Our teachers drove us nuts
with their irrelevant questions:
how do you add compound numbers
are there or are there not spiders on the moon
how did the family of the czar die
can one sing with one's mouth shut
who painted the mustache on the Mona Lisa
what are the inhabitants of Jerusalem called
is there or is there not oxygen in the air
how many apostles did Christ have
what is the meaning of "consubstantial"
what were the words Christ spoke on the cross
who is the author of Madame Bovary
where did Cervantes write Don Quixote
how did David kill Goliath
the etymology of the word philosophy
what is the capital of Venezuela
when did the Spanish arrive in Chile?

No one can say that our teachers
were walking encyclopedias
quite the contrary
they were modest grade-school
or secondary-school teachers I've forgotten which-
equipped with canes and frock coats
since we were at the start of the century-
why did they go to such trouble
to trouble us like that
except for reasons they would never own up to:
an overpowering pedagogical mania
and the darkest, emptiest cruelty!

The dental structure of the tiger
the scientific name of the swallow
a solemn mass has how many parts
what is the formula for sulfur trioxide
how to add fractions of different denominators
the stomachs of ruminants
the family tree of Philip II
the Meistersingers of Nuremberg
the Gospel according to Saint Matthew
name five Finnish poets
the etymology of the word etymology.

The universal law of gravity
to what family does the cow belong
what are the wings of insects called
to what family does the duckbilled platypus belong
the least common multiple between two and three
does light have dark patches or not
the origin of the solar system
the respiratory system of amphibians
the organs exclusive to fishes
the periodic system of the elements
the author of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
explain the phenomenon known as mi-rage
how long would it take a train to reach the moon
what is the French for blackboard
underline the words ending in consonants.

The real truth of the matter
is that we could have cared less
who would bother with such questions anyway
at the worst they scarcely made us tremble
only gave us headaches
we were men of action
in our eyes the world was reduced
to the size of a soccer ball
and to kick it was our passion
our adolescent reason for being
we had championship games lasting until nightfall
I can still see myself chasing
the invisible ball in the dark
one had to be an owl or a bat
not to run into the adobe walls
that was our world
our teachers' questions went gloriously in one ear and out the other
like water off a duck's back
without disturbing the calm of the universe:

The component parts of a flower
to what family does the weasel belong
the method of preparing ozone
the political testament of Balmaceda
the ambush of Cancha Rayada
where did the liberating army enter
insects harmful to agriculture
how does the Poem o f the Cid begin
draw a differential pulley
and determine its state of equilibrium.

My kind reader can understand
that they asked more than was fair,
more than was strictly necessary:
how to determine the altitude of a cloud
how to calculate the volume of a pyramid
show that the root of two is an irrational number
learn by heart the couplets of Jorge Manrique
stop all this nonsense
today we have a championship game
but still the written tests kept coming
followed by orals
(the cleverest among us got screwed on some)
with the same morbid regularity
with which the bandurria announces a stormy passage:

The electromagnetic theory of light
how does a troubador differ from a minstrel
do we say "a number is" or "a number are"
what is an artesian well
classify the birds of Chile
the assassination of Manuel Rodriguez
the independence of French Guyana
Simón Bolivar hero or antihero
O'Higgins' abdication speech
you're failing faster than sand in an hourglass.

Our teachers were right:
of course of course
our brains came out through our noses
you should have seen our teeth chatter-
to what do we owe the colors of the rainbow
the hemispheres of Magdeburg
the scientific name of the swallow
the metamorphosis of the frog
what did Kant mean by his Categorical Imperative
how to convert Chilean pesos into pounds sterling
who introduced the hummingbird to Chile
why doesn't the Tower of Pisa fall over
why didn't the Hanging Gardens of Babylon come down
why doesn't the moon fall to earth
the department of Ñuble province
how to trisect a right angle
what are regular polyhedrons and how many are there
this fellow hasn't the slightest idea of anything.

I'd rather have had the earth swallow me up
than answer those wild questions
especially after the moralizing lectures
to which we were subjected day after day:
Do you know how much each Chilean
citizen costs the state
from the moment he enters first grade
to the moment he graduates from the university?
One million six-penny pesos!

One million six-penny pesos
and they kept on pointing their fingers at us:
how do you explain the hydrostatic paradox
how do ferns reproduce
list the volcanos of Chile
what is the longest river in the world
what is the most powerful battleship in the world
how do elephants reproduce
who invented the sewing machine
who invented the balloon
you're failing faster than sand in an hourglass
you'll have to go home
and bring your parents
to speak with the Principal of this Institution.

And in the meantime World War I
and in the meantime World War II
adolescence deep in the schoolyard
youth under the table
maturity never to be
old age
with its insect wings.

translated by William Jay Smith
traducido por William Jay Smith


en: Antipoems: New and Selected (edited by David Unger), New York, New Directions, 1985.


SISIB - Facultad de Filosofía y Humanidades - Universidad de Chile