After Dark

Poem by Cesario Verde
Prisoners bang on the bars of their cells –
A sound that rattles my nerves with shame!
The Aljube jail, for old women and children,
Rarely encloses a titled lady!

I feel so ill as the lights come on
I worry I might have an aneurysm;
The sight of the jails, crosses, cathedral,
Fills and sinks my heart with tears.

One floor after another lights up,
And cafés, restaurants, tobacco and other shops
Spread like a sheet their white reflections.
The moon brings jugglers, the circus, to mind.

On an ancient square two churches raise
The clergy’s black, funereal spectre;
I sketch there a lonely, dour inquisitor,
Daring to extend myself into History.

In quarters which the earthquake flattened
Equal, straight buildings wall me in; (3)
Everywhere else I face steep streets
And the tolling of pious, monastic bells.

But gracing a common, public square
With lovers’ benches and lithe pepper trees
A war-sized monument cast in bronze
Stands, on a pillar, for an epic that was! (4)

And in this assemblage of stunted bodies
I think of the Fever, imagine the Cholera;
Returning soldiers look sombre as ghosts;
A gleaming palace stands opposite a hovel.

Mounted patrolmen set out from the archways
Of army barracks that once were convents;
The Middle Ages! Others, on foot,
Range through the capital, now turning cold.

Sad town! I dread you’ll arouse a dead passion
In me! I mourn upon seeing your elegant
Ladies so white in the lamp-lit distance,
Leaning and smiling at jewellers’ windows.

Coming down from the department stores,
The florists and dressmakers wrench my gut;
They’re hardly able to hold up their heads,
And many are walk-ons and chorus girls.

Even in sordid human tableaus
I, with my pince-nez, find subject matter:
I enter the beerhouse; at the immigrants’ tables,
Harshly lit, they laugh and play dominoes.

Translated by Richard Zenith
(Contributed by Jery on Friday, March 18th, 2011)
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