(contributed by Ana Perches)

César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza (March 16, 1892 – April 15, 1938) was a Peruvian poet, writer, playwright, and journalist. Although he published only three books of poetry during his lifetime, he is considered one of the great poetic innovators of the 20th century in any language.

He was always a step ahead of literary currents, and each of his books was distinct from the others, and, in its own sense, revolutionary. Thomas Merton called him “the greatest universal poet since Dante”. The late British poet, critic and biographer Martin Seymour-Smith, a leading authority on world literature, called Vallejo “the greatest twentieth-century poet in any language.” He was a member of the intellectual community called North Group formed in the Peruvian north coastal city of Trujillo.(Wikipedia)

A MAN PASSES… (A poem in translation by Peruvian poet,César Abraham Vallejo Mendoza)

A man passes by with a loaf of bread on his shoulder.
I’m going to write, after that, about my double?

Another sits down, scratches, picks a louse out of his armpit, kills it.
What’s the point of talking about psychoanalysis?

Another has entered my chest with a club in his hand.
Shall I speak then about Socrates to the doctor?

A cripple goes by giving his arm to a child.
After that, I’m going to read Andre Breton?

Another shivers with cold, coughs, spits blood.
Will allusions to the Profound ever fit here?

Another searches the gutter for bones, rinds.
How shall I write, after that, of the infinite?

A laborer falls from a roof, dies, and no longer eats lunch.
Innovate, then, on the trope, the metaphor?

A merchant cheats his customer by a gram of weight.
Speak afterwards of the fourth dimension?

A banker falsifies his balance.
With what face shall I weep in the theater?

An outcast sleeps with his foot behind his back.
After that, won’t someone talk about Picasso?

Someone goes sobbing to a burial.
How, then, go into the Academy?

Someone is cleaning a rifle in his kitchen.
What’s it worth to talk about the Beyond?

Someone goes by counting on his fingers.
How shall I speak of the Not-I without screaming?

5 Nov 1937

César Vallejo
Translation by Sandy McKinney