Why do this?

My father, José Luis Villamizar Melo, passed away in my home town of Cúcuta, Colombia, in August last year. The law and economics were Dad's profession, but literature, history and academia his passion. He wrote and published several books, articles and book chapters. The thing is that so many people have missed out on his work, particularly on his beautiful poetry, which he wrote in Spanish prior to the world wide web. So I thought, what a better way to keep Dad's legacy alive than to bring his writing beyond his world and share it with mine. That is why I am translating over 250 of my Dad's poems to English and publishing them here, one a day, Monday to Friday during 2011 (Dad, a family man, always believed that you shouldn't work on weekends).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Once upon a time there was a man who used to hide his sadness (Erase un hombre que escondía su tristeza)

Dad used to mention his uncle Nicolás quite a bit.  He admired his famous uncle, the orchestra conductor.  He just never mentioned, as he does in this poem, that uncle Nicolás also seemed to carry his own demons.  I never knew him.  From my Dad’s book Under the shadow (Sombrabajo). 

Once upon a time there was a man who used to hide his sadness (Erase un hombre que escondía su tristeza)
To Elena.

This man used to make a knot of his sadness
and would put it, let me rephrase that, would hide it
in the most discreet pocket of his fine suit,
the one he would wear for the daily grind
in contrast to the modest attire he would wear at home,
the real one, the one that belonged to
his true self, to the darkness
that surrounded his treasures:
faith in God, the faith of a coal miner, faith in life,
the certainty of the labour in his art and his wisdom,
a decorum that was borderline innocence,
a profound sweetness that made you
love him and respect him, and tolerate
his tendency to foresee goodness the way he used to
even if his premonitions were not always true.
In the debate of the great vanities
his humbleness had large dimensions
and never, in contrast,
was his distinction diminished.
However, his melancholy singled him out.
He was named master by harmony students,
those to whom he offered the findings from his trip down South.
He kept alive the memories of Chile’s coasts and the richness of its vineyards,
he reminisced his time there as a penniless student,
and names that he did not pronounce anymore
because each one of them revived memories of
many things that ‘were’, but beautiful dreams
that were never realised.
Very seldom he spoke about his trips.
When he could not take it anymore,
when it was impossible for him to hide
his overwhelming load, he would quietly find refuge
in the trust of his wife
who learnt to divide in two every sorrow.

An instrument in the hand of the children
would bring him back to domestic pedagogy
and the hope that they would be able to
walk the foreseen roads
but never conquered by him. 

Later would come
the whirlwind of his labour in the middle
of the noise and the madness of a crepitant city.
It was then when the master
would swap his domestic sadness
for the customary tuxedo.
Like a tamer, as he was, of rhythms,
he would conduct the orchestra, he would lead it
through the roads of the score
until the final applause.  Then
he would recommence the cycle of his life.

His name was Nicolás.

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