“Words are vitamins and life is short.” ~ Ani Difranco
Las palabras son vitaminas y la vida es corta.
My maternal grandparents spoke Spanish to each other all my life. Hijole! my grandpa would exclaim, and I had no idea what it meant. (It’s actually a curse word akin to sonofabitch.) ¿Verdad? (pronounced “reth-ah“), my grandma would constantly remark, seeking confirmation. “Right?”
They chose not to teach Spanish to their children (my uncle, aunt and mother), as English was the only language valued in US society in that era. My grandparents had been physically punished in school for speaking their native language and thus learned that speaking Spanish was troublesome and taboo. Prohibido: not allowed.
I am now fluent in Spanish (though there’s always room for improvement). More importantly, my daughter is fully bilingual (a native speaker of Spanish and English). A generational chain that was broken has been mended, and the angels sing.
I can hold conversations about all kinds of things. I can express my feelings and ideas. I can read poetry in Spanish. I can write love letters in Spanish. I can proclaim, philosophize, curse and joke in multiple regions of Latin America.
This past Tuesday evening at dinnertime, a giant boulder tumbled down from the top of the lake basin, rolling with unfathomable momentum for about a kilometer.
It wreaked havoc on one of the barrios of the pueblo close to where I live, San Marcos La Laguna, killing four people instantly, including an 8-month old baby, injuring others and destroying a dozen homes. As people do when tragedy strikes, the local and international community is pulling together with donations, food, service, support and love. (GoFundMe link here—funds will go toward rebuilding homes for families who lost everything.)
I came across this heartbreaking work of poetic genius this morning (en español!), and it’s so good that I must share it with you, here, now. (Scroll down for the English translation.)
1964 por Jose Luis Borges
Ya no es mágico el mundo. Te han dejado.
Ya no compartirás la clara luna
ni los lentos jardines. Ya no hay una
luna que no sea espejo del pasado,
cristal de soledad, sol de agonías.
Adiós las mutuas manos y las sienes
que acercaba el amor. Hoy sólo tienes
la fiel memoria y los desiertos días.
Nadie pierde (repites vanamente)
sino lo que no tiene y no ha tenido
nunca, pero no basta ser valiente
para aprender el arte del olvido.
Un símbolo, una rosa, te desgarra
y te puede matar una guitarra.
Ya no seré feliz. Tal vez no importa.
Hay tantas otras cosas en el mundo;
un instante cualquiera es más profundo
y diverso que el mar. La vida es corta
y aunque las horas son tan largas, una
oscura maravilla nos acecha,
la muerte, ese otro mar, esa otra flecha
que nos libra del sol y de la luna
y del amor. La dicha que me diste
y me quitaste debe ser borrada;
lo que era todo tiene que ser nada.
Sólo que me queda el goce de estar triste,
esa vana costumbre que me inclina
al Sur, a cierta puerta, a cierta esquina.
1964 by Jose Luis Borges
The world has lost its magic. They have left you.
You no longer share the clear moon
nor the slow gardens. Now there is
no moon that isn’t a mirror to the past,
Solitary crystal, anguished sun.
Goodbye to the mutual hands and the temples
that brought love closer. Today all you have
is the faithful memory and the deserted days.
Nobody loses (you repeat vainly)
Except what they don’t have
and never had, but it is not enough to be valiant
For to learn the art of forgetting
a symbol, a rose, rips you apart
and a guitar can kill you.
I will no longer be happy. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
there are many other things in the world;
any moment is more profound and
diverse than the sea. Life is short
and though hours are very long,
a dark delight lies in wait for us
Death, that other sea, the other arrow
come to free us from the sun and the moon
and the love.
the joy you gave me
and took away must be crossed out;
that which was everything has to be nothing.
All I have left to enjoy is sadness,
that vain habit that brings me
South, to a certain door, to a certain corner.