2nd Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 13 :: JULIAN GALLO on JULIO CORTÁZAR
On Julio Cortázar’s “After the Party”
Argentine author Julio Cortázar is not well known for his poetry. Primarily a novelist and short story writer, in his long literary career he had published only one poetry book, “Salvo el Crepúsculo.” That book was eventually published for the English speaking world as “Save Twilight” (City Lights Books, 1997). Unfortunately the English publication is a highly truncated version of the original 1984 publication. As to why it’s hard to say but like his fiction – which is known for being playful, engaging the reader to participate in the experience – the original publication was offered in much the same manner. The English edition removes all the interaction, play (as well as a number of poems) and is offered more of a sampling of this inventive novelist’s poetic skills.
It’s a shame that Cortázar hadn’t published more poetry in his lifetime because his poetry is just as inventive as his fiction, although, it is more straightforward and less surreal as his prose. One poem in particular always stuck with me, not so much for what it says but more for what it doesn’t. That poem is “After the Party”. A simple poem on the surface, which seems to merely describe the atmosphere after a night together with friends and loved ones; but what’s not said, what the reader doesn’t get to actually see, is what makes this poem the beautiful one that it is. It reads:
And when everyone had gone
and just the two of us were left
among the empty glasses and dirty ashtrays,
how beautiful it was to know that you
were there like an oasis,
alone with me at the night’s edge,
and you were lasting, you were more than time,
you were the one who wouldn’t leave
because one pillow
was going to call us again
awake to the new day,
together, laughing, disheveled.
For me, this poem speaks to the gratitude of having someone at your side, when all the laughter and conversation is over; when everyone disappears and knowing this love, this “oasis” among the “dirty ashtrays” and “empty glasses” will still remain. The word “oasis” is key for me here – a reprieve from perhaps a night that wasn’t so perfect after all. One could almost “hear” the silence after the last person walked out the door, smell the stale cigarette smoke, remnants of alcohol in those empty glasses. That moment of silence where one feels alone after company had left but knowing that the one important person is still there to share the last moments of the evening with you, that no matter what, you are both still one – together.
It was this mood I tried to capture in one of my own poems, “Quixotic”, published in my 2009 chapbook “A Symphony of Olives” (Propaganda Press). While it may not be as positive as the Cortázar poem, this one was directly inspired by it. It reads:
Maybe it’s how beautiful you look when you sleep
and how peaceful you look as I run my hands through
Maybe it’s how beautiful you look upon immediately awakening.
Maybe it’s the way you walk around the kitchen
while preparing coffee for the both of us
or the way your eyes light up when you look at me.
Maybe it’s the way your smile lights up the whole apartment,
or your uncanny ability to make me feel as if I am sitting
by a warm fire whenever I am near you.
Maybe I just don’t know anything at all.
Maybe I’m simply on the wrong path,
wandering aimlessly, stupidly and blind
to the fact that I am merely trying to convince myself
that the windmills are actually giants
that the herds of sheep are actually armies
that the inns are actually castles
or that you are actually Dulcinea del Toboso.
Perhaps I am this quixotic because I really
haven’t learned anything at all.
Perhaps my love for you is best left hidden
behind those windmills,
those herds of sheep or in the back room of all
Perhaps I am offering you nothing more than a
and not what I think is the blood in my heart.
Perhaps it’s time to stop this seemingly endless
and recognize once and for all
that I will never be your heroic knight
but will always be that old eccentric
forever going on his fool’s errand.
With this poem, I tried to capture that same “voice” in the Cortázar poem, the same sense of the “unsaid” behind what the reader hears. As to whether or not it succeeded is up to the individual reader to decide but it was Cortázar’s poem that pointed the way to try something just a little different from what I was normally used to writing.
Julian Gallo was born and raised in New York City. He is a musician/writer/painter who has poems and short stories published in about 40 magazines and journals throughout the United States, Canada and Europe, and an excerpt from his novel, “Europa,” was featured in Exit Strata PRINT! Vol. 2. Gallo also has 13 books under his belt: “Standing On Lorimer Street Awaiting Crucifixion” (Alpha Beat Press, 1996), “The Terror of Your Cunt is The Beauty of Your Face” (Black Spring Press, 1999), “Street Gospel Mystical Intellectual Survival Codes” (Budget Press, 2000), “Scrape That Violin More Darkly Then Hover Like Smoke In The Air” (Black Spring Press, 2001), “Existential Labyrinths” (Black Spring Press, 2003), “Window Shopping For A New Crown of Thorns” (Lulu Press, 2007), “November Rust” (Lulu Press, 2007), “My Arrival Is Marked By Illuminating Stains” (Lulu Press 2007), “A Symphony of Olives” (Propaganda Press, 2009) and “Divertimiento” (Propaganda Press, 2009). His second novel “Naderia” was released in January 2011, “Be Still and Know That I Am” (Beat Corrida) was released in September 2011. His fourth novel, “Mediterraneo” was released in June 2012. He is also currently playing guitar and bass for NYC singer/songwriter Linda La Porte.