Gabriela Mistral: “Confession”



It’s hanging from the corners of your mouth —
I see your confession hanging,
ready to fall into my hands.

Speak your confession, man of sin,
sad with sin, without joy in your step,
without the voice of the poplar trees,
far away from those you love,
because guilt cannot
be peeled open like a fruit.

Your mother is not as old
as the woman listening to you now,
and your son is still so young
he’d wither like a fern
if he could hear you now.

But I am old as the stones
so I can hear you,
deep as forty years of moss
so I can hear you,
my face without surprise or anger
so I can hear you
full of pity from my many lifetimes
so I can hear you.

Give me the years you want to give me,
they will still be fewer than the years I have,
for others, like you, right here on this sand,
have also told me things that were not heard in vain.
Pity makes a person old as tears
and thickens the heart
as wind thickens the dunes.

Speak your confession so I can leave with it
and leave you pure.
Never again will you return to see me
or hear the voice that answers you.
But you will be light, as you were before,
descending slopes and climbing hills,
and you will kiss again without anxiety
and play with your son on rocks of gold.


Now let yourself bloom and live new days
and let the salt air of the sea sustain you.
Don’t sing songs you used to know
or make up stories of villages and valleys
you once passed through, or their inhabitants.
Be the dolphin and seabird you used to be,
crazy with ocean, a many-splendored ship.

But sit down, some day,
on another dune,
in the sun, just as you found me,
when your child has turned thirty,
and listen to the other man who will come
with something like algae
hanging from the corners of his mouth.
And ask him, with your head hung low.
And then don’t ask him, but only listen
for three days and nights.
And then pick up his sin
as you would a piece of clothing,
heavy with sweat and with shame,
and place it on your own two knees.

Gabriela Mistral

Translated from Spanish by Paul Weinfield, © 2015
Image by Enrico Elle

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