Translated by John Oliver Simon
from Issue 8: Cells
A perfect answer is always a sort of riddle.
When I was in jail I worked out all day long in order
to keep in shape and not get wiped out,
The prisoners made fun of me all the time and called me
Charles Atlas for keeping in shape and not getting wiped out.
In Yard Seven there was a twenty-year-old kid who was
in love with a metal icosahedron
and would polish it all day with his spit, his tongue,
his fingers, the song of his shirt
and make it reflect the gray walls, which politely
returned a livid luminosity.
One noon, stretched out on the yard, I was sleeping
with my face in the sun
and the kid came over and began to entertain himself
balancing his polyhedron on the point of my nose
while drawing strange figures on my chest with a piece
of chalk which corresponded to the oscillations of his toy,
and which would determine the whole course of my life from
then on, if I would manage to get out of prison, as I was
hoping, thanks to the efforts of my wife.
Long before opening my eyes I had figured out what was going on,
but it was dangerous to contradict this boy, who had killed
six pals with a shiv.
No one dared to get friendly with him because of his
obsessions and his temper,
so they preferred to watch him from a distance, asking
themselves who would be his next victim.
Not daring to startle him, then, I was as quiet as my soft
breathing would allow,
until he began to trace signs on me with his blade, whose point
was scratching me with growing intensity.
Meanwhile all the prisoners had gathered on the balcony of
the second story surrounding us and were watching in silence,
as he told me himself, his mouth close to my ear.
He put the point of his knife inside my ears and inside my nose,
and brought it close to my eyes,
like a lover scratching with a stick in the sand until
his favorite shell appears.
Then he brought the blade to my lips, slipped it slowly between
them, and sliding it along my tongue told me, "Swallow it!"
As he waited I reached out my hand softly and taking his
right hand I held it with entire tenderness and understanding.
After about five minutes everyone on the balcony started
applauding and cheering wildly.
I opened my eyes and saw that he was wiping the marks from
my breast with a handkerchief and my own sweat.
After that he was my best friend in the joint and when they
let me go he gave me his brilliant polyhedron of polished steel
facing which I write my poems.
The question is always the same but all the answers
the key is not in the question nor the answers
but in ourselves.
X-504 a the pseudonym for Colombian poet Gonzalo Arango (1931-1976). He was famous in his country for being the founder of a literature and philosophy movement called "Nadaísmo" (Nothing-ism) with other young Colombian thinkers of his generation and that was inspired by the Colombian philosopher Fernando González Ochoa. He was the author of a number of collections of poetry and plays, as well as the "First Manifesto of Nadaísmo."
John Oliver Simon is a fifth-generation Californian born in New York City in 1942. He has been exploring Latin America and translating its poetry for two decades. His Caminante, written during a nine-month voyage south of the border in the mid-1990s, was published by Creative Arts Book Company in 2002. His Ghosts of the Palace of Blue Tiles, a chapbook of translations of the wonderful young Mexican poet Jorge Fernández Granados, was published by Tameme Press in 2008.