Godzilla in Mexico
We had an earthquake yesterday. It was a small one, 5.1, and didn’t cause any damage. But I did feel a bit unsettled for a few hours afterwards. Even today having lunch with friends, we all stopped eating when we felt what might have been an aftershock – or maybe just a truck driving by. As you can imagine, Nicaraguans are pretty sensitive about these things. Even though the devastating Managua earthquake was 40 years ago, it still seems fresh in the country’s psyche.
For some unknown reason, earthquakes make me think of poetry. Last year after the Haiti earthquake, I found myself scribbling bad poetry in my journal. For your benefit and mine, I didn’t post any on this blog, but I did post a poem by Aime Cesaire.
I just finished reading a book of poems, The Romantic Dogs, by Roberto Bolaño, author of The Savage Detectives and 2666. If you’ve read the Savage Detectives, you will recognize many of the characters and ideas that pop up in the poems in this collection. One of my favorite poems, Godzilla in Mexico, seems to be an outlier though. I felt there was some meaning I was missing and it took me a while to figure it out. I think the poem is about the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. It was a huge one: an 8.1 that caused over 10,000 deaths. I couldn’t find anything online that confirms my theory, so maybe I’m inventing things. What do you think?
Godzilla in Mexico
Listen carefully, my son: bombs were falling
over Mexico City
but no one even noticed.
The air carried poison through
the streets and open windows.
You’d just finished eating and were watching
cartoons on TV.
I was reading in the bedroom next door
when I realized we were going to die.
Despite the dizziness and nausea I dragged myself
to the kitchen and found you on the floor.
We hugged. You asked what was happening
and I didn’t tell you we were on death’s program
but instead that we were going on a journey,
one more, together, and that you shouldn’t be afraid.
When it left, death didn’t even
close our eyes.
What are we? you asked a week or year later,
ants, bees, wrong numbers
in the big rotten soup of chance?
We’re human beings, my son, almost birds,
public heroes and secrets.
By Roberto Bolaño
As translated by Laura Healy