A few years ago, my closest friend and book soul-mate were doing our usual thing and browsing through the shelves of one of the countless secondhand bookshops we have visited over the years. If memory serves me this was a tiny bookshop in the Cotswolds, and it was summer. As we plucked books out and flicked through them, sometimes showing them to each other, more often than not putting them back but occasionally putting them to one side, she picked up a book of poetry and opened it randomly. After a moment of reading she beckoned me over and handed it to me without a word. The book was the Minus Sign by Carlos Drummond de Andrade and the poem below is the one she had opened the book at.
What now, José? The party’s done, the lights put out, the people gone, the night gone cold, And now, José? And now, yourself? your nameless self, who cuts them dead, you maker of verse who loves, protests? And now, José?
You're loverless, no podium, no tenderness, drink won't go down, smoke won't suck in, the mouth won't spit, the night’s gone cold, dawn hasn’t come, the bus won’t come nor laughter come nor utopia come and it's all done and it's all fled, the white mould grows, and now, José?
And now, José? your gentle word, your flash of fever, your greeds and fasts, your library, your vein of gold, your suit of glass, your incoherences, your hate, and now?
If you'd just scream, if you'd just whine, if you'd just play a Viennese waltz, if you'd just sleep, or at least get tired, if you'd just die… But you don’t die, you’re tough, José!
Yourself in the dark like a beast in a den, with no pagan gods, with no bare wall to lean back on, with no jet horse that flees at a gallop, you march, José! José, how come?
Key in your hand you want the door, there's no more door; you want to drown, but the sea dried up; you want to go home - what home is that? José, what next?
It has been a few years since that poem reached out of the book and struck me dumb, so accurately did it deconstruct me. In the intervening years I would like to think I have changed from the person who resonated so but I fear, whilst much progress has been made, I have not as much as I think or hoped.
But then again, maybe I have.