Rosario Castellanos – Valium 10


Rosario Castellanos, John Lyons (40 x 40, oil on canvas)

Valium 10

Sometimes (and don’t try
to play it down,
saying it doesn’t happen often)
your measuring stick breaks.
your lose your compass
and then you don’t understand a thing.

The day becomes a series
of incoherent acts, of duties
that you carry out through inertia and out of habit.

And you live it. And you give instructions
to whoever it concerns. And you teach the same
the class to students registered or not alike.
And at night you draft the text that the press
will devour the following day.
And you keep an eye (oh but only from above)
on the running of the house, the perfect
coordination of multiple programs
—because the oldest son is all dressed up
to go as escort to a fifteen year old’s debutante do
and the youngest wants to play soccer and the middle one
has a poster of Che next to his record player.

And you review the expenses and together,
with the cook, reflect on the cost
of living and the ars magna combinatoria
from which the possible daily menu emerges.

And you even have the will to take off your makeup,
and apply your face cream and even to read
a few lines before turning out the light.

And now, in the darkness, on the brink of sleep,
you realise what’s been lost:
the most valuable diamond, the nautical
chart, the book
with a hundred basic questions (and their corresponding
answers) for a basic
conversation, even with the Sphinx.

And you have the distressing feeling
that an error crept into the crossword
That makes it unsolvable.

And you spell out the name Chaos. And you can’t
sleep unless you open
the bottle and swallow one of the pills
in which the chemically pure world order
has been condensed.

Rosario Castellanos

(translation by John Lyons)

Valium 10 is one of the most famous poems by the brilliant Mexican poet, Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974).