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June 12, 2010

Epilogue for variations: “Godzilla in Mexico” (Roberto Bolaño)



Here are two versions of  Roberto Bolaño’s “Godzilla in Mexico,” an apocalyptic conversation between a parent and child. Essentially the same, but the subtle differences in word choices and line breaks provide two distinct readings.


Godzilla in Mexico
Roberto Bolaño
-Translation by Laura Healy


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.



Godzilla in Mexico
Roberto Bolaño
-A version by B. H. Boston


Hear me, my son: bombs were dropping

all over Mexico City,

but no one realized.

The air spread poison through

the streets and open windows.

You’d just eaten breakfast and were

watching the detectives on TV.

I was reading in the next room

when I knew we were going to die.

Despite the dizziness and nausea I dragged myself

to the dining room and found you on the floor.

I held you close. You asked me what was happening.

I didn’t tell you we were on death’s telethon

but I whispered, We are going on a journey,

you and I, together, don’t be afraid.

When leaving, death didn’t even close our eyes.

What are we? you asked a week a year later,

ants, bees, wrong numbers

in the great spoiled soup of chance?

We are human beings, my son, nearly birds,

public heroes and secrets.

2 comments:

  1. Boston's first line scans much closer to the first line of the original but would be far better with "the bombs" instead of "bombs". Both translations have a problem in the third line -- the sense is "nobody was taking notice/paying attention", the flat past tense does not capture it and it needs more syllables.

    In general neither translation communicates the sound of the original very well at all... I'm really happy "Romantic Dogs" was published but Healy's translations are mostly of value as a way of getting at the Spanish. Her translation of "Resurección" still makes me scratch my head every time I think about it and wonder what she could have been thinking.

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  2. Thanks for the insights, Jeremy. I wish I know Spanish to understand what is happening in the poem and how the translations try to capture its sense. I've previously read your post on the concluding lines of "Resurrection." I think it's a key poem defining Bolaño's poetics since the figure of the diver recurs in his fiction (in the stories in Last Evenings on Earth as clavadista, as you also pointed out in one of your posts; and also it is present in 2666, most likely as buzo as with the poem). Your alternative translation of the last lines gives it an entirely new meaning.

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