Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Hiroshima-Nagasaki Feature—Issue 56, August 2015)

Raúl Zurita
Little Boy

And where was your little boy?

P turns over in bed and feels around for my hand

in the midst of the incommensurable solitude of

the earth, of the infinitely destroyed earth. I was

telling her that the first bomb was dropped

thousands of years ago, at 8:15 in the morning,

on a day that was probably not so different

from today. I was telling her as well that soon

the sun will rise and soon we will both wake up.


A slight curve, the enormous surface was reminiscent of

that of a planet photographed just before the space

probe reaches it, while above the blue darkness was

opening to reveal the stellar night sky. I know that

millions of years have passed since the time of this image

and I know that in this dream my name is Paul. I

was born in Quincy, Illinois, on February 23, 1915,

and this morning, as I went to get the newspaper that is left for me

each day in the front yard, I saw that the street

number of my house had been changed. I was surprised

it was winter in the middle of August, but I was going

through a terrible time so I just took it along with the

two envelopes that were under the door. I didn’t even

stop to look at the enormous newspaper headline and

I went straight to the section with the job ads. By the

time I reached the middle of the page I realized that

the entire newspaper was in Spanish. I couldn’t recall

learning more than three or four Spanish phrases in my

entire life: “Senorita, está usted bien?”, “bonito dia”, “en

México somos muy querendones”, but now I read it with

complete fluency as if it were my native tongue. I

looked, then, at the envelopes; both were addressed to

me, but the name of the street was not mine: Los

Españoles and the number 1974 were the same as what

I saw on the sign above the door. I look again at the

headline and I shudder. As I go out, I am pelted by hail

and then I feel myself panting while I desperately run in

search of a newsstand. I find one. The enormous blue

surface suddenly tilts downwards and descends over me

the way a fighter-bomber falls to one side and a second

later the cloud ascends, growing vertiginously until it

takes the form described in all the morning papers.

P, I then say, waking her, look at what I have done.


It snowed all night and classes are canceled. I found

out when I arrived, the doors of the school were

shut and I saw many of my classmates chasing each

other, tossing snow balls as if they were at a party. A

snowstorm in Santiago is extremely rare and as I left

my house the whiteness of the street struck me with

a lustrous clarity, almost blinding. As I run around

with my friends I see the mountains in the background

and then, as if it were floating over them, the image

of a city completely destroyed. The street is the same,

though it looks as if someone has disemboweled it.

No one has noticed, but the snowballs we toss have

turned into stones and after the first casualty I quickly

take off towards my house. Advancing I run into

groups each one bigger than the other, walking in the

direction opposite mine. At first, just a few people, but

soon after, thousands. They all move like sleepwalkers,

with terrible burns and melting lips, begging for

water between the mountains of ash and corpses. I

run furiously, dodging them and finally I arrive. An

eternity, a second, millions of years? Everything except

my house is an endless desert of leveled remains, as if it

had just been raked over, and what was once a street is

now barely a furrow in the middle of the infinite plains.

I open the door and enter. My mother is putting on

make up at her vanity, getting ready to go out and my

grandmother greets me with a smile. She asks me how

school was. I feel in my eyes the ancient flowing of

tears and I cry and I am cold as I embrace her.


The enormous concrete and glass dome rises above the

tower of the exhibition hall and the modernity of its

form contrasts with the swarm of little wooden shacks

surrounding the esplanade, stretching from the sea shore

to the edge of the city. Outlined in front of the building

is the Aioi Bridge, formed by two interconnected

perpendicular platforms, one of which ends in the

middle of the other making a T. The larger platform

crosses the river and the one in the middle connects

the bridge with the point of the peninsula formed a

bit above, before the point where the two channels of

the estuary join. There are only a few more concrete

constructions; the prefecture, the new school, the

automotive factory, they look like little white scabs on

a dark and coarse skin. I cross the bridge while holding

my mother’s hand and for a second her kimono shines

against the intense purple of the sky, but as we approach

the station the sky has cleared up. The train stops and

I feel the soft pressure of her hand on my back pushing

me towards my father who has just stepped off one of

the train cars. His silhouette closing in on me on the

platform fills me with reverence and fear. Yazuhiko

Girl, he says when he sees me, and I bow down lowering

my face. I look at the floor. The pavement of the

platform has disappeared and the beach appears in its

place. I turn around. The purple profile of the hills spills

over me in the budding light of the dawn and in a scene

that appears to emerge from thousands of years ago

I remember a port, Valparaíso, a life: a frustrated career

in engineering, four marriages, children now adults,

grandchildren, and the blurry fragments from a night

I’ve recovered in my memory (a student bender, a

hidden dive bar, and an incoherent fight at the exit, the

sound of some frenetic running, disappearing down

the hill and, suddenly, next to me, an eruption, the

screeching sound of the breakers bursting, definitively,

instantly, a sharp shrill). I shake off the sand and start

to walk away from that life. The beach sinks into the

pavement and the grainy floor of the train platform

reappears. His hand gently lifts my face and I look at him.

Little Yazuhiko Girl, my father repeats, Little Yazuhiko.


My mother dropped me off. She wore a blood blouse

and when we left the fog of the morning enveloped her

as if she were a fraying, red flower. Now the clouds have

cleared and in the distance we can see the mountains.

The school is a few blocks away and as we turned

towards Providencia the buildings were submerged for a

moment between the mist and then they disappeared.

The school is a simple two-story house attached to

another house like those old row houses built in Santiago

in the 1930s. I run up the stairs and into the classroom.

Before it must have been a dormitory, from its window

you can see the wall that blocks the street, then the

crowns of the trees and beyond them the same

mountains now slightly reddened. The teacher writes on

the chalkboard the date we are to repeat out loud; a

day, a month, a year: 1957. As I say, the buildings

suddenly appeared as if they were elongated white cubes,

not too tall and rigorously designed, extremely simple,

which gives them an aseptic, emotionless precision that

characterizes the streets of reconstructed cities. I walk on

one of those streets. It’s still early and for blocks and

blocks the buildings are reproduced with an insistent

monotony that is only interrupted by the road along the

river. Across from it is a wide esplanade of water formed

by the conjunction of two rivers and the bridge whose

platforms intersect in the middle create a strange

familiarity. I then cross the bridge and arrive at the point

of the peninsula outlined in the middle. From the edge of

the opposite bank, the dome of the demolished exhibition

hall extends, jutting out as if it were a giant split eye, but

now it’s not facing the little, wooden row houses rather it

faces the two futurist crystal pavilions, the steel and stone

of the Memorial for the Peace. It’s the year 2008. 51

years have passed and I’m in what is effectively a

reconstructed city.

What follows is the fast account of an awakening: I look

once more through the school window. The cordillera

has a reddish tint that reminds me of her blood blouse.

A bit closer are the crowns of the trees and outlined

above them the buildings extend like weightless white

cubes. From one of the windows I see what looks like a

narrow provincial street, and in the middle of it the small

school. I know, then, that in the next three seconds I will die.


I look away from the beach and the purplish profile of the

hills of Valparaíso leaps at me in the morning light that is

dawning. As if they had come from millions of years ago, I

remember the blurry remains of a life: four marriages,

children now adults, and then fragments from the night

before (a student bender, a fight, races in the dark and

then suddenly, next to me, the sound of the sea, definitive, a

sharp shrill). I must have gone into the sea fully dressed

because my clothes are soaking wet. I take off my shoes and

begin to walk away from that life. Moving forward my feet

sink into the sand that’s getting stiffer, harder, colder, and

as I look down I see the granular darkness of the pavement

and beside it the railroad tracks. I focus then on the tips of

my little girl shoes outlined against the grainy floor

of the platform and then on the soft pressure of my mother’s

hand pushing me. For awhile now, her kimono has

been glittering brightly against the dark depths of the river.

Crossing the bridge, I see in the water the reflection of the

evasive clouds of dawn, but by the time we get to the

station it is already morning. My father steps down from

one of the train cars and his approaching silhouette on the

platform fills me with reverence and fear. Yazuhiko Girl,

Yazuhiko Girl, he repeats when he sees me. I begin to lower

my head, bowing in front of him and when I finish the

roughness of the pavement spreads for a second beneath

my eyes only to burst, disintegrating in the radiance of

thousands of suns. Once again I look up. The sand keeps

opening up like little graves beneath my feet and I hear

the voice of a classmate shouting for me to wait for him.

I stop and wait. As we embrace the night starts to fall.


The dead mother can be seen on the first plane between

the ruins still steaming from what appears to be a market

and the boy stands crying next to her, his eyes fixed on

the camera lens. It’s an enormously blown-up image

from the film The Children of the War. There are two

other giant posters: one shows Einstein turning his head

and sticking his tongue out at the camera, the other a

sumo wrestler. He’s portrayed from the front, in a

waiting position, and his minuscule eyes are also staring

into the lens. The three images are equal in size hung

from left to right on the stone and glass facade of the

Memorial for the Peace, located at the tip of the

peninsula at the point where the two rivers meet. The

guide has explained that we are standing in front of one

of the seven branches of the estuary that traverses the

city and that tourists always stop at the edge of its

muddy shores to contemplate the rising of the tide.

There is a café a few blocks below along the same

branch. It’s a north american style café with a large

window. When one sits at the tables in the back, the

shoreline disappears and only the river itself can be seen,

only the water. The mouth of the river is outlined in the

midst of this obscurity. That is where the city ends and

the ocean begins. It’s a beautiful overlook, a tourist

requirement. I go in with the group and sit at one of the

tables in the back. Suddenly I have the feeling that

everyone has left. The greyish surface of the water fills

up the entire window and when I turn my face I see the

hand of a man gesturing for me to look at the camera. I

look up. Mother doesn’t move and I scream amid

the bodies that lie horribly burned. I look up again.

Some ashen figures look at me from the facade

of a building in a strange city. The river water appears to

have stopped, but it has not. Then the bottomless ocean.


Following all the other kids, I run through a tree-lined

street with narrow houses and the blow from

the car surprises me, as if this had happened to someone

else. From the ground I sense the voice of a woman

coming towards me, screaming as the white flowers ripple

in the blackness of the silk like a field of daisies in the

night. I feel her breast leaning over mine and in an abrupt

and unjust image I know that the scene that follows can

only belong to the realm of the unspeakable. I’m 30

years old and in fact the image is unjust. I’m wearing a

canvas bomber jacket, with two security straps crossing it,

and I look down at the sea. Two hours earlier the

burning stains of the clouds had been outlined against the

black of the night and when the sun finally finished

coming out, the immensity of the waters shone for a

moment as if they too were hanging. Now the clouds

have opened and the edge of the coast line can be seen

over the horizon. It’s an instant. The earth spills

vertiginously over me and in the moment I’m about to

turn to pull myself up I remember the name of an

unknown street, General del Canto, and of a city that

also means nothing to me, Santiago. I’m stretched out on

the ground, my eyes open, and while I listen to the

screams I reconstruct the blurry scenes of an awakening.

There’s a moving truck. There’s a woman with a black

dress with white flowers holding my hand while the

movers haul the last pieces of furniture. There are also

some children, they are on the sidewalk across the street

and they call me. I let go of the woman’s hand and I run

in front of the truck without looking to see if anything is

coming. I feel the hard blow launching me forward and

the pressure of the security straps over my shoulders

holding me in my seat. As I finish the turn I see behind

me the giant cloud of smoke and dust rising, casting a

shadow on the sky as if it were dusk. My mother presses

me against her naked breast stamped with the white

flowers of her kimono while enormous drops of water

fall and the hurricane-wind pulls the trees on the street

out from their roots. Like a glove, her skin begins to peel

off and with it the white flowers sink into the infinite

aridity of a desert never before seen, a desert completely

different from any other desert in the world, an infinite

desert of ruins and ash where all the destinies become one.


In an hour it will clear. They are announcing temperatures

below zero and through the bedroom window I observe

the darkness that completely covers the street. The rain

and hailstorm lasted for days, but now the silence has

returned and soon the white snow of the cordillera of the

Andes will completely fill the horizon. Now, the dawn has

begun to trace pieces of the block as if that

diminutive world that remained petrified beneath the

night intends to remember itself: the continuous facade

of the two-story houses with their little front yards, the

cars parked in front of the gates, the skeletons of the

trees. They are minuscule color-stains that spread little

by little over the blackness of the pavement like a snake

of light as the sky acquires that steely tone that precedes

the end of the night. P turns in the semi-darkness,

pulling off the blankets and returning to sleep. I

remember now that the heat doesn’t work and I’m

surprised by this summer warmth in the middle of

winter. I lean over and as I open the window the blue

surface of the earth spills vertiginously over me and

I am struck by a gust of scalding wind that nearly

knocks me out. Outside, a group of soldiers steps out

of their trenches, their charred faces looking up at the

sky, as if they keep looking at it while the fluid from their

melting eyes drips from their empty sockets and falls to

the ground where thousands of people roam around like

ghosts amid the unrecognizable remains of a street that

disappears in the desert. P has just woken up and opens her

eyes. There is a little boy. In the background, the son we will

never have shrieks, staring at us in the interminable dawn.


Raúl Zurita’s “Little Boy” is in The Country of Planks, translated from the Spanish by Daniel Borzutzky, and published by Action Books in 2015. Read Borzutzky on Zurita’s “Little Boy.”