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The Promise, By Heberto Padilla

October 18, 1998

A while ago

I promised you many love poems

and--now you see--I couldn't write them.

You were sitting next to me

and it is impossible to write about what is just there.

What one has is always poetry.

But a few clear things

have begun to bring us together--

we have shared the same solitude

in separate rooms,

without knowing anything of each other,

trying, each in place,

to remember the looks on our faces,

which all of a sudden join those

we thought we had lost, erased

from our early years.

I remember the knocks on the door

and your frightened voice,

and you, my eyes still filled with sleep.

For a long time

you used to ask me just what History was.

I couldn't answer, I gave vague definitions.

I never dared give you a real answer.

TRANSLATED FROM THE SPANISH BY ALASTAIR REID AND ALEXANDER COLEMAN

From "Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology," edited by Stephen Tapscott (University of Texas Press: 448 pp., $24.95 paper)

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