Ode to Poverty (3)




I follow you.

Just as you were implacable,

I am implacable.


every poor person

you will find me singing,

below every impossible

hospital sheet

you will find my song.

I follow you,


I watch you,

I enclose you,

I isolate you,

I pull out your nails,

I break the teeth you have left.

I am everywhere:

in the ocean with the fishermen,

in the mine

with the men

as they wipe their brows,

as they dry the black sweat

they find my poems.

I go out every day

with the textile worker.

I have white hands

from giving out bread in the bakeries.

Wherever you go,


my song

is singing,

my life is living,

my blood is fighting.

I will pull down

your pale banners,

wherever they are raised.

Other poets

once called you


they venerated your cape,

they fed off the smoke

and they disappeared.


challenge you,

with hard verses, I hit your face,

I board you and I banish you.

I, with others,

we are exiling you

from the earth to the moon

so you can stay there

cold and jailed

looking with one eye

at the bread and the fruit

which will cover the earth

of tomorrow.

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Ode to Poverty (2)


When I rented a small room

in the suburbs,

you were waiting for me

sitting on a chair,

or when I pulled back the sheet

in a dark hotel,

as a youth,

I didn’t find the scent

of the naked rose

but rather the cold whistle

of your mouth.


you followed me

through the barracks and the hospitals,

through war and peace.

When I got sick there was a knock

at the door:

it wasn’t the doctor, it was poverty

that entered again.

I saw you take out my furniture

into the street:

the men let it fall like a stone.

You, with a horrible love,

went making a toothless throne

from a discarded pile

and looking at the poor,

you picked up my last plate and made it a crown.

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The morning after the night before


Nacional, one of Medellín’s football teams,

won the Colombian championship last night,

beating Santa Fe of Bogotá 2-0 in Bogotá

and releasing an frenzy of celebration in the city.


First the firecrackers and the car horns at the final whistle,

and then, at about 1.30am I heard another upsurge of cheering.

Today, I discovered that the team had arrived back from Bogotá in the early hours

and fans had driven up to meet them, passing the bottom of my road.


There were some tired faces on the Metro this morning,

and tonight on my way home, the taxi driver pointed to an ambulance,

and said, I bet they are sick with a hangover, like half of Medellín.

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Sweet tooth


A man rummaging in the rubbish for anything of value

asks me for a coin. I shake my head

and in that moment he finds a catering-sized tub of arequipe,

Colombia’s delicious sticky, sweet, caramel sauce.


He pops of the lid and gets to work with a grimy finger

extracting what has been left behind and enjoying it with lip-smacking relish.

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I was in a bank and I heard a female teller say

I want to learn to drive but only for my general education,

I don’t think I’d be a good driver,

too slow, too cautious.


But that’s good, I said.


Well, it’s just that we are born cautious, aren’t we,

not like them,

she said, gesturing at her male colleague.

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A couple of weeks ago I was walking down the hill

after visiting a good friend who lives 10 minutes away from me

and I was praying as I walked along:

Lord, thank you for that nice time

and this nice quiet space

in between lots of busy moments,

and literally, just in that moment,

with a sickening screech of brakes,

a motorcyclist crashed into a car

right in front of me.


There was that horrible moment before you know how things will turn out,

and the relief when the cyclist gingerly got to his feet again.

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Good news from my little case


I’ve been fixed.


It was a big adventure, as so much is here,

that included narrowly avoiding

big protest marches in the centre of Medellín,

a cockroach climbing out of a cash machine,

and a long taxi ride

(I could see her calculating when it was

going to be cheaper to buy a new case)

but I finally got fixed for the princely sum of $5000,

less than £2.


So I am ready for my next outing,

and it’s an exciting one

but she says I can’t tell you about it until we’re back.

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Pointless thefts

One of the things I couldn’t get over at the circus

was what the children stole.

We gave out little coloured bands to identify

the children by their ages and an hour later

there were older children with armfuls of the bands,

all different colours, all stolen from the younger children.

The leaders all had neckerchiefs to identify them to their groups

and these were much in demand too. One or two leaders were slightly hurt

because children tried to pull them from their necks.

A tough, tough crowd, and yet defenceless against a loving word.

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