“The Beggar’s Figure” by José Manuel Arango

José Manuel Arango



There he is,
on the steps of the cathedral,
his back to the church door.
At his side,
one step down,
his hat.
And elbow on knee,
bearded chin
in his palm,
in the pose
of the Thinker!



This beggar knows.
He knows his public.
In the morning
his spot is the atrium
of the cathedral.
At night you’ll find him
curled up
at a whorehouse door.

tr. by John Oliver Simon

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008


José Manuel Arango was born in el Carmen del Viboral, a village named for its poisonous snakes, in the state of Antioquia, Columbia. He studied in the United States as a young man and published translations of Whitman, Williams, Dickinson, and Han Shan. John Oliver Simon (who translated “The Beggar’s Figure”) spent an afternoon talking poetry with him in a cafe off the Plaza Berrios in Medellín in 1996, while José’s wife took their grandchildren to a movie.

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