Omar Cáceres Poems from Defense of the Idol
translated from the Spanish by Mónica de la Torre

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Insomnia Nearing Dawn

In vain I beg of sleep for the freshness of its waters
Coachman of night!... (Who cries for the lost?)
The moon hurtles the wind on its skin, while
from the shade emerges the clarity of a birdsong.

Shadows stagger as a funeral car
pulling apart the road’s necklace of stones;
and inexplicably all things crackle,
flexible, like a bow pulsating from arrows.

The love of a hundred women will not sate the anguish
distilling into my blood-stream a feverish buzz;
and if I were to find what might sustain that hope,
a precipice’s voice would be merciful to me.

The moon hurtled the wind on its skin. A soft
glimmer of snow trickles down from the balconies;
and as I beg of sleep to obliterate me, birds
disseminate a handful of light with their accords.

Words to a Mirror

Brother, you, I’ll never fully comprehend;
I sense in you a strange and profound fatalism,
you might as well be the eye of the Abyss,
or a tear shed by Death, already dead.

Still in my hands the world you apprehend,
with the speechless stupor of a deep paroxysm
and blankly you say that I should "get to know myself"
as if believing in you I could ever end!...

For its sky-like depth, how sweet is your sense;
no one ceases to love you, every afflicted countenance
pours its bitterness onto your clear surface.

Tell me, you who shall be sleepless till the end of times
has it ever approached you, when the body dies
a bare soul, to know its face?

The Rain’s Decoration

Spirals of dead leaves. Spring
that bursts in the furrows of a deep fatigue;
long braids of water dangling from the rain,
that falls, and tears to shreds.

The water!... Who does it search for, plentiful?
Within clouds its contortion tightens;
in the meantime, as if heralds of life,
the rain’s steps go on—singing,
awake in the dream.

And how gather their movement,
solitary pensive, solitary pensive?
—Contemplate how the pale rain keeps up its torpor,
and how, as if to soothe the pain of the fixed path,
it makes the road’s dust rise up in gurgles of light!

Fire of late vigils, sunflower of unchanging mirrors,
lifting the veil from its hidden decalcomanias,
it scares away the trees’ dark volumes,
not knowing where to lean, not finding its morning.

Spirals of dead leaves. Spring
that bursts in the furrows of a deep fatigue;
fumes of slowness, calm clarities,
and, in my spirit?
a wave of bells on fire!


The trees are drunk on nocturnal lights,
so their own shadows they drag, their nerves on edge.

Their shadows, stranglers of the night’s winds,
shelter and rattle me, as if I were a bird.

And my steps resonate in their black boughs,
and the weakest of hooks fill me with vertigo;

yet, when I glance at them with a pair of simpler eyes,
they reply, swaying, that they remained intact...

The leaves, magnifying the shared shadows,
return like ruined boats to their tree.

They can’t, oh, attain the solid banks
that the tips of heavenly bodies announce from above,

yet shivering and thick with silence they plow
through the deep and freezing ponds of miracles.

And in the nocturnal trees embracing the earth,
I find oblivion and mercy, when in despair,

while the light slides down their boughs,
thin and diaphanous... LIKE WATER IN MY HANDS!

Fickle Oracle

Diversion of the stars drunk on superior vapors
forehead blue from fatigues, from hastening its double-life;
twist the staggering night and give me that clear,
serpentine strength of your bones!

Lifting up its ashen lung, moon,
smoothly entwined between the two of us;
sleep dripping from my body—wait for me:
together we will tread on the solitude in which I’ve opened
a new passage out to things.

Led to the buttress of your solid thirst,
(head-dress of feeble waves, troubled hips),
the meteorite of your body affixes the seasons,
from the empty arc of its skin.

Second Form

You wouldn’t be able to kill yourself before your mirror:
we’re alike because you love me
and in an apt shroud of rage you incorporate yourself
to the increasing exactness of my spirit.

Unyielding to that grand and hasty desert,
you meet, experience a new death;
you attend the abandoning of your own lightness,
like a spring laughing at its rock.

Then I descend to your meager and extreme reality, to your stillness,
oblivious to the resentments and the ways of this world;
moving across the dim landscape of forgotten desires,
shook up by memories, by harsh and fleeting rubble, I cloud you with passion.

A blind star sinks its diversity into our being,
precisely unto its unlocked mirror, until reaching it;
waving a single heart from infinity to infinity, that is to say,
toward the day getting used to its two kings of glass!

Against Night

With their swift eyes splitting the wind,
streetcars find, replicate the city;
the cold clouds display, intensify life...

My mind spins and reaches out all the way to my house,
spilling its moons of thirst on the storm;
the bourgeois and beggars and vehicles, everything that approaches me,
expands when coming into contact, it glimmers,
and nullifies its existence, is stifled, in myself.

So then I sing my limits, my overflowing joy,
like a necklace of oblivion in the limb of a line of poetry;
against the night’s path I’m winning silver leaves,
and I shall be asleep by the time they all belong to me.

Deserted Blue

Now, as I remember my former being, the places which I’ve inhabited,
and that still display my sacred thoughts,
I understand that sense, the plea with which all foreign solitude surprises us,
is nothing but proof of the persistence of human sadness.

Or, besides, the light of the one who smashes his security, his consecutiv’atmosphere,
to feel how, upon returning, his entire being explodes within a great number,
and to know that he "still" exists, "still" breathes and takes impoverished steps on this
although he’s there engrossed, identical, directionless,
alone like a mountain saying the word then:
so that no one can console he who suffers like this:
what he seeks, those for whom he grieves,
what he loves, it’s all gone far away, reaching only itself!

Native Engraving

Man clear from oblivion, pure man,
crucified in waters, in scents, in words;
wasting his toughest balance, there he is without somebody to talk with, limits,
        or a beginning,
and he is to return each time to completely possess what he then loves.

Riddled by his facts, wounded by madness,
jumping on the heavenly rope of his own soul,
he thereby bursts in from that cheerful wake, the brightest of his destiny’s gold mines;
he reigns over his prowess; —at all times he would summon others to that
        unthinkable joy,
as if that sole happiness existed for his entire city!

But dusk marches ahead of the civic air compromising
his oblique glance so as to block a murderer;
—during his exile a consummated arrow roams;
every piece of steel pains him, every secret;
reciprocal man, empathetic, close to all the beginnings,
he leaps into his own fire so as to find himself at last.

Erasing, thus, those signs constellated in his incongruous wounds,
ocean of metallic waves, rings of his abandoned life,
those waves still sing by his childhood’s side,
clear, resentful,
holding up a toy boat around his bare little feet.

Song for the Fugitive

Banging th’sharp goal with their monotonous shield, there are,
since you went away, ten souls at your door;
break that immediate, linear sky so that your life may be unified
and give me, oh fugitive, the last oasis of that journey, your bare
footsteps on the only path
and the closed sun
washing away that wise land’s sorrow, your sour forehead, give me
the only sense there is to speak
and we shall be together AL-

The I’s Illumination

Dripping its polished densities
around the identical, simultaneous, afternoons,
we here have that the meager, difficult day presents itself,
faithful to its stern, pure and subdued rhythm.

Its infinite leaves, intensely signaling the limit,
from where it emerges replenished with inner sides,
turn above my youthful will, tender and virile,
just as I said while singing this morning.

Because I’m here, o monument of light,
always inclined toward you, a stranger to myself,
ready for your sudden glow of swords,
fixed to your conceited g-hostly signification,
o light of straight solitudes, of inflexible heights and equatorial events.

                                                                 So now,
toss this perfection out to tumble in the plain,
I can say everything, pick up everything:
it breaks in, it emerges, from this lamp, piece by piece,
a nocturnal poem that I’ve handwritten unclearly,
night of a bluish rainstorm, o incomparable rectitude.

It is I who dominates that blissful confine,
who watches over his friends’ sleep,
who was always all set,
who folds the fatigue thinning out all mirrors.
Now I catch my face on the water of those deep farewells,
in the screens of those last sobs,
because I’m behind all things
crying for what they took away from me.

And I love the warmth of this consoling pain-stricken flesh,
the sensuous shadow of the bare sadness I took from the angels,
the ring of my breathing, recently carved...
It’s all that remains, o anxiety.

Release, then, your deep soothing metals into my sobs,
hasten the flames, those high disciplines,
the order smirking on my knees,
morbid light of all bells.

Not a single thought, o poets,
poems EXIST,
they await us!

Visitor Extremes

Exuberant remoteness materializing in my orchard, plunging into my trees.
I understand: the wind, this wind, is the soul of distances:
breaking the skies open, overturning its life at every encounter,
it doesn’t fold itself into time in order to witness completely the life of things;
its wisdom is always brand new, in the making,
resuming all secrets, flooding them, without removing
their unruly ferment, their bountiful passion;
like a poet in solidarity, unanimous, cosmological, central,
witnessing in his own spirit what confines itself in nature,
and who doesn’t erect themes,
for his gaze fits not in a single ecstasy of air,
but rather, weightless, animates and restores steadfastness to all things.


There, alive, amid those thrusts, solemn in the zeal
of the wind, of that wind, writhing in my orchard making itself visible in my trees.
It moves not only one leaf nor kisses every flower, simultaneous,
but regally appears before all and embraces them without parting with
        its own self;
the subjection is reciprocal, constant, ubiquitous,
tending to an unreachable point of proud morbidity,
requiring no substance;
that wind is the narrow banner of the souls!—Ah,
how to avoid that tormented ground, however, how escape from it,
what impulses, what dull spears pierce me, keep me upright,
as a former novel character, mandatory, when I could
free myself on my own and flee naked to tempests of incomplete, unheard of heights,
cleanse my spirit, rinse it, with the tongue with no sayings
in cascades of wails that undermine the darkness, and ooze,
wanting to find totality and traverse their dream with that thread of wet light.


Armor of misfortunes, of victorious debris,
the invasion of height proving itself in the marble of horror, unearthly leg;
in the middle of that past avalanche, surrounded by ghosts of ghosts in order to think,
by presences that grip me desperately, that consume themselves,
nosing about their live slabs and the pedestal of their absolute and sovereign idol,
but in whom all fire, all earthly aptitude has been lost;
destined to the unsayable, its victim, like one
who has seen the shadow of a dead person after glimpsing
the harshest of actions in his dark and belated jurisdictions,
carrying out, o tenacious sun in the likeness of all shadows,
that breath’s sacred fate, quivering
from a mirror against all wars, a survivor,
I am triumphant in that remote respite—like a cry
that bubbles up in a powerful site and crushes
its own impulse to burst out, now and then betraying it
so as to give titles to its sufferings!

Very little is known about Omar Cáceres, who was born in Chile in 1906, and of what can be known of him, Eliot Weinberger knows it all. In his essay "On Omar Cáceres" which originally appeared in Jacket and is included in the collection of essays Karmic Traces, Weinberger tells us that the poet "worked as a violinist in an all-blind orchestra, of which he was the only sighted member. In 1933, hearing that a group of young poets was meeting in a café, to put together an anthology of the new Chilean poetry, he walked in, waited until one of them was alone, gave him a poem, and left. The group wrote him, asking for more work, and he agreed to meet on a busy street corner. He handed over a manuscript and kept walking — a tall, thin figure with empty eyes and the ‘elegance of a ghost,’ as one of the poets, decades later, recalled. In 1934, his brother paid for the publication of a book of fifteen poems, Defense of the Idol (Defensa del ídolo). The book, somehow, had an introduction by Vicente Huidobro, the only one he ever wrote for another poet, though it is unlikely the two met. (Could it be a forgery?) Cáceres, disturbed by some typographical errors in the book, burned all the copies he could find. Only two are known to survive. In 1943, the exact date is unknown, he was murdered by assailants unknown for reasons unknown." It is no wonder his work has achieved cult-like status a century later. [MdlT]

English Translation © Mónica de la Torre

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