who lived and died near the Duero


When someone wakens with grace, so simple
are the things beside him, they almost
seem new, we almost
feel the judgment, the dark fear
of possession. Our blood
is too thin to pass on the immensity
of someone who loves. The worthiness of this man,
untested, his actions equal
the business of the sea, wave after wave,
both flower and fruit, and death, and birth
at once, and the great hazard
of his tenderness, of his style of walking
the streets, gave us
the one justice: joy.
Like someone in the dark smoking
beside a powder keg, we trailed after him
and,  because he couldn’t say no,
we didn’t see
that he kissed as he drank and though he was cheated
at Blackjack and even worse at Hearts, he played
truly, with unmarked
cards. He, whose business without hours
was companionship, how could
he know his Duero
is a bad neighbor?


Roads he took,
to ease his asthma,
the drumrolls he turned to lullabys
although they were the drums of war, laws that cut
man from man,
of which he made graftings to stack his bitter
emptiness not with fury,
less with propaganda,
but with what is most fertile: his simplicity,
all of these fuel for the oven of his seventy-two years.
There everything was fire
flaring up always, burning without ashes
from his wages to his child,
from his white hairs to his hoarse throat,
from his denims to his soul. He stooped
like a lark when he walked, and the measure
of his stride opened a bit, with the air
of one who has carried many loads (so different
from the horseman or the sailor).
His hearing burned out,
smelling of whitewash, sand, wine, tallow,
he went without goodbyes:
all of him a constant coming back.
The winning speed
of his life, his blood
of lizard, of eagle, of dog,
seeped into our bodies like
the music of the road. Blind to the mysterious
and therefore with one eye only
on the actual, rich only in images
and remembered things, how can we now
celebrate what is pure happening,
heroic work, tidings without history?


I’m not lowering my head,
Eugenio, and I’m sure
that no one would know me, even at home.
Death is not a river, like the Duero,
neither is it a sea.  Like love, the sea
always ends between four
walls. And you, Eugenio, down a thousand riverbeds
without flood or drought,
without bridges, without women
washing clothes, what water
have you gotten into?
But you’re not given to reflection like water;
you possess, like earth.
And the raw stitches of these streets
of your neighborhood alongside the river,
and the thumb-worn hands of cards,
and this giving a handshake without giving summer
or reality, or life
without danger, and the tongue
gone dumb from saying “goodbye,”“goodbye,”
and the sun a thief slipping off,
and these towers of damp
explosives, the force
lost, and I, with this wind in the beginning of June
crashing in my chest,
and our friends … Much,
so much has ended in a little time.
Uphill or down,
toward the plaza or toward your shop,
everything sneaks a look at us
now, catching us
out of place.
To be alive shames us
a little, it shames us
to breathe, to see how beautifully
the evening ends. But
through the eye of all the world’s locks
your key passes, and it opens
friendly, shining,
and we come home
like someone returning from an appointment fulfilled.

[translated by Philip Levine; from Roots and Wings: Poetry from Spain 1900-1975,
ed. Hardie St. Martin (New York: Harper, 1976)]