Known as one of the most accomplished prose writers of the so-called Latin American Boom in fiction, Julio Cortázar was also a consummate poet. The poem translated below is taken from the last of his works to be published during his lifetime. Born in the Argentinian embassy in Brussels in 1926, Cortázar lived for most of his adult life in Paris, though he never lost his close identification with his homeland nor with Latin America in general. Famous for his wit and humour in his novels and short stories, Cortázar’s lyrical voice is endlessly inventive.
If I have to live
If I have to live without you, let it be hard and bloody,
the soup cold, my shoes tattered, or that in the midst of opulence
let the dry branch of the cough rise up, barking out to me
your misshapen name, a foam of vowels, tearing at my sheets
with its fingers, so that nothing brings me peace.
Not even from that will I learn to love you more,
but cast out from happiness
I’ll know how much joy you once gave me just by being near.
I believe I understand this, but I’m wrong:
it will require frost on the lintel
for the person sheltering in the doorway to understand
the light in the dining room, the milk-white tablecloths and the smell
of the bread thrusting its brown hand through the slit.
So far from you now
as one eye from the other,
from this assumed adversity
the look you deserve will finally be born.
(translation by John Lyons)