“All Things Are Their Own Prophecy of Dust”

Death Mask from Mycenae

Death Mask from Mycenae

Perhaps of all the writers I have read in my long and checkered life, none has had such an outsize influence on me as Jorge Luis Borges. Even at this late date, years after he has left us, he still guides my thinking. Here is a wonderful poem about mutability by the Argentinian poet:

Adam Is Your Ashes

The sword will die just like the ripening cluster.
The glass is no more fragile than the rock.
All things are their own prophecy of dust.
Iron is rust. The voice, already echo.
Adam, the youthful father, is your ashes.
The final garden will also be the first.
The nightingale and Pindar both are voices.
The dawn is a reflection of the sunset.
The Mycenaean, his burial mask of gold.
The highest wall, the humiliated ruin.
Urquiza, he whom daggers left behind.
The face that looks upon itself in the mirror
Is not the face of yesterday. The night
Has spent it. Delicate time has molded us.

What joy to be the invulnerable water
That ran assuredly through the parable
Of Heraclitus, or the intricate fire,
But now, on this long day that doesn’t end,
I feel irrevocable and alone.

José Justo Urquiza was President of the Argentinian Confederation between 1854 and 1860. In 1852, he defeated the dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas at the Battle of Caseros.

Heraclitus was the Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who said that one never crosses the same river twice: “We step and do not step into the same rivers, we are and we are not.”

The “long day that doesn’t end” could refer to his blindness. Unfortunately for all of us, that long day finally did end on June 14, 1986. (Could it have been that long ago?)

Even as I read this poem, my heart yearns for a return to Argentina. Last night, on a cold January day with my apartment heater blasting away, I drank a steaming cup of mate cocido and thought of that remote land at the tip of South America—a land that produced so many of my favorite writers (in addition to Borges, César Aira and Adolfo Bioy-Casares) and so many wonderful experiences. Even when I broke my shoulder by falling on the ice in Tierra del Fuego back in 2006—an event that would usually be seen as a bad sign—I loved the place and wanted to return. I did in November 2011. Now I am only marking time until my return.