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  • Before the final night hits us
  • Let’s examine the spots on the wall:
  • Some resemble plants
  • And others mythological creatures.
  • Hippogryphs,
  • dragons,
  • salamanders.
  • But those that resemble atomic explosions
  • Are the strangest of them all.
  • On the screen of the wall
  • The soul sees what the body doesn’t see:
  • Men on their knees
  • Mothers with babes in their arms
  • Equestrian statues
  • Priests raising the host:
  • Genitals locking into each other.
  • But the most amazing spots of all
  • Are
  • beyond doubt
  • Those that resemble atomic explosions.

Translated by David Unger

The Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, who for many years was a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Santiago, is one of Latin America’s most notable and innovative poets. Describing himself as an “antipoet,” he writes in a wry, colloquial, and accessible mode that resists the rhetorical inflation and grandiose lyrical gestures associated in the popular mind with verse. His sister, Violeta, was one of Chile’s most renowned folk singers. Born in 1914, Parra, who is now in his late 90s, won Spain’s 2011 Cervantes Prize for a lifetime of literary achievement. This poem is from Antipoems: New and Selected, edited by David Unger and published by New Directions. “Spots on the Wall,” copyright © 1973 by David Unger, is reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

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