THE PRETENDER

Along with Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar was a revolutionary Argentinian novelist, short story writer, and essayist and is considered one of the founders of the Latin American Boom in literature. Cortázar poems are remarkable by their simplicity but also by the use of images that can convey states of mind hard to be deciphered by simple words. I believe a big part of his style is born out of personal situations and feelings to create his own fictions. His book The Secret Weapons is a good example of that, talking about the time he lived in Paris. This poem can be definitely tracked back to that period, making his words understood as one more personal experience to be remembered. 

 

The Pretender

by Julio Cortázar

The one who leaves his country because he’s afraid,
he isn’t sure of what—the mouse inside the cheese,
the rope amid the mad, the scum on the soup.
Then he tries to swap himself like a trading card,
the hair he used to plaster in place with pomade in front of the mirror
he lets fall over his forehead, he unbuttons his shirt, switches customs, wines and language.
He realizes, the wretch, that he’s doing okay, and sleeps
like a pussycat. He even changes his style, and he makes friends
who know nothing of his ridiculously domestic provincial history.

Every so often he asks himself how he could have waited so long
to leave the shoreless river, the strangling collars,
the Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
A clean slate, sure, but careful:
one mirror is every mirror,
and the passport says you were born and you are,
and white skin, straight-backed nose,
Buenos Aires, September.

He brushes off the fact that he can’t forget,
because that’s an art few master, what he wanted:
that alphabet soup with stars
which he’ll tirelessly sip
at countless tables in various hotels,
the very same soup, poor kid,
till the little fish in his ribcage takes a stand and says enough.

Helder Guimaraes