Letter to the Dead
Friends, nothing has changed
in essence.

Wages don't cover expenses,
wars persist without end,
and there are new and terrible viruses,
beyond the advances, of medicine.
From time to time, a neighbor
falls dead over questions of love.
There are interesting films, it is true,
and, as always, voluptuous women
seducing us with their mouths and legs,
but in matters of love
we haven't invented a single position that's new.

Some astronauts stay in space,
six months or more, testing
equipment and solitude.
In each Olympics new records are predicted
and in the countries social advances and setbacks.
But not a single bird has changed its song
with the times.
We put on the same Greek tragedies,
reread "Don Quixote," and spring
arrives on time each year.

Some habits, rivers, and forests are lost.
Nobody sits in front of his house anymore
or takes in the breezes of afternoon,
but we have amazing computers
that keep us from thinking.

On the disappearance of the dinosaurs
and the formation of galaxies
we have no new knowledge.
Clothes come and go with the fashions.
Strong governments fall, others rise,
countries are divided,
and the ants and the bees continue
faithful to their work.

Nothing has changed in essence.

We sing congratulations at parties,
argue football on street corners,
die in senseless disasters,
and from time to time
one of us looks at the star-filled sky
with the same amazement we had
when we looked at caves.
And each generation, full of itself,
continues to think that it lives at the summit of history.

- - - ©2000, Affonso Romano DeSant'Anna
Translation by Mark Strand

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