Selected Poems of Juan Gelman
translated by Hardie St. Martin
Stuck in Paris
The one I miss now is the old lion at the zoo,
we always had coffee together in the Bois de Boulogne,
he’d tell me about his adventures in Southern Rhodesia
but he made it all up, obviously he’d never been out of the Sahara.
Anyway I loved his elegance,
the way he shrugged off the little things in life,
he’d look out the café window at the French
and say “those idiots make babies.”
The two or three English hunters he’d put away
stirred up unpleasant memories and even sadness,
“the things one does to keep flesh and bones together” he’d muse
admiring his mane in the café mirror.
Yes, I miss him very much,
he never picked up the bill
but would point out how much tip to leave
and the waiters saw him off with special respect.
We’d say goodbye at the approach of twilight,
he’d go back to what he called his bureau,
not before warning me with a paw on my shoulder
“watch out for the Paris night life, son.”
I really miss him very much,
a desert would sometimes fill his eyes
but he knew how to be silent like a brother
when moved, deeply moved,
I’d talk to him about Carlitos Gardel. 2
Gotán represents “tango” spelled backwards.
2 Carlos (Carlitos) Gardel was and, more than thirty years after his death in a plane crash, still is the most famous singer of tangos in Argentina.