The Prodigal Son by Roque Dalton

Once again the deep abyss, the old customs! What shall we do, then, with our laughter, with our freedom, with our morals based on anger?

You talk to me about the spirit – an old Sunday theme -, you’re lovely and I assume you have a truth for the basis of your beliefs (I can’t take my eyes off that squashed insect and its stomach that ends in a sticky yellow liquid).

Haven’t you noticed how boring hope can be?

The main thing is to make a decision: the murderer’s, the person’s who dares to he himself at last, the savior’s or the hero’s.

You can’t spend all your life returning, especially to the shithole you have for a country, to the sad mess into which they’ve turned your parents’ home, only because you’re eager to see or bring us words of solace.

Here every sign of pity is cruel unless it sparks off a fire. Every sign of maturity must prove its capacity for destruction.

And don’t expect too much. A drowning man doesn’t ask where the first boat going by is headed for.

But above everything else, there’s impatience pure and simple.

Moreover, I warn you to watch your rebellious spirit. It’s the best form of courage but it can also release rotten sentiments.

We mustn’t talk like this anymore. At this point, it would be hard to come up with a joke or cheer up.

In each side we carry so many dead ones and so many demons under the skin that the most serious moment in our life is when we do our best to laugh.

What’s more, our holding on so hard to love is incredible!

The fact is, we’ve let them cheat us and are so defenseless now that we can’t even make a distinction between our highest duties. We want to save the lost traveler, the wild beast and the mountain all at the same time.

In any case, the efficacy of our beliefs today (certain gods, ourselves, certain furtive acts, certain hates) depends absolutely on how fresh they are. But youth is a savior. The day when the world has lived enough to be young, we’ll be able to spend our time caring for our children or being jealous in matters of the flesh.

In the meantime let’s not be content to wait.

We’ve said things that are too serious for us to just sit here pleading patiently for a verdict.

We’re not alone.

(Translated by Hardie St. Martin)


This a fragment – Part XVIII – of a long poem titled “The Prodigal Son”

Dalton, Roque
Publication: The American Poetry Review
Date: Sep 1, 1996

About anti

Anthony Iles is currently a doctoral candidate at the School of Art & Design, Middlesex University. A founder member of the Full Unemployment Cinema. A contributing editor with Mute / Metamute since 2005. He is the author, with Josephine Berry-Slater, of the book, No Room to Move: Art and the Regenerate City (Mute Books, London 2011), contributing editor to the recent publications, Anguish Language: writing and crisis (Archive Books, Berlin, 2015), and Look at Hazards, Look at Losses (Mute/Kuda, 2017) and a contributor to Brave New Work: A Reader on Harun Farocki’s Film A New Product. Recent essays have been published in Mute, Radical Philosophy, Rab-Rab: Journal for Political and Formal Inquiries in Art and Logos.
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