Nicanor Parra

(September 5, 1914 / Chillán)

The Trap

During that time I kept out of circumstances that were too full of mystery
As people with stomach ailments avoid heavy meals,
I preferred to stay at home inquiring into certain questions
Concerning the propagation of spiders,
To which end I would shut myself up in the garden
And not show myself in public until late at night;
Or else, in shirt-sleeves, defiant,
I would hurl angry glances at the moon,
Trying to get rid of those bilious fancies
That cling like polyps to the human soul.
When I was alone I was completely self-possessed,
I went back and forth fully conscious of my actions
Or I would stretch out among the planks of the cellar
And dream, think up ways and means, resolve little emergency problems.
It was at that moment that i put into practice my famous method for interpreting dreams
Which consists in doing violence to oneself and then imagining what one would like,
Conjuring up scenes that I had worked our beforehand with the help of powers from other worlds.
In this manner I was able to obtain priceless information
Concerning a string of anxieties that afflict our being:
Foreign travel, erotic disorders, religious complexes.
But all precautions were inadequate,
Because, for reasons hard to set forth,
I began sliding automatically down a sort of inclined plane.
My soul lost altitude like a punctured balloon,
The instinct of self-preservation stopped functioning
And, deprived of my most essential prejudices,
I fell unavoidably into the telephone trap
Which sucks in everything around it, like a vacuum,
And with trembling hands I dialed that accursed number
Which even now I repeat automatically in my sleep.
Uncertainty and misery filled the seconds that followed,
While I, like a skeleton standing before that table from hell
Covered with yellow cretonne,
Waited for an answer from the other end of the world,
The other half of my being, imprisoned in a pit.
Those intermittent telephone noises
Worked on me like a dentist's drill,
They sank into my soul like needles shot from the sky
Until, when the moment itself arrived,
I started to sweat and to stammer feverishly,
My tongue like a veal steak
Obtruded between my being and her who was listening,
Like those black curtains that separate us from the dead.
I never wanted to conduct those over-intimate conversations
Which I myself provoked, just the same, in my stupid way,
My voice thick with desire, and electrically charged.
Hearing myself called by my first name
In that tone of forced familiarity
Filled me with a vague discomfort,
With anguished localized disturbances which I contrived to keep in check
With a hurried system of questions and answers
Which roused in her a state of pseudo-erotic effervescence
That eventually affected me as well
With a feeling of doom.
Then I'd make myself laugh and as a result fall into a state of mental prostration.
These ridiculous little chats went on for hours
Until the lady who ran the pension appeared behind the screen
Brusquely breaking off our stupid idyll.
Those contortions of a petitioner at the gates of heaven
And those catastrophes which so wore down my spirit
Did not stop altogether when I hung up
For usually we had agreed
To meet next day in a soda fountain
Or at the door of a church whose name I prefer to forget.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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