Excerpts from Creature of Habit


In the ductile night, with a
gladiola in your house
In the night, listen,
Oh fragile vanity in my arms,
And your dream weighs heavily like a pulse of the river.

Further up along the orchards
Test, verify my weakness and my strength.
The path I ignore until I find your step, your trail
Warm in the ground,
The birth of the new day.

II You are not with me. I ignore your image. I do not inhabit your great oblivion. The years will pass. A chaotic rapture will occur in the south like a blessing. With the magic wealth of the encounter, come back to me, climb your silent fervor, your begging for journeys, your night and your midday. You appear. Your orbit defies all distance. Then, to illuminate the present, you and I caress the scar of our ancient love.

IV So as to emerge with the whistle of the serpent and the
   birds of paradise
At the pace of the afternoons
The miraculous trapeze of your desire is life
And the diamond within my lover
And through the purple red (in the dream) the
   white windows in my vigil
And when they love me I forget my own presence
When they listen to me I forget my own audience
When they call me human I am a black horse
   because of nostalgia
And if I am saved it will not be through pity
If I die it will not be through suicide
If I am reborn it will not be in the resurrection of the flesh
I enter the stage unarmed before vowels and words with
   fast circular oscillations of parallel luster
   with the live fish in the net and the meaningless

V When you climb the heights I scream in your ear: We are mixed in with the great evil of the earth. I always feel strange. I barely Survive The panic of the nights. Wolf within me, unknown woman, We are guests on the illusory hill, The place loved by the poor; They Have descended with the appearance Of the sun, Until I am moistened with many roses, And I have conquered the ridiculous With my tenderness, Listening to the heart.

VI Helen is earth seaweed Ocean wave. She exists because she owns the nostalgia Of these elements, But she knows it, She dreams, And trusts, Standing on the rock and the coral of the abysses. Actually, Helen Knows the simple things, Because before being a damsel She was Siren and Mermaid. And before being Siren and Mermaid, She swam in the whirlwind, in the number, in the fire. I must have fallen on the trail, and recalled, Oh delirious host; Right there, where the afternoon and the dusk are appeased, I was set aside. I had another love, Pure like ecstasy, Fragile like fantasy, Absolute like my other love. I heard a trumpet of fog in the desert My falcons emerged from the foliage. In all seasons In autumn or in spring Helen is earth seaweed Ocean wave.

VII In our vigils In our workshops In our somber parties On any day The beautiful swan Sings Petrified By the rainbow With its radiant kingfisher tongue. On any day I feared for you On several of the village flanks Amid the ruins But you would say to me: The blind flesh of my age Will never be consumed by flames. And old age with half-closed eyes, maliciously pointing at A bonfire, A sphinx Would say to me As a reply: It will be consumed by flames It carries the unmistakable signs of the other kingdom. Later, there was nothing to do but begin: Smoke Sandalwood Infernal sulphur So much lost time crushes me And the nostalgia of my first journey And a few black birds Who pass in the sky When I throw the cards. Listen to me: Have my great artifices ceased spinning? Do I move their dominating arms? The temptations, like Somnambulant panthers Behind the night? Lamps, inaccessible peaks and insomnias of Real life. Out of place, beyond the hubbub, speechless Like a modest father.

IX Not as clumsy But Without nostalgia, Without memories, Without a pulse, Without my breathing, my scream The splinter of my absence, I must skin myself On the window hinges, Choose the wrong specter, and forget it. Pass the water That spreads as in a fountain By the hands of the mute girl. With pure vanity and love, I babble, shoeless on the porch. Denying myself the end of being Nothingness The blue harbor The whiteness of the precipice.

X 8000 occult demons Scream at us that insomnia Is a land of exile, without leopards or rivers. The conductor (of the human flock) Must survive with what still remains Amid the dew of the dawning pupils of the world. That’s why he doesn’t look at the compass nor at the card table Where the passengers sit. He must scrutinize the ravenous tree line In the arteries of the island. For the sake of our shipwrecked bones, for whatever floats Above the water’s flame Or in absolute oblivion.

XII I often identify myself with someone else who doesn’t reveal his name or his features. Between this person and me, both strangely rancorous, beatitude and cruelty reign. We love each other and slit each other’s throats. We are sufferers and small. In our beds lie an iguana, a musty rose (for rainy days) and the somnambulant cats that climbed the tiled rooftops last year. We, who don’t cross borders, remain in the threshold, in our attics, always expecting better times. The perspicacious eye discovers my own ignorance in this fellow man, my lack of features in front of any mirror. Now I walk, naked in the desert. I walk in the desert with my hands.


I don’t want to swell up with words.
I think about the Indians and about sailboats
And I watch the bunch of magnolias
That drops in the spray of the waterfall.

A ballad so nostalgic it no longer means anything
Is heard along the other shore.

I see, dancing among the green leaves and the fire,
   The ancient warrior,

Free from risk, like in a playground.

When the Ocean is unassailable,
When human limitation is great, and
   we run in search of partridges, corn and
   the somnolent phosphorous like rain,
I speak to the ancient warrior once again.

The invisible guest, adorned with beautiful feathers,
Detains me in the threshold of his house,
With a blind
Of love.


My creature of habit observes and guards me.
Moves its long tail. Comes to me
At an imprecise hour.

Devours me every day, at any second.

When I go to the office, it asks me:
   “Why do you work

And I answer, very quietly, almost whispering:
   For no reason, no reason.
And since I’m superstitious, I knock on wood
So it will disappear.

I am illogically helpless:
From my knees up
This coming spring
My creature of habit steals the sun from me
Along with the fleeting clarity of pedestrians.

I have never been faithful to the moon or the rain or the
   pebbles on the beach.

My creature of habit takes me by the wrists,
   dries my tears.

At an imprecise hour
It descends from the sky.

At an imprecise hour
It sips the steam of my poor soup.

At an imprecise hour
When I atone for my thirst
It walks by with jugs of wine.

At an imprecise hour
It will kill me, pick up my bones
And once my bones are gathered in a great sack, it will make of me
A small boat,
A diminutive bubble on the beach.

Then I will really
Be faithful
To the moon
The rain
The sun
And the pebbles on the beach.

A strange rumor will persist
Around the tree and the victim;

It will persist…

Forever sweeping
The roses,
The ductile leaves
And the wind.


Juan Sánchez Peláez

Described by Álvaro Mutis as “Latin America’s best-kept secret,” Juan Sánchez Peláez was born in Altagracia de Orituco in 1922. He attended university in Chile in the 1940s, where he was associated with the radical surrealist group Mandrágora. He lived in Paris in the 1950s, and in 1969, he was a Fellow at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program, after which he lived in New York City for two years. He worked as a teacher, journalist, and diplomat in Venezuela, Colombia, France, and the United States. Between 1951 and 1989, he released seven collections of poetry. In 1975, he was awarded Venezuela’s highest literary prize, the Premio Nacional de Literatura. Juan Sánchez Peláez died in Caracas in November of 2003. A definitive edition of his work, Obra poética (Lumen, 2004), was published in Barcelona, Spain after his death.

Guillermo Parra

Guillermo Parra (b. 1970) is the author of Caracas Notebook (Cy Gist Press, 2006) and Phantasmal Repeats (Petrichord Books, 2009). His poems, translations, and essays have appeared in Xcp: Cross Cultural Poetics, 6x6, The CLR James Journal, CARVE, and Effing. He lives in Durham, NC, where he is editing an anthology of twentieth century Venezuelan poetry in English translation. He writes the blog Venepoetics and may be reached at [email protected].

Animal de costumbre (Creature of Habit).  Copyright (c) 1959.  English translation copyright (c) Guillermo Parra, 2009.