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).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Description of my elemental father (Descripción de mi padre elemental)

If you spoke with my father ten years ago, you wouldn’t have thought that this sophisticated man who travelled through Europe, ran his own real estate business, was feared in court and respected at university, had come from very humble origins in the tiny town of Cornejo, a couple of hours away from Cúcuta.

Well, after giving my grandparents grief due to disciplinary issues in a few different schools, Dad finally made it through high school. And to everyone’s surprise, he obtained good enough results to get into law school in Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. But this wasn’t easy for my grandfather. He struggled to put together enough money from his milk bar to send Dad to the best private university in the country at the time. But he did. Then, Dad was so smart that he won a scholarship, which got him through university.

In return, Dad was really, really good to his parents, although I don’t suppose he was as close to my Grandpa José as we were. Here are my Dad’s thoughts when his own father’s life was reaching its dusk. From his book Under the shadow (Sombrabajo).

Description of my elemental father (Descripción de mi padre elemental)

Before death puts an end to your trivial story
of always: your strength, your honesty,
you having been an inflexible man of clean conscious,
your certainty of being at peace with those who surrounded you,
not owing anything, not being creditor for anyone,
not having a square metre of land that you could call yours,
before the end of the insignificant life of whom was a man
and nobody could take away a single bit from this concept
nor add to it superfluous halos
that anyway, my father, you never needed,
I say that I am proud of you,
that I pronounce your name with respect,
that I understand you and that as the years
make me closer to yours, I start feeling
that your absence will be very hard for me
regardless of the difference between
the duties you did in the world
and mine.

You, a simple man, the trivial evaluation
of the transient place that you occupied,
never thought that in the modesty of your meditation
which was a negation of the appropriate word,
you always used to say, in rough words,
the truth about yourself and that beyond
your horizon nothing else existed:
you fed with the present, with whatever was at hand,
you did not worry about growing your patrimony
of zero in the balance sheet of the number cruncher
or good credit in the assets of your rudimentary soul.

I, on the other hand, love the life of today, of yesterday
and of tomorrow.
How much my belief in the future contrasts
with your being satisfied, complete,
believer in the urgency of dying.

Now that your step wobbles, that you walk blindly,
that your judgement takes unexpected paths,
you believe more firmly in the God that you were taught
on the school desks
where you also learnt to write your name;
your knowledge is already extensive.

I have the urge of talking to you
because the days go by and with them
your calendar expires
and I do not want to write your memories,
instead I want you to, with your cheap glasses,
spell the symbols of this poem
and after thinking about it in silence,
without understanding it,
I know for sure, you will recognise yourself in it.

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