself in dreams.

  I am not at a crossroads: to choose

  is to go wrong. I am

  in the middle of this phrase. Where will it take me?

  Rumbling tumble, data and date,

  my birthfall: a calendar dismembered

  in the hollows of my memory.

  I am the sack and bones of my shadows.

  A slope

  to the slack breasts of my mother.

  Wrinkled hills, swabbed lava,

  sobbing fields, saltpeter meals.

  Two workmen open the pit. Crumbled

  mouth of cement and brick.

  The wracked box appears: through the loose planks

  the pearl-gray hat, the pair of shoes,

  the lawyer’s black suit. Bones, buttons, rags:

  sudden heap of dust at the feet of the light.

  Cold, unused light, almost sleeping,

  dawn light, just down from the hills,

  shepherdess of the dead. That which was my father

  fits in that canvas sack a workman hands me

  as my mother crosses herself. The vision dissolves

  before it ends: I am in the middle,

  dangling in a cage, dangling in an image.

  The beginning drifts off, the end vanishes.

  There is neither start nor finish: I am in the pause,

  I neither end nor begin, what I say

  has neither hands nor feet. I turn around within myself

  and always find the same names,

  the same faces, and never find myself.

  My history is not mine: a syllable from that broken phrase

  the city in its circular fever repeats and repeats.

  City, my city, scorned stela,

  dishonored stone, name spat out.

  Your story is History: fate

  masked as freedom, errant,

  orbitless star, a game

  we all play without knowing the rules,

  a game that no one wins, a game without rules,

  the whim of a speculative god, a man

  turned into a stuttering god. Our oracles

  are aphasic, our prophets

  seers with glasses. History:

  a coming and going with no beginning and no end.

  No one has gone there, no one

  has drunk from the fountain, no one

  has opened the stone eyelids of time, no one

  has heard the first word no one will hear the last,

  the mouth that speaks it talks only to itself, no one

  has gone down to the pit of the universes, no one

  has returned from the dungheap of the suns. History:

  garbage dump and rainbow. Scale

  to the high terraces: seven notes

  dissolved in clarity. Shadowless words.

  We didn’t hear them, we denied them, we said they don’t exist:

  we were content with noise. Sixth floor:

  I am in the middle of this phrase: where

  will it take me? Mangled language.

  Poet: gardener of epitaphs.

  The Petrifying Petrified

  Deadland shadowland cactideous nopalopolis

  rockboned mudded ashdust empty socket

  petrified fire the sun did not drink the lake

  the earth did not absorb it the water did not vanish into the air

  men were the executors of the dust

  wind swirled in the cold bed of fire

  wind chanted litanies of drought

  in the tomb of water wind

  broken knife in the dormant crater wind

  saltpeter whisper

  The sun

  solaortasoul centrotal soldonage split

  the word that came down in tongues of fire smashed

  the account and the count of the years

  the chant of the days was a rain of scrap iron

  slagheap of words sand primers

  crushed screams hoofmuz zlebridlehar nessbit

  disgraced bleary Cains ragged Abels

  zealot assassins punditic pagans

  slick crooks the woofs of the one-eyed dog

  guide of the dead lost

  in the coils of the Navel of the Moon

  Valley of Mexico lips in eclipse

  lava slobber Rage’s rotten throne

  obstinate obsidian petrified

  petrifying Rage

  broken tower

  tall as a scream smea
red breasts

  clenched brow greendry bloodsnot


  nailed in a wound ragerazor gazerblade

  on a land of tines and spines

  Circus of mountains

  theater of clouds table of noon

  mat of the moon garden of planets

  drum of rain balcony of breezes

  seat of the sun ball game of the constellations

  Bursting images impaled images

  the lopped hand leaps the torn tongue leaps

  the sliced breasts leap the guillotined penis

  over and over in the dust over and over in the courtyard

  they trim the tree of blood the intelligent tree

  The dust of stuffed images The Virgin

  crown of snakes The Flayed

  The Felled-by-Arrows The Crucified

  The Hummingbird winged spark

  flowerbrand The Flame

  who speaks with words of water Our Lady

  breasts of wine and belly of bread oven

  where the dead burn and the living bake

  The Spider daughter of air

  in her house of air spins light

  spins centuries and days The Rabbit

  wind carved in the mirror of the moon

  Images buried

  in the eye of the dog of the dead fallen

  in the blocked well of origins whirlwinds of reflections

  in the stone theater of memory images

  whirling in the circus of the empty eye ideas

  of red brown and green swarms of flies

  ideas ate the gods the gods

  became ideas great bladders full of bile

  the bladders burst the idols exploded

  putrefaction of the gods the sanctuary was a dungheap

  the dungheap a nursery armed ideas sprouted

  ideolized ideodeities sharpened syllogisms

  deified cannibals ideas idotic as deities

  rabid dogs dogs in love with their own vomit

  We have dug up Rage

  The amphitheater of the genital sun is a dungheap

  The fountain of lunar water is a dungheap

  The lovers’ park is a dungheap

  The library is a nest of killer rats

  The university is a muck full of frogs

  The altar is Chanfalla’s scam

  The eggheads are stained with ink

  The doctors dispute in a den of thieves

  The businessmen

  with fast hands and slow thoughts

  negotiate in the graveyard

  The dialecticians exalt the subtlety of the rope

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