Silvina Ocampo: Buenos Aires

06 November 2019

Silvina Ocampo

Prior to your houses, God loved you.
Alone, imitating the sun, He contemplated you.
Later, men loved yu : the navigator
From his ship, the Indian with his bow,
The uncomfortable gentleman in his arcane
Portrait, a monocle in his hand,
The one who died without a portrait, pained
To leave no face that would remain.

Long before Solis, before Mendoza,
Like a delirious nebula,
Many imagined you from afar
As they walked along the sand or in processions.
Not knowing you existed they invented yu
Among vague prairies, they longed for you
Without feves or tyrants or serpents,
With the suns you have today, your evening dew.
Sad the Duke of Wu imagined you
When the black plague drew near.
In many worm-streaked mirrors
He saw your river painted with varnishes.
An among the books of elephantis, quiet
As the water, Tiberius secretly
Saw you on the island of Sicily.
Wrapped in her hair, ecstatic
and determined, Mary the Egyptian
saw you, gree as the vanishing oasis.

And the Arab glassmakers in China,
Who carried in their uncertain retinas
An insistent meridian light,
Saw you in Mohammedan blue.
For eight hundred months, crossing the plains
Of India seventeen times with his hosts,
Mahmud of Ghazni in darkest caverns
Imagined you with magnolias
And no winds from the southwest
Nor whores in sky-blue dress.
With bandstands and tridents, with the rose,
The tree, and the tempestuous story,
Murasaki Shikibu in her lacework
Peopled you with a million characters
Four false dauphins condemned to die
And the tired invalids of Ilmenau
Saw you in the water stain,
In a protracted instant, for years.
And in this most terrifying dreams,
Among men with reversible heads,
De Quincey saw you in the furniture,
The palm tree, the wooden leaves and flowers.

And I, Silvina Ocampo, in your abstract
Presence have seen your possible absence,
I have seen your doors alone endure
With the insistence of dead hands.
Among stones and tin cans and cement,
Beneath altered firmaments,
As in a great desert each day’s sun
Passes through me and I see how it passes
Leaving you exultant trash,
The Alsina Bridge and what remains from before:
The atrocious monument that endures,
Your sectional houses, and the dour
Nostalgia for gardens gone to waste,
The somber amputed trees
And the back patios, the ladies
Greeting the afternoon in rocking charis,
Your tinted doves, your flowers
Your candy shops, your smells.

In the Botanical Garden, in Palermo,
Around an invalid’s balconies,
In Lezama Park I searched
For plants the lucky shade of green.
Often I didn’t sit
Beneath the gum tree signaled
By the public’s hand that applauds
The persecuted dog, the tango, fraud.

There will be no street corner or seamstress,
No landscape painted on a mat,
There will be no burning of trash,
No walls or ceilings with moldings,
Two women who love each other like sisters,
No little girl who spits at windows,
A man unlucky in a plaza,
A rose in the turbid Maldonado,
That do not absorb the color of evening
In the red and violet sky ablaze
When the sidewalk peddlers count
Their merchandise like lovers.

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