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).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Story of the local Antonio José - Part 1 (Historia del baquiano Antonio José - Parte 1)

An endearing story in two parts, from my Dad’s book Commemorations (Conmemoraciones), dedicated to those wonderful characters that make our surroundings a home. The loud but very well spoken and smelly man at the bus stop, the sweet blonde girl at the chemist, the girls at the hairdresser’s who always wave at you, the lovely Greek lady who gives you a little extra at the food markets, the café attendant who makes sure your poached eggs are nice and runny every Saturday brunch…

Story of the local Antonio José - Part 1 (Historia del baquiano Antonio José - Parte 1)

I wonder what Antonio José’s age was,
nor even us, his most intimate friends, ever knew.
He was from 1800 and something
that could have been seventy or ninety years.

The truth is that he knew old stories
that he used to tell with a lot of flair, little by little,
leaning on a round stool
with an extinguished cigar that went from side to side
of a mouth prolific with strong words.

Don Antonio was quite the character in town.
His corner house was useful for everything
and he lived in it fully.
As a convenience store it has cold beverages and cigars,
bread and books to teach children how to read,
sweets and kitchen salt and newspapers
and fireworks for the public holidays.
As a bar there was no limit, in exchange
of a guaranteed morality.
He knew good and bad and used to say over and over
that nobody could go passed him
and argued wisdom and tact in his performance.
On Saturdays he would set up his barbershop
in another room with mirrors and magazines
and he was the artist of hair styles,
keeping the same haircut himself for fifty years.

At night, on Sundays, the theatre.
He would perform al fresco:
Don Antonio would organise the audience,
charge tickets at the booth and watch out for
mischievous corners.

But the vital program of Antonio José
did not stop there.
He was not really a hairdresser
nor a shop attendant or a bartender.

His duty was the music.
He played the mandolin, the guitar, even bagpipes,
any instrument with which men could produce
and capture the melodic beauty.
He used to write with his own hand melodies
that came from within,
from his youth with no account
or from the multiple graves that he saw open
in his long terrestrial transit.

Suddenly a Mazurka or a Colombian Bambuco
jumped to the pentagram and when
the death of a friend would dress
his heart of sorrow,
a waltz of slow beats would express
what the most noble of words could not say.

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