Dumb foreigner, always confusing hungry with angry. “Are you hungry at me? Who you hungry at?” “I’m so angry, I could eat a gold man sachs.”

Reversing Christ, Vallejo turns bread to stone. In “The Hungry Man’s Wheel,” he riffs, zigzags and amplifies:

From between my own teeth I come out smoking,
shouting, pushing,
pulling down my pants ...
My stomach empties, my jejunum empties,
misery pulls me out between my own teeth,
caught in my shirt cuff by a little stick.

A stone to sit down on
will now be denied to me?
Not even that stone on which the woman trips who has given birth,
the mother of the lamb, the cause, the root,
that one will now be denied to me?
At least that other one,
that crouching has passed through my soul!
At least
the calcarid or the evil one (humble ocean)
or the one no longer even worth throwing at man,
that one give it to me now!

At least the one they could have found lying across and alone in an insult,
that one give it to me now!
At least the twisted and crowned, on which echoes
only once the walk of moral rectitude,
or, at least, that other one, that flung in dignified curve,
will drop by itself,
acting as a true core,
that one give it to me now!

A piece of bread, that too denied to me?
Now I am resigned to be what I always have to be,
but give me
a stone to sit down on,
but give me,
please, a piece of bread to sit down on,
but give me
in Spanish
something, in short, to drink, to eat, to live by, to rest on,
and then I will go away ...
I find a strange form, my shirt very torn
and filthy
and now I have nothing, this is hideous.

--translated by Clayton Eshleman

Having introduced a stone that “crouching has passed through my soul”—amazing in itself, and reminiscent of Da Vinci’s “at death, a man will pass through his own bowels”—Vallejo echoes it with “please, a piece of bread to sit down on.”

The poet’s logic, or rather, poetry’s syllogism, must always outstrip the reader’s, leaves him staggering. Another astounding example, and this, my favorite passage in all of literature:

Should I have realized all your memories,--should I be the one who can bind you hand and foot,--I shall strangle you.

--from Arthur Rimbaud’s “Phrases,” as translated by Louise Varèse

[Que j’aie réalisé tous vos souvenirs,--que je sois celle qui sait vous garrotter,--je vous étoufferai.]

Originally Published: April 23rd, 2010

Linh Dinh was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1963, came to the U.S. in 1975, and has also lived in Italy and England. He is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and the novel Love...