Borges’ City

“My soul is in the streets/ of Buenos Aires.”  (“The Streets”)

 

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Reading Borges’ poetry for the first time in Buenos Aires is an interesting experience because so much of the city is reflected there. His first poetry book was Fervor de Buenos Aires and he seems to have a tourist’s delight and interest in every detail of the city that surrounded him for most of his life. So I decided to put up some snapshots of the city that remind me of his continued presence here.

 

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entrance to the old zoo, where Borges saw his first tiger

 

“My dreaming is never able to conjure up the desired creature. A tiger appears, sure enough, but an enfeebled tiger, a stuffed tiger, imperfect of form, or the wrong size, or only fleetingly present, or looking something like a dog or a bird.”  (“Dreamtigers”)

 

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I look on them as infinite, elemental

fulfillers of a very ancient pact

to multiply the world, as in the act

of generation, sleepless and dangerous.

(“Mirrors”)

 

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Photo by Walter Chandoha, who died recently

 

“Who is to tell him the cat observing him

Is only the mirror’s way of dreaming?

I remind myself that these concordant cats—

the one of glass, the one with warm blood coursing—

are both mere simulacra granted time

by a timeless archetype.

(“Beppo”)

 

 

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Eva Desnuda by Charles Despiau (1874-1946)

 

 

Whoever embraces a woman is Adam. The woman is Eve.

Everything happens for the first time.

I saw something white in the sky. They tell me it is the moon but

What can I do with a word and a mythology.

Trees frighten me a little. They are so beautiful.

(“Happiness”)

 

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The National Library

 

The faithless say that if it were to burn,

History would burn with it. They are wrong.

Unceasing human work gave birth to this

Infinity of books.

(“Alexandria, A.D. 641” S.K.)

 

 

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Forty cards have taken the place of life.

The decorated cardboard talismans

make us oblivious of our destiny,

and a light-hearted game

goes on filling up our stolen time

with the flowery flourishes

of a home made mythology.

(“Truco”)

 

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Thoughtful cat at Recoleta Cemetery

 

Benign shade of the trees,

wind full of birds and undulating limbs,

souls dispersed into other souls,

it might be a miracle that they once stopped being,

an incomprehensible miracle,

although its imaginary repetition

slanders our days with horror.

(“Recoleta Cemetery”)

 

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Now dead, now on his feet now immortal, now a ghost,

He reported to the Hell marked out for him by God,

And under his command there marched, broken and bloodless,

The souls in purgatory of his soldiers and his horses.

(“General Quiroga Rides to His Death in a Carriage”  A.R.)

 

 

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One thing alone does not exist—oblivion.

God, who saves the metal, saves the dross

and stores in his prophetic memory

moons that have still to come, moons that have shone.

(“Everness” A.R.)

 

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Everything—the drab houses,

the crude banisters, the doorknockers,

perhaps the hopes of a girl dreaming on a balcony—

all entered into my vain heart

with the clarity of tears.

(“Unknown Street”)

 

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Some years ago I tried to get away from him: I went from suburban mythologies to playing games with time and infinity. But these are Borges’ games now—I will have to think of something else.

“Borges and I”

 

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“Lifelike” statue of Bioy Casales in La Biela café, Casales being Borges’ friend and frequent collaborator

 

2 thoughts on “Borges’ City”

  1. I bet that was fun to do and very effectively achieved. Borges is not a poet I’ve ever read, but here you have introduced me to him beautifully. I love reading writings about a place in that place , too. Are there other Argentinian writers you are reading?

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