Translated by Hoyt Rogers.
In Damen there’s a bar
where the employees loosen their ties
and drink beer with girls who steal
poetry from the bookstore on the corner.
Sitting there, I wrote a poem
I like a lot.
A week later I went back and tried
to write another poem
that didn’t work at all.
And it’s about how several days ago
I saw a sunset over the city
and said to myself I’ve got to write a poem.
Or there was the Monday I saw a bird
hit the office window again and again
and promised to dedicate a poem to him.
Or the time I was following the girl
who paints her body orange
on Michigan Avenue
and she got wise to me and running after her
I shouted I’ve got to write a poem.
And now I’m writing while the bartender is laughing and smoking
among the employees and the girls who’re laughing and smoking
with stolen books in their handbags.
And as I write this poem keeps getting fuller and fuller of people I don’t know, of readers I’ve never seen, of my European readers, my Chinese and Arab readers, my readers in Argentina… and suddenly the poem is like a bar where people are smoking and shouting and the only person who doesn’t belong here is me.
John Keats wrote that there’s nothing less poetic than a poet.
The poet is to poetry what pipes are to water.
By that I mean the poet just writes,
uses words, sets them up here,
takes them down there, strokes them
the way a mason lays brick and spreads the stucco on,
since a poet builds houses out of words
for readers, the ones who’re hypocrites and leave without paying
and sometimes stick a shotgun in their mouths only because they need
what’s inside a poem;
to those who’re searching, who’re suffering, to the evicted,
the poet gives shelter in his poems –
to sadsacks, to lovers, to whores, to crazies,
to retired policemen…
and as soon as the poet finishes his house
it no longer belongs to him
and he goes off to build more houses somewhere else.
Night is falling now in Damen.
The wind plays outside,
pushing the park-swings.
Lights come on behind the windows.
I haven’t seen the best minds of my
generation and I couldn’t care less.
waiting for dawn your face unshaved
on a roof in the city who knows where
sitting with red eyes on a bed that isn’t yours
in somebody else’s underwear
Theseus reeled in Ariadne’s thread
seeking an exit from the labyrinth
just as the sun now reels in its thread
along the city’s streets and moves off
across freeways, motels, blue
mountains in the distance
and ships that turn on their lights,
while a plank of wood tenderly floats
in the Ozama’s warm waters
like a hand saying hello
or maybe good-bye.
closed the door of the car and turned it on and kept drinking vodka and reciting her last poem with her eyes flooded with black tears and she was shouting the poem and the interior was filling up with carbon dioxide and outside the garage they could hear the car roaring every time she revved up and she was drinking vodka and shouting the poem that was her poem and nobody else’s inside that car she kept revving up with the pedal to the metal and the poem was running out of words and the black tears ran down and down and her poisoned lungs swelled and she was wearing her mother’s coat and her eyes were opening and shutting like a doll’s
AFTER TWO MONTHS WITHOUT WRITING POETRY
One of these days you’ll be a cadaver
and you won’t be able to write poems anymore
but for now sit down and wait,
write and wait and write thinking
this is the last poem of all.
Robert Frost tells in a poem about the road he took,
knowing all paths will lead us to those same woods
and that the woods he means are a metaphor of death
which we’re heading for like Hansel and Gretel
leaving bread crumbs behind so we can go back home
and that’s why poets leave behind their poems
even though birds eat the bread crumbs
and editors don’t publish poets anymore.
In a couple of weeks I’ll be thirty.
Wrinkles will start to show,
crow’s feet, a double chin.
I’ll grow a third-world mustache right away.
I’ll lose my faculties.
I’ll pick up neuroses.
I’ll go paranoid
my hair’s on the verge of falling out.
The face in the mirror.
At thirty you don’t confront life
like a buffalo-hunter anymore
you’re more like a traffic cop directing cars
who’s afraid he’ll get run over
and that’s because the odds of dying are bigger
than for example at twenty-one
which was the age when I took a bus to Cabarete
and spent the afternoon and night on the beach
just sitting there watching the waves
and thinking I’d walk into the ocean
until I drowned
like that Uruguayan poet did,
till finally I dropped the idea when I thought
about all the poems I still needed to write.
Or that time I drank with some woman in a car wash.
Or the gun-fight in Plaza Central.
Or last year when I jumped into the sea
with a Russian friend and the waves
crashed into us like a herd of bulls
and I thought nobody’s going to save me now.
Turning thirty and fat with the possibility
of dressing up as Santa Claus at Christmastime.
Taking pills. Playing the lottery.
Buying low-calorie products.
Pawning jewelry, blenders, rings.
Seeing a psychiatrist on the sly.
Drinking on Mondays
with the company’s softball team.
At thirty I’ll be the laughingstock
of poets who’re twenty-two or twenty-four.
The mused always go for young poets.
They’ll cross out my telephone number in their address books.
Now that my career as a poet has ended
I’ll write my complete works in the countryside.
My readership will consist of a sarcastic cat.
At twenty you write poetry as if you were a nuclear reactor.
At thirty you write as if you were manning a nuclear reactor.
I’ll go through my thirties on a shipwreck plank
dreaming that my forties will be better or worse.
Sad as a shoe salesman in Conde Street
I’ll come back from the office late at night.
Not only will my shoes be wet from the rain
but also the hem of my pants,
my socks and feet.
Acknowledged as one of the Dominican Republic’s most important younger poets and short-story writers, Frank Báez has won the Book Fair First Prize for Short Stories in 2006 and the National Poetry Prize Salomé Ureña in 2009. He has published five books, including Jarrón y Otros Poemas (Vase and Other Poems), Postales (Postcards) and En Granada no duerme nadie (In Grenada Nobody’s Sleeping). As editor and translator for the online poetry review, Ping Pong, he has published scores of poets from Latin America, North America, and Europe.
Note: This page was edited 27 May 2014 to correct an error in transmission.