Translating Heidegger


          The sudden urge to understand

a difficult passage from Heidegger. The urge becoming

an obsession as he wakes whispering Dasein. He thinks

of Tom, his easy laugh, his deep and generous voice.

He envied all Tom’s understanding. At twenty, Tom is perfect, 

his dark Italian eyes exploding with the secrets of German

philosophy. He pictures himself taking notes as Tom explains,

interprets—four or five of them gathered in his room, idiot

students with so little hunger for knowledge. He is smoking

a cigarette as he listens to Tom’s voice and he is thinking

of incense. Tom was a good priest. He explained Descartes

to anyone around him who would listen. But one day

  Tom hungered for another kind of knowledge—he looked up

from the pages of a book and saw a woman. All the angels

fell away. Amo ergo sum. And him? He could never be

like Tom. He never gave a damn about Descartes. Never gave

a damn about Heidegger—though he liked pronouncing

his name. He’s sorry for all his shallowness. For other things

too. He knew he could never be too sorry. He was Catholic

after all. He could never be too sorry.

  Now—in his dreams—

there are birds falling from the sky. He has started

to paint all the birds. A friend keeps asking him what

they mean, the birds in his paintings. “They can’t fly!

They’re just falling!” He can’t explain. He’s not Karl Jung.

He’s not even an art critic—maybe not even a good

painter. Maybe he’s just internalized an old Hitchcock movie

that was more or less about desire and sexual repression.

Another phrase slams into his brain Jedem das Seine. He waits

for the translation but it does not arrive. He sees the words

written on the gates of a camp. His abilities as a translator

are not improving. There are many arts he will never

master. Beethoven was deaf. Goya too. There were

monsters in their heads that drove them mad. All

the dazzling darkness of the deaf. But him? His hearing

is fine. What good is that?

           His life has become a series of bad translations.

This means that. And that means this. This and that

have nothing to do with art. Goya, Beethoven, Heidegger.


All the great translators are themselves untranslatable.


He’s thinking of his former lives. He is rummaging through

boxes, tossing out photographs and fragments of the past.

Why did he save this? And this? And this? He finds a box

of bullets. When his father was sick, he bought a gun. His

father wanted to kill. Parkinson’s. Doctors. Himself. One day

his father woke shouting and shouting at his mother ¿Donde esta

la pistola? His brother got rid of the gun. And him? He wound

up with the bullets. What will he do with them—him?—who

never owned a gun? Goya would have known what to do with

the bullets. Beethoven too. He picked onions as a boy.

The stench of rotting onions assaults him in unexpected

moments. Even now after so many years, that stench comes

back to him. He turns, almost expecting to see himself

 at thirteen, bending to clip the roots of an onion with steel

scissors that leave his hands callused and angry at the earth.

Ruben eats onions like apples. He has discovered the sweetness

of onions. He envies his friend. His grandmother had

a peach tree. She spent summers chasing away the birds, an art

she never mastered. (Here they are again, the birds). He remembers

thinking that his grandmother would have done anything

to protect her peaches. Yes, she would have shot every last

bird that invaded her tree—except she hated guns. Once

she stared down a cop who kept his gun in his holster

during Mass. Jesus didn’t die, not for that. Sometimes, he’s sorry

he didn’t become a farmer. He would have grown acres

of organic tomatoes. He would have paid poor city boys

five cents for every worm they picked off the plants. Boys

should know about worms and tomatoes, how they grow,

the dangers they face, what it costs them to survive as

they ripen into the color of a man’s blood. He got lost

on the first day of school. He spent years looking for himself.

He thinks he’s finally found at least a fragment of himself

that he can trust. He doesn’t dream the devil anymore. When

he was a five, the devil was always chasing him. Maybe it was

only Descartes’ evil genius. It’s true, when he was a boy,

the devil wanted him, his mind, his body, his heart. Perhaps

the devil managed to steal a piece of him—

and has kept it ever since. 

                                Descartes. The devil. And now

there are birds. He doesn’t know what all these flecks

and fragments are trying to tell him. Maybe he deserves all

the things that wander in and out of his dreams. Who is

to say what we all deserve? The Nazis knew. Dick Cheney,

he knew. Dasien. ¿Donde esta la pistola? The river is poor and dirty

but water is water. Born in the desert, he came into this

world a thirsty man. He will always love the river. He could

write that in any language the world has ever known. Tom

explaining Dasien. Ruben eating an onion. His grandmother

holding a perfect peach. Birds falling from the sky. This is

 what life is: an endless stream of memories. When he wakes

from his dreams, he will step into the waters.



          From the Last Cigarette On Earth, copyright 2017,

          Published by Cinco Puntos Press,

Diego Rico